Kristen Ray

she/her/hers

Where you can find her: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kristen-ray-335790124/

Education:

  • B.Sc., SUNY Oswego, Cognitive Science, Computer Science, 2018
  • M.Sc., SUNY Oswego, Human Computer Interaction, 2019

Current Job Title: Cognitive & Analytics Consultant

What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue?

In high school I was fortunate enough to be in a 3 year science research course where we were given the liberty the first year to explore any research topic we wanted. So I decided to look into experiments associated with monkeys since they were my favorite animals and stumbled upon the idea of mirror neurons and cognition. It wasn’t a feasible concept to do any research with at a high school level but it was super interesting, and when I was trying to figure out what to major in for college, I reflected on that interest and explored it a bit more. And here we are now with a degree in cognitive science!

Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career.

My freshman year I had a professor who was super passionate about the questions that were being asked in cognition, and who formulated his tests in a way that evaluated how much you knew by how well you can ask questions about it. I was inspired by that model of thinking and he always encouraged me throughout my undergraduate years. 

There was also only one female professor in the electrical engineering department and I was fortunate enough to have her as my professor when I was the only woman in the class. She encouraged me to stop trying to be the best or prove myself under the basis that I was representing all women of color in the world. It was an unproductive pressure I was putting on myself so she helped me shift my perspective to make it productive and encouraging. 

Also I would say my peers in the woman in computing group in college, going to the WiC conference they hosted that had Reshma Saujani (CEO of Girls Who Code (GWC) who I worked for later) and going to an all woman hackathon were things that made me feel like I wasn’t alone and encouraged me to keep going.

Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it?

Imposter syndrome is so real! I mentioned before being the only woman in the class, there was oftentimes I was one of few women in the classroom. When I first started taking computer science classes I felt so behind, because everyone else had previous experience in coding and I was just learning what a variable is! It was discouraging but I just focused on me. Like these are the resources I was given and look at all that I did with it! Look at how much I could learn starting from nothing! And I see women of color ahead of me doing what I’m doing so we can get through this! 

Another moment happened when I first got into IBM. Everyone else in my start group came from these big named schools and I was from a random state school in upstate NY so a regular question was, wow how’d you get here? One person even said, oh so who did you know to get this job? That made me second guess myself and my qualification for the position but I needed to root my credentials in the skills I knew I had, no matter what the background papers or other people said. I’ve done the work and I know I bring perspective and valuable information to the table.

Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path.

I was in shock to see the degree that data can be manipulated to present a certain story. And how bias’ in how you collect data, or input data in an algorithm can amplify the bias’ of people. Classic recent example is bias in facial recognition software to recognize white faces and not black ones. Even when talking about interpretation of facial expression. AI ethics for this reason is something I have been very interested in. 

Can you give some examples of how you have incorporated your non scientific interests into your work.

I am a big advocate of education, and access to education to underprivileged communities. I’ve worked with GWC before I started with IBM and am currently involved in an IBM Service Corps project that is working to enhance remote learning in South Africa. I’m fortunate to work at a company that has many initiatives you can get involved with outside of your main project.

Is there some advice you could share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path.

YOU BELONG IN THE ROOM. Always start there when you feel uncertain. 

YOU ARE ALLOWED TO FAIL. Knowing that you don’t have to be perfect takes a huge weight off of your shoulders. You are allowed mistakes, make sure you learn from them! You are allowed to ask for help. There is so much more value in knowing what you don’t know rather than pretending you know it all.

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