Didem echoes not only a call for representation, but also creating an environment where people from diverse backgrounds feel safe to stay in industry and academia.
Why Did You Choose Your Current Technical Field?
Didem This is a wonderful question. I ask this question to my students sometimes; why did you choose to study engineering and computer science? And I love their answers. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, we forget about why we do the jobs we do. I chose to study computer science, specializing in sustainable computer architectures, and to have a Ph.D. in Mechatronics. This led me to stay in academia and do research on cyber-physical systems as a career. I do what I do simply because machines excite me, I love technology, and I want to change the world. I cannot imagine doing something else, I love my job.
What Does a Typical Day or Week Look Like for You as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at Stanford?
Didem It depends on what month we are in, but my weeks are generally a combination of reading, attending classes, teaching, discussing projects and research with my colleagues, and writing. But I take long walks after lunches, go swimming once a week, and listen to or read a new book every week. If it is summer, I certainly do some diving or sailing activities. I try to meditate a few times a week, and it doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, I spend most of my time organizing my thoughts and ideas. It is a real job to do that!
What’s Been Your Greatest Professional Challenge as a Member of the LGBTQ+ Community, and How Did You Overcome It?
Didem I was born in a very small country, Cyprus, and started to work when I was 19 years old. I have always worked mostly full-time after that. The most difficult times were probably at the beginning when I was younger, less confident, living in a society where heterosexuality, patriarchy, and sexism were the norm. I felt that every day was a struggle and every conversation was a small battle. While it was challenging, it made me think a lot about my survival skills and prepared me to be who I am today. Later in different more developed countries, I experienced more minor forms of discrimination. They are subtle, small, sound like they are just jokes or ideas, and so on. It is another challenge really. If you do not talk, it stays in your mind. If you talk, they have the chance to blame you for being sensitive, and so on. I am not good at staying silent. I slowly find my way to address them with a balance between these two lines. And I learned that not everyone is all the time my enemy, sometimes people do not know it all. While we should never be silent, I believe choosing the right tools to engage with the change makes difference. Compassion makes a difference.
What Is One Piece of Advice You Can Give to LGBTQ+ Students and Early Career Professionals?
Didem Find your people! If we want to make a change, we need to be visible, vocal, and act together. I know it is work, and not everyone is expected to act this way, but change requires effort, and even though we are not the ones who need to change, we are the ones who need to ask for and drive the change. Finding each other is a great starting point to feel a sense of belonging. It creates a community where instead of directly reacting we can share our thought and tools with each other. Sometimes you find your people by small talks in the hall, sometimes next to the coffee machine, sometimes in training programs or workshops. These small interactions made huge differences in my life. I think it would help everyone to know and learn from each other.
Based on Your Personal Experiences, What Is One Step Companies/Universities Can Take To Make Stem More Welcoming and Inclusive for Members of the LGBT+ Community?
Didem We have two big problems; we do not have enough representation, and when we manage to have people from diverse backgrounds, they do not feel safe staying in industry or academia for a long time. Both are important and need to be addressed urgently because without representation, inclusivity, and diversity, we will never be able to make this world a better place if we do not hear different perspectives, stories, and experiences, our research is not valid, our products are not valid, and our efforts are not valid. Not for everyone. I am not an expert in choosing one step to deal with these problems. What I know is, that we all need to work on it and everyone needs to do their part. Neither institutions nor individuals alone can make a change, but we all together need to prioritize and work on them.
What Is One Thing in Your Field or within Computing That You’re Most Excited About?
Didem Young people 🙂 I listened to many young people who give me hope and make me believe that we will be better. If we do not change them and instead help them to flourish, they can certainly make the field more inclusive, diverse, and welcoming for everyone. Unfortunately, by education and work, we change them, and they end up like us after 5-10 years. I hope we can stop doing this and instead empower them with the tools they need and give them equal opportunity.
About Didem Gurdur Broo:
Didem cares about the future of the world and nature. She is a computer scientist with a Ph.D. in mechatronics, which can give you an idea about how much she loves to talk about the future and emerging technologies. She is a data person, always finding a way to talk about how important it is to know your data and use it to make decisions. At some point, expect her to talk about art, visualizations, and visual analytics. Didem is a person who does not hesitate to talk about inequalities and point out her ethical concerns. She dreams of a better world and actively works on improving inequalities regardless of their nature. She is an analytical thinker with a passion for design thinking, a researcher with a future perspective, an engineer who likes problems more than solutions, and a teacher who likes to play during lectures. She is a good reader, divemaster, photographer, sailor, and drone pilot.