The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force presents Pride in STEM, with Dr. John Samuel, Associate Professor at École Supérieure de Chimie Physique Électronique (CPE Lyon) and Associate Researcher at LIRIS Lab.
It can be a challenge showing up with authenticity, but Dr. Samuel mentions we must first come out to ourselves before we can consider being open professionally; yet, no one is obligated to come out at work. Additionally, Dr. Samuel suggests the computing community needs to move beyond seeing everything as 1 and 0, as “life is different than truth tables of logic gates. “
We’re sure you will find great insight in this interview and walk away asking how you can move research away from a binary system that leans on a one size fits all model.
Why Did You Choose Your Current Technical Field?
Dr. Samuel I had already known since my childhood that the field of computer science was my calling. I still do not forget the days that I wrote my first ‘Hello World’ program and how I moved the Turtle on the computer screen using a simple code. Growing up learning Logo, Basic, C, Java, and Python, I always loved the diversity of programming languages. Growing up in a multilingual context, I grew up embracing diversity. Moreover, computer programming mirrored this diversity in the virtual world in another way. From my initial love for the operating systems, followed by the web and now data science, I have witnessed my evolution, somehow in sync with that of the field of information science.
What Does a Typical Day or Week Look Like for You as an Associate Professor?
Dr. Samuel Experimenting, researching, programming, reading, writing articles, teaching and sometimes sharing some insights on social media sum up my week. I explore open-source solutions and experiment with open data, especially Wikidata. I am also a contributor on Wikidata and work on different Wiki projects. I love photography and share some of my photographs on Wikimedia Commons. I often say that my life revolves around open science, open-source, and open data.
What’s Been Your Greatest Professional Challenge as a Member of the LGBTQ+ Community, and How Did You Overcome It?
Dr. Samuel I must confess that “coming out” was my greatest professional challenge. It has indeed been a long journey, and it took me years to accept the fact that I am different. First, it required me to come out to myself, before slowly coming out to others. Social media, especially Twitter, helped me not only discover myself but also the LGBTQ+ community around the world. I am especially grateful to Twitter communities like 500QueerScientists, LGBTQ+ STEM, etc. for my coming out journey. Finding fellow scientists and people in STEM/STEAM on social media and reading their stories helped me overcome my personal struggles.
What Is One Piece of Advice You Can Give to LGBTQ+ Students and Early Career Professionals?
Dr. Samuel In an ideal world, my response would have been “Come out as who you are” from day one of your career. However, I would suggest first finding some offline and/or online communities where you could safely share your stories. Your safety is the foremost and you are not obliged to come out. Coming out is a journey and the time, as well as the place that you choose, is part of your life journey.
Who Is One Role Model Who You Personally Admire and Why?
Dr. Samuel The answer is undoubtedly Alan Turing. I discovered his works during my engineering studies. His desire to get inspiration from nature, especially mathematical biology, and his research related to universal computing machines left a big mark on the early days of my studies and career. I often wonder about my love for diverse programming languages and human languages, and my strong belief that there are certain underlying (undiscovered) principles under this diversity. However, when I check the works of Alan Turing, I find a person exploring these principles in the biological and computational world. It was only later that I learned about his tragic death and the reasons. Somehow, his life story resonated with mine, and I feel that many LGBTQ+ persons share these personal struggles.
Are There Any Issues in the Industry That the Computing Community Needs to Be Made Aware Of?
Dr. Samuel The computing community needs to think beyond binary. Real-life is quite different from the truth tables of logic gates. There is often not a clear ‘True’ and ‘False’ and the answer lies somewhere in between. There is a wide spectrum of values between 0 and 1. Sometimes, it may require us to change the numeral system and even add an imaginary part. Our computing models often do not consider this underlying fact of nature and especially human nature. Hence, in many cases, we leave out a large number of people. Our one-model-fits-all approach needs to be changed. We have recently seen these discussions around the large language models and even on the questions related to gender, sex and sexuality. The biggest gift of nature is diversity. Engineers, architects, and artists who embraced this diversity have produced creative works.
What Are Some Ways Computing Can Aid the LGBTQ+ Communities That You’re Not Currently Seeing in Research or the Market?
Dr. Samuel Creating welcoming, safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ communities is important. Industry and academia have recently adopted DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives. They say, ‘nothing about us with us.’ Hence, these initiatives must include the very community members for whom they are proposed.
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?
Dr. Samuel I believe in openness and transparency. I have been working with open data and using open source solutions for my research works and I have been seeing its benefits for the larger community. There are success stories and failures behind different DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives. The results, positive, negative, or ongoing need to be shared in an open and transparent manner with everybody.
What Is One Thing in Your Field or within Computing That You’re Most Excited About?
Dr. Samuel I often find myself in the intersections of different communities. It was about web services and databases during my doctoral thesis. Currently, I am navigating databases, machine learning, graphs, and computer graphics for urban data science. I am highly excited about this multidisciplinary intersectionality, and I am eagerly looking forward to neural-symbolic integration research developments.
About Dr. John Samuel:
Dr. John Samuel works as an Associate Professor (Enseignant-Chercheur) in CPE Lyon and an associate researcher (chercheur associé) at the LIRIS lab in France. He identifies as non-binary and gay, goes by pronouns he/they, and is completely out at work.
Besides their research, they also work towards documenting, improving, and sharing LGBTQ+ topics on Wikidata and Twitter. They obtained their Ph.D. in Computer Science from Université Clermont-Ferrand 2 on the topic of integration of data from web services, Masters of Technology (M.Tech) from the National Institute of Technology, Calicut, and Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech) from Cochin University of Science and Technology.
Dr. Samuel’s current research work focuses on urban digital twins based on the semantic web, data integration, 3D visualization, and geographical information science, and believes openness and transparency will play an important role in building a sustainable and inclusive world.
Celebrate Pride with the IEEE Computer Society and read more interviews from the computing community:
- Dr. Christian Newman, Assistant Professor at Rochester Institute of Technology
- Ivan Zhao, Computer Science student at Brown University
- Alexander Serebrenik, Full Professor of Social Software Engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology
- Griffin Solot-Kehl, Developer Advocate at Dolby Labs
- Dr. Daniel Gillis, Associate Professor at the University of Guelph
- Didem Gurdur Broo, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at Stanford University