Women have been historically underrepresented in STEM, and that trend continues today — the Pew Research Center found that women make up 25% of computing occupations and girls make up approximately 30% of AP Computer Science test-takers. Girls and women face a number of challenges in the STEM field, which is why UCI’s Master of Data Science program aims to make STEM more accessible to underrepresented groups.
“Our goal is to diversify the field of data science and break the mold — we want to increase female representation in tech and also help improve social mobility for underrepresented groups in the U.S.,” MDS program manager Bryan Muñoz said.
The MDS program, launched in fall 2021, welcomed 25 students in its inaugural class of 2022. Thirty-two percent of the first MDS cohort are women — one of them being Adelynn Paik, who serves as one of five MDS program ambassadors.
“As ambassadors, we act as representatives of the program to prospective students and potential company partners,” Paik said. “We are also the first point of contact for many applicants, so I hope to be a welcoming face for all.”
To prospective MDS program female candidates, seeing how women like Paik can thrive in computing fields is inspirational because they see how they too belong in STEM. Having leaders and programs that strive to make STEM more inclusive also helps change discriminatory attitudes that women often endure, from not being taken seriously to experiencing sexist policies.
“My challenges as a woman in STEM started with two discrediting high school math teachers and have taken a number of different forms since then,” Paik said. “I think the worst part is when the misogyny cannibalizes your mind and you start to make yourself small even without a perpetrator. It takes work to choose not to be bitter or afraid, some days more than others, and to re-center yourself in your own path.”
In her position as an MDS program ambassador, Paik hopes to contribute to the efforts to make the sciences more welcoming and supportive of women.
“I can be part of the normalization of women excelling in this program, especially in its infancy,” she said.
Alongside making data science less unfamiliar to potential female students, another goal that Paik wants to achieve in the MDS program is expanding her knowledge of data science while developing “a burgeoning focus on one specific field.”
Paik’s interest in data science comes from her longtime passion for STEM, particularly math, and her undergraduate education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She majored in systems engineering within MIT’s civil engineering department and received her degree in 2021. Paik was also involved in two research groups at MIT: Work of the Future and Glaciers Group.
“The first was the Work of the Future Task Force, which was an interdisciplinary effort to analyze the impact of increasing automation on future jobs. My mentor and I investigated automotive startup activity by collecting both qualitative and quantitative data,” Paik said. “I was also briefly part of the Glaciers Group, where I used computer vision to track the longitudinal movement of a glacier front.”
As someone who decided to study systems engineering because she wanted to “learn about how people move and live,” Paik said the research she conducted at MIT reflects her interests “in the realms of city development, transportation planning and the environment.” She added that her systems engineering education at MIT, which was rooted in mathematical and technical material, translates well to her current graduate school education.
“Data science seems like the Swiss Army knife of majors in its applicability across fields—I cannot think of an industry that doesn’t make use of data in some way,” Paik said. “At UCI’s MDS program, I’m gaining useful skills while giving myself the chance to learn about the job landscape through offerings such as career counseling and the capstone project.”
When Paik isn’t playing around with numbers, you can find her taking classes on improv at The Groundlings Theatre & School, where she’s a two-time Diversity Scholarship recipient, or doing stand-up comedy.
“I love that communal feeling of being in a cramped, dimly lit room, telling jokes to an audience, and hanging out with other comedians. As an Asian-American woman, I find it’s a great exercise in taking up space and defying the label that we are subservient,” she said.
What marries together the realms of comedy and STEM for Paik are how they empower “women of color to be loud and let our talents represent us.” The optimism, initiative and passion that Paik has in her academics, hobbies and beyond are sure to help her achieve her goals in the MDS program.
“In the short term, I look forward to claiming a specialty within data science and starting a career in the environmental, transportation, healthcare or entertainment industry,” Paik said. “My long-term goal is to remain hopeful and work on projects with people I respect and admire.”
— Karen Phan