My name is Elaine Jiang, and I am a current senior at Brown University studying computer science. I spent the first nine years of my life in Suffern, New York, and the following nine years in Shanghai, China, before coming back to the states for college. In terms of technology, I’m interested in artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality, and ethical software design. Outside of computer science, I can be found teaching and mentoring students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), going to spin classes, and exploring Providence's delicious brunch options.
My parents have always encouraged me to explore my interests in science and technology. When we lived in upstate New York, one of my favorite memories was going to the Museum of Natural History with my dad every year, looking at fossils and animals, and jotting down notes in my “science journal.” I’m really grateful to have been exposed to science at a young age, as this certainly led to my interest in becoming a STEM major.
During the summer after my sophomore year in college, I had the opportunity to do research with Tom Sgouros, who managed Brown’s Yurt Ultimate Reality Theatre. Tom introduced me to Kim Arcand from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and we worked with her to render a three-dimensional model of supernova remnant Cassiopeia A into virtual reality. It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience, and I’m excited to see what we do next.
During my junior year in high school, my AP English teacher assigned a year-long project in which we were to invent a product to improve the world. As someone who often listens to music with earbuds, I decided to center my product around preventing hearing loss after realizing that listening to music too loudly is one of the leading causes of hearing loss. I wished to create an application that would measure individual hearing tolerance and adjust volumes accordingly. Because I needed to create a mobile app, I had to learn how to code. Thus, using online resources such as Coursera, I designed and programmed a prototype for my project.
I'm grateful that my first introduction to computer science (CS) was exploratory-based and applicable to real life. Since then, I have viewed CS as a valuable tool that can help solve problems. This experience captivated my interest in computer science, and ultimately led me to pursue it in university.
While I’ve always been interested in computer science itself, my passion for CS stems from the notion that I can use technology as a tool for positive social impact. During my time at college, I found myself leaning towards independent projects. As a result, I often feel that I don’t quite fit in with stereotypical CS culture — staying up all night to code, living and breathing programming. This feeling of being an “imposter” began with an internship in Shanghai after my freshmen year, when I was one of only two women in the program.
The following year, I discussed these feelings with my peers, many of whom shared a similar sentiment. I began thinking about how I could foster a stronger sense of community within the CS department and eventually helped develop CS for Social Change, a studio course that gives students the opportunity to collaborate with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on technical projects and have conversations about ethical software design. My involvement in CS for Social Change helped me realize that leveraging technology for social impact is what makes me feel truly fulfilled.
If you’re interested in pursuing computer science, remember that it’s a relatively new field with so many subfields that are constantly expanding. Don’t be discouraged if things don’t click immediately! I definitely struggled in the first few classes I took, but eventually found areas in CS that I love.
For women in CS, I highly encourage attending the annual Grace Hopper Conference that takes place during the fall. I didn’t hear about the conference until a couple of years into college, so I only attended my junior year. GHC is a celebration of women in computing and a 3-day conference that includes career fairs, workshops, and lectures led by women. I really felt a sense of community there and learned a lot from female leaders in tech!
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