The 2020 International Young Women Scientist Camp and Smart Sister Workshop ran from the 4 – 6th of November, bringing together female engineers and scientists from around the world to a hybrid conference held both online and in person in Daejeon, South Korea.

As a current Computer Science PhD student, this was my first time attending the event, so was both excited and hesitant to learn what it was all about. Due to the pandemic, I was particularly curious to see how smoothly a conference focused on networking, building connections and friendships, and sharing research across disciplines would flow virtually. Before the conference participants were asked to upload an abstract on their current research, followed by a presentation in the format of a poster or oral presentation. Additionally, with the presence of so many countries and backgrounds, participants were further invited to prepare a short video of their culture to share.

Research presentations, cultural video presentations and online lab tours were held on the 4th and 5th, the first two days of the event. Unlike an event held in person where we would all meet and interact with the presenters, the online conference meant that presentations were uploaded to the website, and we were able to peruse them during this time.

The online mentoring session was the first-time online participants had a chance to meet others. The mentor for my session was Dr Sunhwa Nahn from the National Research Council of Science and Technology. With me were 4 other girls, from Sri-Lanka, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Malaysia, reflecting the diversity of attendance. The mentoring session was insightful and an interesting experience as I was exposed to the cultural differences we held, and the varying perspectives represented in the session.

The last day of the conference was filled with Keynote presentations and a smart-sister workshop. A key speaker on the day was Dr Jane Goodall. This was my first time to hear about her background and the experiences she had that brought her to where she is today. Her story was incredibly inspiring, and I took away strength that having an unconventional start to your career does not detract from your ability to have a meaningful impact. Further, I saw that it was her empathy and kindness towards the chimpanzees she worked with that played a key role in her attitude to her work and no doubt fuelled her animal advocacy passion today.

The event ended with the smart-sisters workshop, a presentation past attendees. They all spoke passionately about the friendships made and how those close ties had remained over time. Unfortunately, this was one aspect of the conference that was hard to accomplish virtually. Being online could not allow personal connections with other participants this year. Despite this, the conference was very enjoyable and refreshing to learn about disciplines different from my own. The conference was incredibly well organised, and everything went very smoothly.

My sincere thanks to Dr Marlene Kanga, Immediate Past president of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations and Prof. Ashok Peiris, Chair NSW Chapter, Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka, who nominated me to represent Australia at the Young Woman Scientists Camp (YWS2020). My thanks also to the Korea Woman Scientists and Engineers Association for their excellent organisation of the event.  I am glad to see events like this being organised, a way to connect and build a supportive and positive community!

Dr Manisha Senadeera
Australian representative to YWS2020
Deakin University

Participants in Daejeon Korea at the YWS Camp 2020

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