Becky is a Machine Learning Feminist. You don’t need to find out what “Machine Learning Feminist” means because she made it up! Her passion for women explains the feminist in her, and her passion for ML explains her interest in the intersection of mathematics and computer science. She is always fascinated by how she can improve the lives of women globally – because let’s face it, the numbers don’t lie when it comes to gender equity and parity. Her research area is in AI Ethics, which is short for ‘devising mathematical parameters to keep artificially intelligent technologies in check.’
Why did you get into STEM?
I’ve always had a knack for mathematics, partly because I inherited it from my dad, and because I love problem solving. Math is like this complex puzzle that requires every ounce of my logical thinking! Math then led me into computer science, an intersection that I find so powerful, especially in this digital age. I am now using this intersection to improve the lives of women on the continent and globally.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
The positive mark that I’ll leave behind is my overall greatest achievement! I love to see women, and Black women specifically (with racial origins in Africa), realize their equal citizenship in this world. God is not partial and He certainly never intended for Black women to experience second class citizenship after every possible race and gender. I’m currently taking a couple critical paths to achieve this such as mentoring young girls. I make it an effort such that I can positively impact a girl’s life anywhere that I’m at. I also launched a girls in STEM mentorship initiative in coastal East Africa that seeks to increase the number of women reshaping the continent through STEM. And you wouldn’t guess what I named it! Mvaha Wachiche meaning, My Little Sister.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
This is my all time favourite question. It creeps up a lot! And that should tell you that every woman in STEM goes through some set of challenges. It could be barriers from getting into STEM for financially disabled girls, or even an established engineer forced to change who she is, to make her male co-workers comfortable. The possibilities for these are endless and I could fill up a book or two talking about my own challenges in STEM. But what I would like for a young girl reading this to know is that sometimes you’ll feel like you don’t belong. You’ll feel like an intellectual fraud and start doubting whether you truly are a scientist, or mathematician or whatever it is that you do in STEM. This feeling of inadequacy, better known as imposter syndrome, creeps up uninvited. I’m naturally a bold person that’s confident in my technical approaches, but sometimes catch myself going totally silent in a room full of male counterparts, despite having the right solution to our problem. I would suddenly become less eager to speak out and take initiative on my all-male team even though I have a lot to offer. I would also often let my male counterparts take all the credit for my accomplishment on a project without saying “no! I’m the one that did this”. In dealing with imposter syndrome, I remind myself of my past successes and future ground-breaking research whenever I feel under qualified to be in a male-dominated industry or environment. This constant motivation coupled with my boldness and confidence, has proved to work well for me!
What is your advice to budding women in STEM?
- If you are interested in joining STEM and haven’t yet, what are you waiting for?! Trust your gut. If you find any of it interesting, pursue it! We need you. The world needs more women in STEM. Africa needs more women scientists and engineers to solve problems facing our continent.
- If you are already in STEM, you belong and let no one tell you otherwise! Don’t let feelings of inadequacy stop you from realizing your full potential. STEM may still be a man’s world right now but you and I together can change that narrative and make it easier for the younger girls of the next generation.
- Barriers and challenges are common for women in STEM. You are not alone in your struggle, and so you should reach out for help from someone above you. Find a female mentor who identifies with you and ask for help whenever you feel stuck. If for example, you are trying to get financial help to go to school, ask around, in person and online, for leads on scholarships. In that regard I’m always open to help a passionate girl apply to such opportunities so don’t hesitate to reach out!
- Apply to as many opportunities as you can come across in your field. With the power of google these days you can search for anything ranging from student internships/attachments to scholarships. And just a side note for my math/computer science girls, consider applying to attend the various conferences abroad and on the continent such as Deep Learning Indaba.
- Connections are your key to better opportunities. Start forming networks with professionals in your field, and maintain them. You will thank me later for this!
- Start practising mental health early! The need for this might not be apparent as you begin your path in STEM, but trust me, it comes in handy later when you get seasoned. You’ll get overwhelmed and worn out which at times leads to depression and suicide. I personally know of several folks who couldn’t take the pressure of being in STEM any longer.
- You can follow https://mwafrikamimi.wordpress.com to check out more advice for girls in STEM!
- Additionally, I launched a STEM College Application Mentorship initiative to help African/Black girls that are applying to college. If you’re passionate, interested and do qualify then proceed with applying via all these 3 links: