My senior year of undergrad, my then-boyfriend and I attended a machine learning seminar put on by my university. There were no prerequisites to attend, I had experience with programming and computational modeling, and I wanted to learn the fundamentals of machine learning before I started grad school. It was not a graded class; just a mini-retreat held on campus one Saturday.
Out of the approximately 100-150 attendees, maybe four (including me) were female. I was the only one wearing a dress and makeup. The professor who facilitated the seminar began by asking questions to assess the general knowledge level in the room. When he noticed I wasn’t raising my hand, as I was brand new to the material, he began pointedly looking at me each time he asked a question. Then he switched his question style: “raise your hand if you haven’t heard of…”
He made eye contact with me and smirked at me every single time I didn’t know the answer. Other men–not all, not even a majority, but enough to notice a pattern–in the audience began to catch on and follow his gaze. They then began laughing at me. I literally did not believe they were pointedly laughing at my expense until my ex said to me, horrified, “They’re laughing at you.”
Two years later, I’m getting working on my Ph.D. (sorry for the unintentional confusion–I’m nearly halfway through my program, but I still have a ways to go before I get my degree!), and my research uses deep learning, artificial intelligence, and computational modeling. Last month, I was invited to give an alumni talk at my undergrad about my research.
Today, I emailed that professor, and I invited him to attend my talk. I told him that his machine learning seminar was one of the reasons I pursued a career in computational neuroscience. I included a few details about the machine learning techniques I use and the research I am conducting. I don’t know if he will remember me, and frankly, I don’t care.
You can laugh at me all you want. You can try to play gatekeeper. But you will not get between me and my seat at the table.
I’m sure you can guess who’s laughing now.