STEM Woman Leader of the Day- Jennifer Chayes (Microsoft)
Submitted by Tommy Cornelis on September 14, 2012
Jennifer Chayes is Distinguished Scientist and Managing Director of Microsoft Research New England and Microsoft Research New York City. She is a renowned interdisciplinary scientist, author of over 110 papers and 25 patents, in mathematics, physics, computer science and social sciences. Chayes is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of Computing Machinery and the Fields Institute. She serves on numerous boards and committees including as Chair of the Turing Award Committee. Chayes’ leadership has been recognized with many awards including the Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision Award.
Why do you believe STEM Education and Workforce are important to our nation?
One of America’s greatest strengths has been its ability to creatively use science and technology to provide solutions to the challenging problems of the day, and in the process create the businesses of tomorrow. Today, this inventive spirit fuels new ventures from Silicon Valley to Silicon Alley, from web-scale technologies to biotech to environmental start-ups. But many of the nation’s high-tech jobs are going unfilled by graduates of U.S. colleges and universities. We need to train more scientists and technologists to model complex systems and perform large-scale computations on huge data sets. We also need a scientifically educated citizenry to understand the choices that face us, and to make wise decisions for ourselves and our children.
What can we do to assure more women leaders in STEM?
In order to assure more women leaders in STEM, we must first attract more women into STEM careers. Numerous studies have shown that girls are tremendously excited about math and science until early adolescence, when they begin to see themselves pursuing non-scientific careers. Why do we lose them? I contend that one reason is that we do not properly represent STEM careers to young women. The media portrays STEM careers as less collaborative and creative than those in the arts and humanities – we see the image of the solitary nerd sitting in front of his computer. However, the reality is much richer. Each and every day, I get to be creative and collaborative doing science and envisioning new technologies. We need to amplify this message to everyone who doesn’t fit the standard STEM stereotype, and embrace people who can work collaboratively and design the future.
What about STEM gives you passion?
I am incredibly passionate about the interdisciplinary nature of STEM. I have a varied past: a B.A. in biology and physics, a Ph.D. in mathematical physics, post-docs in mathematics and physics, and a professorship in mathematics. Fifteen years ago, I moved to Microsoft to co-found an interdisciplinary group in theoretical computer science, math and physics. And, in the past four years, I co-founded two labs combining mathematical and social sciences, and even some computational biology. Along the way, I’ve had the privilege of training over 100 grad student interns and over 50 post-docs in interdisciplinary STEM fields. I am constantly inspired by the opportunity to take insights from one discipline and use them to fuel discoveries in another.
Of what one initiative you are most proud?
I am most proud of co-founding two interdisciplinary labs – Microsoft Research New England and Microsoft Research New York City – bringing together researchers in the mathematical and social sciences. Our labs are helping to establish new fields at the boundaries of machine learning, mathematics and theoretical computer science with economics, sociology and anthropology. These new fields provide the intellectual framework necessary for web-scale technologies, such as online social networks and cloud computing. The research in these labs is enabling us to anticipate and create the technologies of the future, and to provide a venue to train a new generation of interdisciplinary STEM researchers.