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AI scientist Shinjini Kundu talks about stereotype for women in technology

Shinjini Kundu, M.D., Ph.D. is an Indian American physician and computer scientist based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on designing artificial intelligence systems to detect diseases that may be imperceptible to humans.


Equals Last Updated at 09 Aug 2018, 17:08 IST
AI scientist Shinjini Kundu talks about stereotype for women in technology
  • Science has debunked theories of “inherent differences” between the genders or lack of interest/ambition among women. (Image Credit: Twitter)

Shinjini Kundu, M.D., Ph.D. is an Indian American physician and computer scientist based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on designing artificial intelligence systems to detect diseases that may be imperceptible to humans.

Below is her article where she talks about the stereotype of women in technology:

I grew up taking apart computers with my father. I'd muse about books on my father's bookshelves with strange titles: PERL, Java, C++. "Daddy, what do they mean?" I would ask.

"Those are computer languages," my father would explain.

I was fascinated that computers have languages just like humans.

I mastered computer languages as a teenager at school. Then, my curiosity shifted to what is inside a computer. I set out for Stanford to study electrical engineering. While I excelled in engineering, I also studied medicine, becoming one of the youngest MD-PhD scientists. Today, I design artificial intelligence (AI) technology to detect early disease in patients that may otherwise be imperceptible to humans. Recently, I was a speaker at the 'UN AI for Good summit' in Geneva and was named one of MIT Technology Review's 35 innovators under 35, whose work has the potential to change the world.

I am often told that I don't fit the stereotype for women in tech. I am a classical dancer who has performed at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and I love wearing dresses, which appears to go against the image of a techie – so much so, that in my junior year of college, a female housemate told me: "girls in engineering have it easy, because the boys just take care of them."

Her words landed like a sucker punch. In fact, I had noticed something askance about the fellow students. Most were male. Boys outnumbered girls in my major by a 4:1 ratio. I had never thought anything of this until this fellow student intimated that the women could not possibly be succeeding on their own aptitude.

This perception, however, is not rooted in fact. In the United States high schools, higher-level mathematics courses have equal numbers of boys and girls, who perform equally well. In college, women earn half of all science and engineering bachelor's degrees. Yet, when it comes to the science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) workforce, only 29% are women.

Science has debunked theories of "inherent differences" between the genders or lack of interest/ambition among women. In a survey of Harvard Business School graduates, both men and women valued their families more than their work.

Yet, society continues to expect less from women in tech.

I think the danger of low expectations is that they can be self-fulfilling.

A study on Asian-American women reveals how implicit expectations can lead to differential outcome. Being reminded of a negative stereotype about math aptitude (being female) before a quiz led to a lower score, versus a higher score when reminded of a positive stereotype (being Asian-American).

Given equal opportunities and expectations, there is little doubt that women can achieve great success in tech. We as women don't need to be coddled to satisfy quotas and workplace policies. We need society to believe and expect more from us to strive towards our fullest potential.

I sometimes think back to my earliest mentor, my father. When I'd come home with less than a hundred on a math test, he'd probe, "where did the other points go?"

He pushed me because he believed in my potential, thought that I was capable of more, and constantly set a higher standard. In my career, I sought mentors who, like my father, implored me to reach higher, setting up a virtuous cycle which equipped me with the grit to overcome outdated stereotypes, to have the chance to be part of the generation of women who will change these outdated stereotypes – hopefully for good.


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