Leading the way for diverse voices in tech

Jan 21, 2020

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom

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Electrical and computer engineering student Irina Alam recently received the 2019 Cadence Women in Technology scholarship.

The scholarship is given by Cadence Design Systems, a global electronic design automation software company. The annual award honors 13 selected female students currently enrolled full-time in a technology-related disciplines at a college or university.

Alam, who is pursuing a Ph.D. focusing on the circuits and embedded systems, is recognized for her “impressive academic achievements, professor recommendations and drive to shape the future of technology.”

We sat down with Alam to find out more about her scholarship and future plans.

Q: Was there anyone in your life who inspired you to pursue engineering?
My father is an engineer and has always been my biggest source of inspiration. Since childhood, I have been passionate about science, and mathematics and physics were my favorite subjects in school. Hence, engineering was the obvious choice for my undergraduate studies.

Q: What made you decide to pursue a Ph.D.?
After finishing my undergraduate degree from Nanyang Technological University, I joined Micron Technology where I tested and debugged design and manufacturing issues for flash-based memory devices. My experience at Micron inspired me to pursue a doctorate in memory architecture and resilience at UCLA Samueli, which has a great electrical and computer engineering department.

Q: What have you found the most challenging in pursuing engineering?
To me, one of the biggest challenges in electrical engineering is the fast pace and the sheer breadth of the field which makes it an extremely demanding discipline. But, this also makes electrical engineering very fascinating.

Other than this, there are some obvious challenges that I feel come with being female in a male-dominated field, although I have mostly been fortunate to have not explicitly faced discrimination. A few issues that come to mind are that I have often found it difficult to express my opinions and, every so often, I hear that some of the opportunities I am getting is probably because I am from an underrepresented group.

Also, I have sometimes subconsciously experienced an unnecessary sense of accomplishment for being a female in engineering. While the last point stems from the fact that it is often made to look harder for females pursuing engineering, I try to make sure that I don’t buy in to this mentality.

Q: What is the current focus of your research?
My research focuses on lightweight memory resilience in embedded and internet-of-things (IoT) systems. This work affects most IoT devices used today to make them more energy- efficient and fault-tolerant. Overall, my research includes software-defined memory fault -tolerance and opportunistic memory architectures for power and performance benefits. I have also started looking into improved resilience for emerging non-volatile memories.

Q: What does this scholarship mean to you?
This scholarship is a huge source of encouragement for a female student, like me, pursuing research in a male-dominated field. I truly appreciate efforts by companies, such as Cadence, to promote a culture of diversity and inclusion in the field of technology.

Q: You’re almost at the finish line of receiving your Ph.D., so what’s next?
I plan to join a computer architecture research group in a company where I am able to continue to innovate and solve interesting problems for developing and designing high-performance hardware, such as developing machine-learning accelerators.

Q: Any advice for female students considering engineering?
Believe in yourself and do not be afraid to take up challenges!

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