Telling Our Stories – Tina Marjanow

Each year we meet incredible women at womENcourage™ celebrations. We ask womENcourage participants to tell their stories in blog posts. We continue 2022 with Tina Marjanow,  who was in the final year of MSc. in Computer Science at Vrije Universiteit (VU) and University of Amsterdam (UvA) when she participated in the event.

My womENcourage Experience

By Tina Marjanow

WomENCourage was the first conference I ever attended. Sure, I’ve heard a lot about the interesting events, presentations and speakers it brings together every year and the opportunities to meet and network with interesting researchers and professionals, but as a master’s student, I was yet to experience all of that myself. I applied with an open mind, not really sure what to expect, ready to go with the flow and see where it took me. 

I was not disappointed. From the early morning yoga sessions that helped me transition from a zombie to a functional human being to interesting discussions about the future of computer science, AI, cybersecurity, unexpected spins on teaching, programming, and the realities of conducting research and pursuing a PhD –  the conference delivered everything it promised and more! My partner Maria and I even got a chance to present our work on the technical and legal requirements of GDPR in one of the poster sessions.

The one thing that I did not really consider when applying was if and how I could contribute to the conference myself. When the call for volunteers came, I nonetheless bit the bullet – quite nervous and unsure how I could be of help. It turned out to be a great decision and one of the highlights of the conference, if not my favourite part of it. Let me explain why.

While the sessions during the conference provide great stimulation for the mind, volunteering also provides a peek behind the scenes. I could argue that helping out lets you experience two events “for the price of one”. You can attend the events you are interested in just the same, but at the same time, you get involved in the organization. With the conference being organized online, the volunteers were requested to help out by hosting zoom sessions, providing some technical support and aiding with the helpdesk and slack channels. While relatively low responsibility and -if things run smoothly- often quiet roles, they are still important to help the conference run smoothly while also providing some satisfaction knowing you helped something happen. 

Volunteering also allowed me to cross paths with a group of enthusiastic young women at a similar point in life as myself, which I would likely only meet briefly had I not decided to volunteer. Working together, even if just for a few days, gave us an opportunity to get to know each other, get inspired by and inspire each other. The pre-conference and late-night video meetings during the conference quickly went from “strictly business”, planning, and scheduling to us sharing stories, experiences, words of encouragement and future plans (who knows when our paths will cross again?). I left the conference knowing not only what is happening on the front lines of research and industry but also full of ideas about how to unwind after a long day of research and how to approach the next steps I want to make in my career. The cherry on top was the always positive and flexible volunteer chair that guided us through the whole process.

Overall, I do not regret a single minute of it. While volunteering does add some extra work and responsibility on your plate and makes the few days before and during the conference a bit longer, it also makes the womENcourage experience so much richer. 

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