Dr Mahsa Mohaghegh is Founder and Director of the women’s networking group She Sharp (She#) and Lecturer in Information Technology and Software Engineering at AUT.
What do you do on an average work day?
As a lecturer at AUT, I am quite involved with students each day – from lecturing in the classroom to supervising student projects. I am also involved in several research areas such as Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning.
I also manage some outreach areas for our department, and work closely with high schools by running interactive workshops for students, and presentations to encourage more interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). My days are generally filled with meetings, presentations, and lots of emails!
What did you study at school? And after high school?
At high school I did focused study on mathematics and physics, after which I started studying in the field of Computer and Software Engineering. I completed a Bachelor of Computer Engineering, and a Masters in Computer Architecture, and then went on to complete a PhD in the area of Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing.
Was your study directly related to what you do now?
The research I am involved with at the moment is strongly related to what I studied, and in many cases has been an extension of my study areas. The subjects I am currently teaching are also related to my original study areas.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
Talk to people who are already working in the area you are interested in! Talk, network, find out from those who are already there. Choose something that you are passionate about – not something you think other people would expect you to be interested in.
Give yourself the opportunity to try new things – you never know if you would be good at something without trying. Following from this, never be disappointed with your failures; instead, learn from them and try to improve yourself.
Finally, find a mentor you can trust – one who has experienced both success and failure, and can help you establish a clear vision for your career.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
Throughout my career, the best highlights have been the ability to help others to succeed. Currently I work as a lecturer with a group of highly talented and accredited staff at Auckland University of Technology, and helping and mentoring students in different levels of their life – from high school to PhD level.
Perhaps my biggest satisfaction and highlight for myself was founding and directing She Sharp, a group to help and encourage women in technology fields. Within this group I'm working with an amazing team of passionate individuals towards changing the gender-influenced perception of computer science, and encouraging more women into technology.
Other highlights I have experienced are being awarded two scholarship during my PhD study, being selected as a finalist and winner for the Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship in 2012 and 2013, being awarded the NZ Women of Influence award in the Emerging Leader category in 2013, and being a finalist for the 2017 New Zealander of the Year awards in the Kiwibank NZ Local Hero and Sanitarium Innovator of the Year categories.
Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?
I have always maintained that it is important to understand how things work, and to be producers of technology – not just consumers. As technological advances become more interwoven with everyday life, understanding technology is becoming more and more important.
We are on the brink of significant change to the workplace, and concepts such as cognitive computing and artificial intelligence will very shortly rise to new levels in our society. Being at least educated and aware of the issues around this situation is necessary to ensure we are adequately prepared for what these changes bring – in New Zealand and any other country.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
It has been identified on a number of levels that maintaining an equal number of men and women in any field has significant benefits. Having a diverse range of people in STEM ensures that aspects and facets of this field are viewed from all angles – including those which are not often encountered by men.
In an equal population, both women and men are consumers of technology. It is at the very least reasonable to ensure that the same proportion is represented in technology’s development space.
Dr. Mahsa Mohaghegh is a lecturer in the Department of Information Technology and Software Engineering at AUT, and is also the founder and director of women’s networking group She Sharp.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
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