STEMinist Profile: Orit Shaer, Assistant Professor of Computer Science

Orit Shaer

Orit Shaer

Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Computer Science, co-director of Media Arts and Sciences

Wellesley College

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My first real exposure to computer science was during a chance encounter with an introductory programming course in my undergraduate studies. The challenge of solving difficult problems, the satisfaction of designing an elegant solution, and the thrill of building something with my own two hands, fascinated me. As the software programs I wrote became more advanced, I was energized by the potential of computing to impact the way we work, play, and learn.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My current research in Computer Science is in the field of Human-Computer Interaction, an area that is at the border between humans and computers, between the digital world and the physical world. This field is also uniquely positioned at the border between disciplines: computer science, psychology and arts, which makes it all the more exciting.

In my research group, the Wellesley College Human-Computer Interaction Lab, our goal is to invent and study easier, more effective and more enjoyable ways for people to interact with vast amounts of digital information.

One of our coolest projects, which we are currently working on, is to help biologists to analyze and manipulate large amounts of information so that they can develop scientific insights and make discoveries. We utilize advances in human-computer interaction such as multi-touch, tabletop and tangible interfaces to design and build new user interfaces that allow scientists to better organize, relate, and share information. It is exciting to see our interfaces used by scientists and students to study diseases such as Tuberculosis.

Role models/heroes:
I was fortunate to meet some incredible men and women throughout my career. My advisors at Tufts University, Rob Jacob and Diane Souvaine inspired me in their leadership of their professional community and their commitment to educating and mentoring a next generation of scientists.

Why do you love working in STEM?
Computer science in general, and human-computer interaction in particular, are inherently interdisciplinary fields. My research draws upon multiple area of expertise and perspectives, so I often work with a diverse range of collaborators. Each new project presents a new range of problems that require learning new topics and skills, applying creativity, and facing new challenges. I love the intellectual stimulation and the life-long learning.

Also, being engaged in human-computer science research allows me to get insight into the future and to participate in shaping it. In my field of study, science and innovation are tightly coupled and many of the current investigations in human-computer interaction will inform the tools, gadgets, and devices that we will use in the future.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Attend talks and conferences in your field to find out what are the current trends in research, make connections, and inspire your creativity.

The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) is a fantastic 3-day conference that brings together women in computing from various backgrounds, from undergraduate students to top industry and academia leaders. It is a great opportunity to network, attend workshops on academic and professional development, learn about and share your own experiences with other women.

Favorite website/app:
Springpad: a smart notebook that provides a great way to organize and share documents.

Twitter: @oshaer

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