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Jennifer Chayes opens inaugural Women in Data Science conference

November 1, 2015 | Posted by Microsoft Research Blog


The prospect of forging new business models and drug therapies by analyzing large scale networks will be among the topics explored in the welcoming keynote address as the inaugural Women in Data Science Conference opens at Stanford University today.

Jennifer-ChayesJennifer Chayes, distinguished scientist and managing director at Microsoft Research, will present the keynote, titled “Network Science: From the Online World to Cancer Genomics.”

Attendees are expected to hear about some of the latest findings around the modeling and analysis of large scale networks across technological, social, economic and biological disciplines. Using a common mathematical framework, the research draws on graph theory, combinatorics, probability, game theory, and algorithms.

The results provide a wellspring for not only new theories and experimental predictions but also new business models and potential new drug therapies. Chayes’ network science research has already revealed previously unknown links into the causes of brain cancer and breast cancer.

Chayes keynote is the latest version of an evolving talk on the challenges and possibilities arising from network science. By analyzing distinct elements represented by nodes and the connections between the elements as links, network science aims to discover new connections and potential new solutions to difficult problems.

“Every time you get new data, you can say things you couldn’t’ say before,” says Chayes, who directs MSR labs in Cambridge, Mass and New York City. “Every advance in the amount of data you have enables you to progress.”

The effort to discover new insights into cancer is generating particular interest. According to Chayes, most forms of cancer can be traced to malfunctions in protein interactions. As data science advances, it’s becoming possible to determine which parts of the network are causing the malfunction.

The idea that big data can reveal new insights into cancer is one that resonates with audiences across the country, generating multiple invitations to deliver the talk. In August, she presented to the annual conference of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). Later this month, she’ll speak to the Yale Institute for Network Science.

Stanford conference with its focus on women offers a special appeal for Chayes who has long mentored young women in the field. Chayes frequently speaks to groups of teenage girls, encouraging them to look past the pervasive cultural stereotypes that portray computer experts in unflattering ways (such as guys working alone in their parents’ basement, devoid of fashion sense, and so on.)

The reality of working in CS-related fields more often requires an opposite approach, Chayes says. It’s one that involves ongoing close collaboration and creativity in developing a new solution or cool new product.

Stanford elected to host the Women in Data Science conference in an effort to address the gender imbalance in the field. Conference organizers pointed to a recent study by AAUW showing “only 26% of computing professionals and 12% of working engineers were women.”

Providing specific networking opportunities is seen as key to helping more women enter the field.

“The Women in Data Science Conference aims to do just that — providing a venue for learning and connections with leading data science innovators,” organizers state in conference notes.

One recent data point suggests organizers have momentum on their side: The most popular major for women on campus is now computer science.

The one-day event features speakers from Microsoft, Intel, Google, and other companies along with academic leaders from Stanford, USC, and UC Berkeley.

—John Kaiser, Research News

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