Women Who Reign: Si Chen
“Don’t live life in the past lane.” — Samantha Ettus
Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
I’m a senior at the George Washington University studying Computer Science and Music. At GW, I’m the president of the Engineers’ Council, the engineering student government association. I’ve had wonderful opportunities to work on computer vision research at the University of Central Florida’s NSF REU and at Apple as a Software Engineering Intern focusing on computer vision and depth imaging research. This summer, I’ll be researching at MIT Lincoln Laboratory and will be pursuing a Ph.D. in computer vision in the fall.
Fun Fact: I’ve been playing the violin for 16 years and will be going to Vienna and Berlin in March on a music scholarship (but mainly to eat my body weight in sachertorte)!
What # would define your life journey?
#yolo: This was one of those hashtags I started saying ironically…and then it wasn’t so ironic (I’m not proud of it). Even though the phrase is a cringe-worthy ode to 2012, the spirit of carpe diem is what influenced a major change in my life: switching majors from a pre-med biomedical engineer to computer science! I had no clue what I was getting myself into when I started CS, or even when I started computer vision research, but those leaps of faith introduced me to subjects I’m really passionate about now.
Favorite website / app:
I love Apple’s News app because as I’ve used it more and more, it’s become tailored to my interests. My current feed is comprised of updates on the election cycle, technology policy, feminism, with a smattering of my guilty pleasure–the Kardashians.
Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted (if any):
My mom is a feminist and her work as a physician has always inspired me to aspire to help others through my work. I was a really shy, geeky kid, and she always emphasized the importance of being able to cultivate self-confidence and believing in the impact you can make. Without these lessons, I definitely wouldn’t have made it to the finals of an Apple hackathon or had the confidence to pitch my own research ideas to the team. If I were afraid to dream big, I would’ve missed out on these amazing opportunities!
Song that makes you want to dance:
Sunlight by The Magician feat. Years and Years is upbeat and fun!
Technical challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
At the NSF REU, we had a computer vision crash course where one of the homework assignments was to program a simple classifier from scratch. At that point, I’d never had to take an abstract concept and create my own implementation; it was really daunting to get started. Figuring out how to get over my own coding insecurities and break down a problem into smaller components that I could tackle one at a time was a game-changer and something that I’m still working on with every new project!
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently as graduation gets closer because I’m interested in technology research and policy. In the immediate future, being a Ph.D. student is my ideal “job” because you get to dedicate time exclusively to exploring a field and satisfying your own curiosity. Long term, leading an industry research team would be exciting because not only are you involved on the technical side, but you also get the opportunity to make a widespread impact by directing the way in which a product develops. Leaders in industry also impact technology policy, notably Megan Smith (the current CTO), and I’m interested in impacting ethics in technology.
What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
Entering CS, or any new field, can be daunting when you compare yourself to others who are more experienced than you. It’s easy to fall into that rut of imposter syndrome where you feel like everyone else is judging you and you have to be perfect. But being perfect is unrealistic–and overrated! Failure is a major part of challenging yourself and learning how to rebound quickly to a success is what makes you grow. So, fail often, but fail smart.