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29 August 2020

Tania Roy, Tapia 2020 Doctoral Consortium Co- Chair

Tania Roy

Dr. Tania Roy is an Assistant Professor at New College of Florida and the Tapia 2020 Doctoral Consortium Co-Chair.  We interviewed Tania and discussed her work and why every PhD student should participate in the Doctoral Consortium.

Tell me about your background and where you grew up?

I grew up in Kolkata, India.  My mother is a doctor and my father a management consultant.  Because they both had to work] my Grandmother raised my sister and me. She did not have a formal education but she was a strong independent woman who believed that women should be able to work and support themselves.   She was an advocate for education especially for women].

How did you become involved in Computer Science?

I became involved in Computer Science purely by accident, not by choice.  In India you sit for Common Entrance Exams.  I was planning to be a doctor like my mother but my father encouraged me to also sit for the engineering entrance exams.  My math scores were great, even though I really didn’t like math.  No one in my family had ever done computer science and there was a substantial job boom in the IT industry.  So I majored in computer engineering and got a  B. Tech from West Bengal University of Technology.  I really disliked all four years of my experience.  I realize now that I really didn’t understand why I was studying what I was studying. I was taking a lot of courses but really didn’t understand the reason behind the curriculum.  And I didn’t engage enough with the professors to ask why I was studying this.

My parents encouraged me to get a higher degree in another country. I went to Clemson University to do a Master’s Degree in Computer Science.   In my first semester, I took a course that changed my life.  Dr. Juan Gilbert was teaching a course called Foundations of Human Centered Computing.  Suddenly CS wasn’t all about just speed and algorithms, it became a tool box and a set of skills that you can apply to causes you care about.  It broke all the stereotypes I had about computer science. At the end of the course, Dr. Gilbert  encouraged me to reach out to Dr. Shaundra Daily to get research experience in HCC , prior to which I had none! A lot of firsts happened that year. I went onto join the Human Centered Computing PhD program at Clemson University the following semester,

Later on, Dr. Larry Hodges took me under his wing where I focused on research projects that I really enjoyed in the area of education, virtual reality and empathy.  I began my work in interpersonal violence prevention, specifically digital dating abuse prevention.  I did my dissertation using Machine Learning to see if someone could be made aware if they were in an abusive relationship since many young adults don’t realize that they are in one.  I developed an app called SecondLook that would look for possible markers of abuse in a relationship by looking at the text exchanges of a couple.

How did you decide to go into academia?

While I was doing my PhD, I was the teaching assistant for a lot of courses.  I was even asked to teach a course independently.  I realized that teachers had changed my life and I could similarly help encourage  students of diverse backgrounds to join Computer Science and engage in research.  I accepted a position at the New College of Florida, a liberal arts college as an Assistant Professor wherer I received a lot of support to fulfill those goals. 

What are the key projects you are working on today?

I am continuing to work on SecondLook. I have a great group of students working with me to turn it into a more robust application with emphasis on promoting user trust and empathy. This will help raise awareness about interpersonal violence especially amongst young adults.

The New College of Florida also has an excellent Marine Biology Program . I am working with them to   create a virtual reality experience for environmental stewardship for 8 to 12 year old children.  The program will use virtual reality and gamification to teach students how every day pollutants can have a negative impact on the ocean, for example a turtle could see a plastic bag and think it is a jelly fish and eat it and choke. 

How did you become involved in the Tapia Conference?

I became involved in the Tapia conference as a graduate student.  I presented my first research poster in Tapia 2012.  Later in 2016 I presented in the Doctoral Consortium. Last year I was a Doctoral Consortium judge and a BOF panelists. Everyone at Tapia has been great at providing constructive feedback.  I took my first student to Tapia last year and I’ll be taking two students this year. 

What are you looking forward to at Tapia this year?

I really enjoy being able to connect with people I’ve met over the years.  The friends I’ve met at Tapia have become family now: we share not just our work but our lives. I’m also looking forward to the Doctoral Consortium, there will be a huge range of papers being presented.  And it is such a strong environment that is all about collaboration and being welcoming.  We are all there to help each other rise above our struggles and celebrate each other’s success.

Why do you think it is important for PhD students to participate in the Doctoral Consortium?

PhD students should apply to present at the Doctoral Consortium for the following reasons.  First, it is a great place to talk about your work where people will give you constructive feedback.  It is all about giving you different perspectives about your work.  Second you are going to be able to hear the other PhD students in your session present so you can learn new things and also see how other people are approaching their work. 

Any other tips for attendees this year?

I’m an introvert and I often find it scary to go up and speak to strangers.  Tapia is a different experience; everyone is so warm and welcoming.  People will engage with you about a topic you’re interested in and give you feedback and encouragement.  It is a great place to practice your networking skills. I encourage you to use our networking lounge and connect with new people throughout the conference.