14 May 2021

An Interview with Tania Roy, #Tapia2021 Doctoral Consortium Chair

Tania Roy

Tania Roy is in the 2021 Tapia Conference Doctoral Consortium Committee and an Assistant Professor at New College of Florida.  We spoke to Tania about what she is working on today and her hopes for the future.


Tell me what you are working on these days?

At New College of Florida, I switched back to in-person classes this semester. Even though the necessary safety standards might seem a little bit daunting at first, my students and I have been coping well with these changes. My only pet peeve – I’m used to taking a sip of water while I teach 80 min classes, now we all  have to walk out to take a drink!

On the research front, I have been trying to modify an important in-person research study on using VR to a remote one. Previously, we wanted to work with middle school students and teach them about everyday pollutants and its effect on marine life using VR. VR headsets are like a touch-magnet, and using them during the pandemic was a strict no-no along with conducting in-person studies. We switched to delivering the learning experience to mobile-based VR. Now we don’t need expensive equipment to test it, students can easily view it through their personal mobiles using Google Cardboard, and the best part – all of this can be done remotely.

What were some of the highlights for you of last year’s virtual conference?

I really enjoyed the session after the presenters were done, during the Doctoral Consortium. We had an open session with the chair, myself, panelists and students who were able to come in and ask questions.  We talked about career choices and work-life balance – not talking about research for once was refreshing!  It was fantastic for the students!  When I attended the Doctoral Consortium in 2016 as a student, we had meals and conversations but no closeout session.  So glad we, as a community, had a space last year to hang out and talk.

What do you think the impact has been of the Tapia Conference on your life in Academia and your students lives?

From San Diego 2019, where two of my students attended, I am happy to say  that in 2020 we were able to boost our ranks! Four of my students attended Tapia virtually. Even though they were a tad disappointed at missing the in-person conversation and camaraderie, they were able to meet lots of amazing people, network and exchange emails and thankfully sustain the connections afterwards. They were able to communicate about REUs, internships and professional development. I believe fostering this sense of community has been one of the biggest draws of the Tapia Conference.

 What should people know about the Doctoral Consortium?

As a student you get an opportunity to present your dissertation ideas in front of a broad computing audience.  It is sometimes difficult to get a perspective on your research while working in a particular area – a platform like the Doctoral Consortium enables you to invite varying ideas about your work from a larger audience. It also prepares you to think from an industry perspective. We have had panelists from academia and industry who shared how students could frame their work  differently or how to turn it into career opportunities in the future. 

Moving to a virtual platform has led to some interesting changes too! In 2020, we had a record number of people from the industry and academia willing to volunteer as panelists. A virtual conference has made it easier for people to commit their time since they don’t have to think about travelling.

In 2020, we let panelists choose 2 hour slots which allowed more  people to participate. We paired talks and panelists based on common areas of expertise. During the lunch and post-DC social hour we provided the organizations a platform to do a recruitment pitch aimed at the doctoral candidates. Both these changes were a first for Tapia, and we intend to continue that in 2021! But all that doesn’t mean our work is done – we will need experienced people from all across the country to volunteer again this year too!

 This year ‘s theme celebrates 20 years of Tapia.  What are you excited about?

I’m excited to meet people who’ve been coming for the last 20 years and learn more about their experiences.  I am also thrilled to have more students attend Tapia with me this year!

 What do you hope the next 20 years will bring for Diversity in Computing?

Equity for all. We are far from it but there is just no way forward without it. Equity in terms of racial, ethnic and gender is what we as a community have been striving for but this pandemic has opened up a lot of deep rooted issues such as  lack of equal access.  Here by access I mean societal, financial and technology access. Even during the conference last year we all struggled with the platform and realized how it was not built to support all the needs of our attendees.  The internet was meant to be the great equalizer but we painstakingly realized this year, more than ever, how wrong we were.

We need to make research and teaching more inclusive and accessible. We need to change the way we deliver knowledge and learning base.  Make it welcoming for everyone.  Access and equity go hand in hand and it should not be an afterthought.