Maya Raman | Ramblings Longer Than Your Neural Network Training Time - My First Year in Outreach

What I Most Love

The thing you hear most about when you ask anyone on ACM/ACM AI/ACM AI Outreach/Events what they like most about their organization is always the people. I wish I could come up with something more original to say, but it’s true. While at first I was incredibly intimidated by them, Arjun and Sharvani quickly became my UCLA role models. They could do anything—they literally organized a whole high school course and hackathon for the queer community among tons of other things??????? Everyone preaches about inclusivity and accessibility, including myself, but people rarely actually take action to bend our society towards those ideals (including myself). But somehow Arjun and Sharvani found ways to fight for things they’re passionate about while researching in labs and going to parties and getting good (I think?) grades and holding officer positions in other clubs and somehow finding the time to go hiking too, all while maintaining their sanity. It blew my mind that people could be this productive, passionate, and good for the world, and I think this is the 2943039th time I’ve expressed this sentiment, but I’ll never stop because I think everyone needs to be like them.

Of course, I must also give love to my fellow officers—most of us started as shy freshmen on one Tuesday night at 9 pm in Boelter Hall 3720 or whatever and grew into a little family! From creating “Intro to Neural Networks” with Mat and Nisha to getting Study pizza after every meeting with Kai <3 to Aman helping me with CS32 Project 4 (except I still failed) to my and Jason’s batch normalization blog post making us FAMOUS to Peter (and Mat) saving my a$$ after getting Zoom bombed to Sumedha courageously asking us for feedback on slides right off the bat, look at us! We are now seasoned ACM individuals and part of the coolest subcommittee out there and have done some actually INCREDIBLE things!

What I’m Most Proud Of

Personally, I’m most proud of the AI + Social Impact panel because it was my first official initiative as Events Director. Yes, we got pretty badly Zoom-bombed, but we started a conversation about security (we are the blueprint 😌) and put on a good and REALLY necessary panel. I had the event in my head for a long, long time, but didn’t realize how much other people would want it too. Although I wish it was attended by more non-CS majors, I’m really happy with how it turned out and I’m really excited to organize more in the future.

I’m also super proud of the slides we put together. They were okay back in November, but by June we really stepped it up. The slides are now so sexy and blue and sleek; the content is well-thought out and explained so well. A lot of meeting hours and late nights went into those slides, and I think their content and presentation really reflect that (special shoutout to my Animal Crossing: New Horizons slides!).

To be completely honest, I was a lot more enamored with artificial intelligence before I learned that it’s mostly math. Learning about artificial intelligence showed me I don’t want to pursue a career in AI (honestly, I’m not even sure about computer science, but that’s another story), but I am just as (if not MORE) passionate about ACM AI compared to when I started. I like to think that I’m here to represent the people who, like me, get scared and tap out when technical math, big words, and Greek letters get involved. That being said, I learned SO MUCH and feel much more confident in my abilities in understanding and discussing AI—can’t wait to interact with some mansplainers so I can show off!

The Future?

Cool and diverse events! I want to put on an AI+ML career fair, as I’ve been discussing with my officers. I would especially love to be able to structure this career fair in such a way that we can market it to non-CS and maybe even non-STEM majors. There are other events I want to put on such as Demystifying AI, research panels, and company tours. I hope we can come up with even more creative ideas, but all with an emphasis on diversity and inclusivity. My personal challenge is to get English majors to attend our events.

The artificial intelligence field is full of buzzwords. It’s getting big and scary and can be very exclusive and inaccessible. Along with my officers, I will work as hard as I can at breaking down the notion that you have to be a genius to pursue AI or that you need strong and developed roots in computer science principles. We’ve seen from the events we’ve put on, from podcasts we’ve recorded, and from ourselves that you can come from any field and get involved with AI. There are big movements right now to diversify STEM, and as college students—the bridge between grade school and industry—I think joining these movements and keeping them going needs to be ACM’s biggest responsibility. Frankly, I’m not really sure if we can actually make a big systemic change. But I know that if we devote our events to pushing our rhetoric of inclusivity, we will at least help our own communities make AI more accessible for all.

Other

I will finish my excessively long and sappy blog post with a bunch of lessons I’ve learned and tips I think are appropriate to share, for anyone who maybe is starting with ACM AI or just reading this in general.

  1. Reflect on professors you’ve loved or hated. What did they do well? In what specific ways could they have done better? Take mental note of this when you’re in class as well, and when developing curriculum/slides/any teaching material keep these observations in mind.
  2. When hosting events where you have people come to present, get panelists who are passionate about the purpose of your event, not just about sharing their work. Plenty of people like to talk about themselves (like ME!) but may not deliver the interest or point of view you deserve. Obviously, you can’t judge everything at first glance, but (personally) if their emails make me feel cold, I look in another direction if I can.
  3. Medium!! I didn’t know the platform existed before I came to college, but now I love it. Although I run out of free articles really quickly, Medium blogs are really, really good at breaking down AI and avoiding the technical terms and Greek letters that I previously spoke out against. Also, I love the English/humanities/self-help side of Medium. If you can’t tell, I’m kind of definitely a North campus major at heart.
  4. Find ways to integrate your other passions with AI. For example, I love Animal Crossing. I actually don’t play it because my brother took over the Switch, but I think it is one of the most beautiful forms of escapism I’ve ever seen. Matrix multiplication slides were some of the most tedious to make, but having even a small amount of Animal Crossing in there made them so fun to visualize and create.
  5. Pay attention to when you have been at your most vulnerable. UCLA’s weeder classes made me question many things. They made me frustrated, made me cry, and made me feel like I wasn’t cut out for computer science. And that makes me mad, because I am cut out for CS. I’m sure many of my peers have experienced the same feelings of insecurity. Pay attention to when/why you’ve felt that, and cater to it. Make sure your projects/events/curricula/whatever actively attempt to be accessible and to help others. Give that intimidated and frustrated student a chance to grow and see that tech/CS/AI is for them. Tech is a lucrative field, but what good is it if it only benefits one or two communities?
  6. Be proud of people, and tell them when you’re proud. I know it may seem awkward or sappy at first, but the best way to go past that boundary is to charge right toward it. Plus, it feels good!
Written on July 18, 2020 by Maya Raman