Lynn Kirabo is a PhD student in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Her research interests lie in understanding the role that context plays in technology design & adoption among different communities, such as people with disabilities and residents of the Global South. She is currently exploring the design of equitable mobility in East Africa and the use of Adaptive User Interfaces among people with disabilities in Pittsburgh. She completed her MS in Information Technology at Carnegie Mellon University – Africa and a Bachelors in Information Technology at Makerere University Kampala, in Uganda. She spent ten years working in industry as a Software and Front-end web developer. Outside of work, Kirabo enjoys immersing herself in literary worlds and crocheting.
Why did you get into STEM?
When I was in primary school, I saw my first computer and was immediately taken with it. I went home and asked my father what a person who works with computers is called – he said “Computer Wizard”. I do not think he was anticipating this question from me. I stuck with “Computer Wizard” as my goal through school, occasionally switching to Pilot once in a while. It wasn’t until my undergrad that I got to write my first line of code. I think it is then that I could properly articulate technology’s potential to create. The potential to create not just solutions to existing challenges but also offer opportunities to give a voice to those who need it. It is the bold ambitions of that young girl that set the trajectory that I am on right now. As someone who has transitioned from working as a developer to a researcher-in-training, I still believe in the power and potential of technology.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
My greatest achievements are yet to come ;). No, but on a serious note, I would say being persistent and not giving up would be my greatest achievement so far. I failed my high school leavers exam – it was an abysmal type failure. Because of that, I had to take a year off to get a diploma equivalent before applying to join for my Bachelors. When I did get accepted, I was determined to work as hard as I could. I ended up graduating from undergrad with a First Class degree. Now, 17 years since that first failure, I’m in the middle of getting my PhD at one of the best schools in my field.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge has been grappling with self-doubt or as others call it: imposter syndrome. I have the tendency to hold back my ideas because I believe them to not be good enough to add substance to a conversation. To be honest, I’m still learning how to overcome this challenge. So if any of you have some ideas on what has worked for you, I’d love to hear them. For now, my strategy is to try and speak up especially when it feels difficult. The emphasis on “try” :). The truth is, we have to remember that each of us has uniquely lived experiences and it is important to bring this diversity into a variety of conversations.
What is your advice to budding women in STEM?
You will fall. It is important not to live in fear of falling or failing. Instead, be alert and attentive to the choices you make after these challenges. Choose to get up and keep going.