STEMinist Profile: Tatiana Aires Tavares, Computer Science Professor / Researcher

Tatiana Aires Tavares

Computer Science Professor / Researcher

Federal University of Paraiba / SUNY Oswego

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
Well, I was always a curious child. I liked to play with things I could create. For example, I remember that I loved to play playmobils with my cousin. We could create our own stories and toys. But I was really introduced to science in my high school. My lab classes were amazing to me. At the same time I was introduced to computing. A basic programming course in DBASE III taught me of things that I could create with a machine. I discovered that I could create in the machine variables, reserved words and programs. Wow! The result was my decision to pursue a degree in Computer Science (1998).

But it was not enough…my master’s degree in Computer Systems came soon after (2001). And then the PhD was the next step (2004). In the beginning a PhD in Electrical Engineering was a little scary, but before as I could imagine the “mission impossible” became a “mission accomplished.” I realized that I could have a career in science when I was at a university teaching science. I was surprised by my academic performance in science. It seemed like a Peter Pan experience; just like when I was a child, I could be curious and create things. Awesome!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
It’s a hard question. Each research project that I have participated in during a decade career span (better forget the time!) was unique, special and a leading growing experience. In Computer Science, we define a project as a unique experience. And that is it! Each project has its own team, ideas, problems, technologies and solution. Computer scientists are always running after the best solutions.

An example of a good solution was ICSpace. ICSpace (or Internet Cultural Space) was a project that I worked on for almost 3 years. More than 20 people worked on this project: computer scientists, artists, engineers, educators. We created and built a virtual shared space. We put together robots, real visitors and avatars. The best result of this project was to teach that computing scientists could work in art galleries and think out of the box.

Talking about cool projects, I remembered the Arthron tool. Arthron was created and developed during GTMDA project. GTMDA project was supported and funded by RNP (Brazilian National Education and Research Network). This research project was also the first approved project coordinated by me. GTMDA involved a great team of professionals and students. The solution (Arthron) is used for artists to create their own plays. Arthron is a software that manipulates video streams used in telematic dance shows. Putting together computer scientists and artists was a singular experience. Sometimes the artists were programming while the programmers were dancing.

But, as computing scientists, we can do better than developing solutions, we can teach people how to create their own solutions. More than a social aspect – so important to digital inclusion at Brazil- this kind of project tests our capacity to multiply knowledge. And, science is made to be multiplied. Last year we worked in a poor community nearby the university at Joao Pessoa. Ms. Zeza is a special lady who takes care of the community children; she believes that studying is the best way to rescue children from poverty and drugs. We bought her idea; me and 8 computer science students introduced the computer to almost 40 children between 7 and 14 years old. It was a rich experience for everyone.

Role models and heroes:
I preferred a feminist heroine – Wonder Woman. The Wonder Woman who showed me that beauty, brains and strength can work together, and science needs all of them.

One of my role models was my undergraduate advisor, Ms. Eliane Diniz, who showed me that science is done with bravery and heart. Bravery to go beyond the classroom, to fight for improvements for all in difficult times; heart to feel how to extract what each one does best.

My PhD advisors, Mr. Lemos and Mr. Gonçalves, were my other role models; they showed me that science is done with hard work and passion (yeahhh!). Hard work to develop our own solutions for non trivial problems. Passion, because pleasure causes us to work hard.

Finally, my project partner, Ms. Zeza, showed me that science is altruistic. Science is done for the collective benefit to change society for the better.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
Freedom is the first word that comes to my mind; freedom to think about things that most people don’t have the time to even consider. We can spend days, weeks, months or years making and answering our own questions. We can always change. Changes are always welcome! We can put together people to think with us because two heads are better then one! Working in STEM allows us to build our own creations and observe how the world appropriates it. It is a rich, interactive and fascinating process!

Advice for future STEMinists?
Working hard you can go far. It is really true. Enjoy Math, Physics and Logic! Look at the difficulties as great opportunities. Remember that challenges are always welcome. A mission that seems impossible with hard work, becomes a mission accomplished. Somewhere in time, someone used magic words to me: “You can not …”. I took it as a challenge and a great opportunity to say, “Yes, I can ..” and here I am. Yes, YOU can ☺

Favorite website or app:
The Internet is full of nice things. Enjoy it!

Twitter: @tatiaires