Advancing Life & Work

How do women in science choose between academia and industry and balance work and life?


By Curt Hopkins, Managing Editor, Hewlett Packard Labs

Diman Zad Tootaghaj, post-doctoral researcher at Hewlett Packard Labs, led a panel devoted to women in STEM at the N2Women event at NSDI 2020 in late February in Santa Clara.

The panel at the 17th USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation was organized by Tootaghaj and “open to everyone who identifies with any minority, not just women,” according to her. The N2Women events aim to foster the minority community within NSDI, and make it easier for the under-represented attendees to fully participate in the conference.

“We were honored to hold an N2Women meeting at NSDI 2020 with enlightening panel discussion with distinguished panelists from academia and industry who shared their knowledge and valuable experiences with us,” says Tootaghaj.

She and her panelists covered two topics: Academia vs. Industry Research Positions for women in science and Work/Life Balance for Women in Computing.

Those panelists included Dr. Dina Papagiannaki, Partner Engineering Manager, Microsoft; Dr. Ying Zhang, Engineering Manager, Facebook; Prof. Sonia Fahmy, Professor, Purdue University; and Dr. Deb Agrawal, Senior Scientist, Lawrence Berkley Labs.

The panelist shared their experiences about academic vs industry positions and gave insightful advice for unrepresented minorities to enter the field, says Tootaghaj. Dr. Sonia Fahmy shared techniques for women to use who want to be heard in meetings.

Dr. Ying Zhang, explained the challenge of balancing work and family life as a mother of two kids and how she was able to overcome the challenge by being more productive and more focused at work and focus on quality time and plan for family activities on weekends. Dr. Dina Pappagianaki, also added that as a mother of three kids she had learned how to work most efficiently during her working hours.

Dr. Deb Agrawal explained that "If you are consistently working long hours and you end up seeming tired and overworked at work, your co-workers and boss have a tendency to think this means you are not able to handle your work load rather than appreciate how hard you are working. It is important to value your time and not over commit." She adds that “if you don’t seem happy and successful at work, you are less likely to be chosen for new projects and promotions."

Tootaghaj has attended many mentoring workshops in computer science, both as an attendee and as an organizer,.

“A women mentoring workshop creates a wonderful community for women and underrepresented minorities," she says. "I have met some amazing women at these events, some of whom I still keep in close contact. They have always inspired me and motivated me to be the best that I can be!

About the Author


Managing Editor, Hewlett Packard Labs