By Juliana Palomino
As a full-time student and mother, Tarannum Shaila Zaman thought attending a national conference was only a dream. But this year, that dream came true.
The University of Kentucky computer science Ph.D. student spent September 26-29, 2018, in Houston, Texas at the 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration. Begun in 1994 in honor of an innovative female computer scientist, the celebration marks the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. More than 20,000 women attended this year.
Through AnitaB, a global non-profit organization dedicated to the recruitment, retention and advancement of women in technology, Shaila received a full scholarship to attend the conference.
“I first heard about the conference many years ago in my home country of Bangladesh,” says Shaila. “Last year I applied and received the scholarship but had to return home for a family emergency. I was so grateful this year that everything worked out for me to go.”
This year’s conferences boasted numerous panels and workshops, 20 keynote speakers and an enormous career fair. Notable companies such as Google and Microsoft sent speakers and did on-site interviews.
“There are so many women leaders there. It’s a great opportunity to become inspired in your field and learn about your passions,” says Shaila. “Even though I’m in the middle of earning my Ph.D., I realized that networking and interviewing are always valuable.”
The conference accommodated her two-year-old son, Tonmon, by providing a spacious hotel room and childcare during the day. She even got to take him to several receptions in the evenings. The conference made her feel supported as both a scholar and mother.
“Being a mother all evening and getting up for class the next morning can be draining and frustrating. At the conference, I met many women who struggled and still achieved big things. Hearing about their accomplishments made me fall in love my career again,” she says.
Shaila began her Ph.D. work at UK in 2015, drawn by the kind faculty members, beautiful campus and research opportunities. She conducts research in software engineering along with her advisor, computer science assistant professor Tingting Yu. Though she knew living so far away from her family would be a challenge, she knew the rewards to be worth it—for her and for Tonmon.
“Even though I miss my family, I love what I research and study. When I come to the lab each morning, I feel a boost of motivation,” she says. “After all the work, I go home to Tonmon, who cuddles with me and tells me how much he loves me. This really keeps me going.”
Shaila plans to complete her Ph.D. by 2020. After that, she aspires to work in academia, either in Bangladesh or America.
“No matter where I am in the world, I want to teach and do research,” she says. “The Grace Hopper celebration truly helped me by expanding my goals. It will remain an unforgettable memory for me.”