Dr. Tanzila Saba, a Research Professor, Associate Chair of Information Systems Department, leader of Artificial Intelligence & Data Analytics (AIDA) Lab and WiDS Ambassador at Prince Sultan University in Saudi Arabia for the past five years, supports and inspired women to pursue STEM careers in Saudi Arabia.
Tell us about your background.
I am from Pakistan, where I completed my education through my master’s degree before completing my PhD and postdoc at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. Since my undergraduate years, I’ve wanted to help educate women and girls and motivate them to be independent women. Unfortunately, there was a lack of resources and cultural constraints in my country to lead the women in STEM fields and obstacles to empowering the women. After joining Prince Sultan University (PSU) in Riyadh, I got the opportunity to work on this initiative on a larger scale.
How did you get interested in data science?
I was initially interested in data science applications for economic and financial analysis, especially data visualisation and interpretation. As I learned about data bias and the lack of data accuracy, this inspired me to work in the data science field. Over time, I became more interested in healthcare informatics and data/information security, where I focused my research.
What are you currently working on?
I am working at Prince Sultan University, Riyadh, KSA, where we have launched many platforms to empower women and girls in STEM. This WiDS journey would not have been possible without the hard work and support of my colleague and WiDS PSU Co-Ambassador, Ms. Fatima Khan. We are working together under the supervision and support of our President, Dr. Ahmed Yamani and Vice President, Dr. Heba Khosahim, (the Executive Chair of WiDS PSU).
How did you first discover WiDS?
We discovered WiDS through social media, and Fatima and I were so inspired that we decided tostart this initiative at KSA. The WiDS Conference is one of the most diverse regional events, and we mirror this at Prince Sultan University at our Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics Lab. Our lab team and PSU members are diverse, innovative, talented, and committed to building a better research environment for women and girls. We aspire to shape a better future for the next generation of women in STEM. It doesn’t matter who they are or their background; they can effectively contribute to data science. I love leveraging WiDS to build a robust platform for women. It’s my biggest dream right now.
Have you been involved with WiDS since that first experience?
This journey has been successfully growing over time. We don’t just talk about driving gender equality; we live it. We are dedicated to learning and addressing the challenges through motivational lectures, competitions, workshops, discussion sessions, and Skills training in STEM fields.
How has WiDS made an impact on your life and work?
WiDS has had a long-lasting impact on my life; it inspired me to work more for the women and girls in STEM by providing multiple platforms to encourage them. In addition, organising the WiDS event every year since 2018 has had a tremendous impact on my work and workplace.
Having the fantastic outcomes of this platform, I launched the International Women in Machine Learning & Data Science (WiMLDS) Riyadh Chapter. In addition, we recently started the Omdena chapter to equip our female students with the best data science skills and knowledge.
What comes next for you? And what are your hopes for women in data science in the future?
We will continue our collaboration on the WiDS Riyadh @ PSU Conference to promote role models that encourage more and more women to join the field. I can see the future is bright as currently, in Saudi Arabia, the women’s participation rate in the IT sector rose from 11 per cent in 2017 to 24 per cent in 2021, higher than Silicon Valley by 8 per cent. In addition, there are an astonishing number of women taking up science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subjects in Saudi universities. This revolution gives women across the country an opportunity to explore new career paths.