Published January 20, 2022
Data scientist Darshana Govind believes that STEM and data science — especially artificial intelligence — are great fields for female researchers.
“It’s challenging because you don’t see a lot of women in the field,” says Govind, who recently earned her doctorate in computational cell biology, anatomy and pathology from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB. “I’d like to see more women join STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and data science. It’s a great field to be in. It’s hard to be one female in a room full of men, so I encourage more women to join AI teams.
“Realizing the potential of AI to make a difference in people’s lives by transforming health care is what really drew me to the field,” she explains. “Plus, it’s exciting to be a part of groundbreaking research, especially when you’re surrounded by brilliant researchers from whom you get to learn every day. I’ve been able to learn a lot of new science and engineering by being part of a field with a rapid pace of development that is multidisciplinary.”
While at UB, Govind conducted her research in the lab of her mentor, Pinaki Sarder, associate professor of pathology and anatomical sciences. Sarder is a big supporter of her work.
“One of my goals at UB is not only to do research, but also to develop a workforce, and that’s very important,” Sarder says. “Darshana has done excellent, very difficult work for her PhD and has been published in a top journal.” He notes that while the situation is improving, there still aren’t many women working in artificial intelligence right now.
Govind, who now works as a data scientist at Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a division of Johnson & Johnson, is a strong proponent of women in data science and AI.
“Data science and AI have enabled us to leverage petabytes of data to extract meaningful information in a variety of different fields. In health care, we are now able to mine volumes of medical data to optimize patient diagnosis and treatment response. It’s a game-changer, and we need more data scientists,” says Govind, whose doctoral degree is to be conferred next month. “Unfortunately, there is currently a major gender gap in this field, with less than one-third of data scientists being women. It’s important to have women play an equal role in this industry and incorporate our voices and perspectives while developing major impactful technologies.
“Additionally, this field is fueled by creativity and innovation, and we need as many diverse minds as possible to come up with novel solutions to critical problems,” she adds.
Allison Brashear, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School, notes that “it’s no secret” that men tend to outnumber women majoring in the STEM fields in college. “Part of the problem is that gender stereotypes and a shortage of diverse role models perpetuate gender STEM gaps,” Brashear says. “In higher education, it’s of utmost importance that we increase opportunities in STEM for women. Although some progress has been made in recruiting women to some fields, like biological sciences and computer science, we still have a long way to go toward narrowing the gender pay gap in STEM careers and ensuring a more diverse body of STEM researchers in higher education.
“I commend Dr. Govind for actively encouraging more women to enter STEM fields. Now more than ever, women at the start of their educational journeys need support and access to fields where they are underrepresented,” she adds.
Govind says notable women like Joy Buolamwini, whose TED Talk on algorithmic bias has more than 1 million views, and Fei-Fei Li, co-director of Stanford University’s Human-Centered AI Institute, are at the forefront of AI and have played a major role in encouraging more inclusion and diversity in the field. In addition, organizations like Women in Data Science and Women in AI have enabled the formation of large communities that support women and minorities in the field.
“That being said, we are still vastly underrepresented in this field,” Govind says, “and I believe all of us have a role to play in encouraging and empowering women to close this gender gap.”