Globally, women are typically underrepresented in many areas within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. In light of the International Day for Women and Girls in Science celebrated on February 11, we sat down with Women in Data Science (WiDS) Ambassador for Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Letetia Addison. She believes one of the keys to sustainable development is ‘using data and statistics to tell the stories of our lives.’ She discusses her STEM career and her support for initiatives involving Women in STEM-related fields, such as Statistics and Data Science, particularly in the Caribbean region.
Tell us about your background and career path
I discovered my love for mathematics at a very young age while using an abacus, a counting frame to perform calculations, gifted to me at the age of 5. That passion evolved over the years as I discovered how important this field was in everyday life. My pursuit of both Mathematics and Science-related subjects at secondary level increased my appreciation for the field even more. My tertiary level path felt like a natural progression, and I pursued the B.Sc. Mathematics (Double Major). Within that time, I also discovered exciting applications involving Probability and Statistics and pursued graduate degrees including the M.Phil. Statistics and the Ph.D. Mathematics. These afforded me the ability to eagerly share my knowledge and teach enthusiastic minds tertiary-level courses related to Mathematics and Statistics. Simultaneously, I also developed an appreciation in the many cross-disciplinary applications to model real-life problems. These have been assets to me in all facets of my career, as a Project Officer, Statistician, Tertiary-level Educator, and Researcher.
How has your background impacted your role as an Ambassador for Women in Data Science and STEM-related fields?
My background has afforded me wonderful opportunities to interact with students, as both an educator and mentor. This sparked my enthusiasm to go beyond taught courses to share the importance of Mathematics and Statistics in both Research and Outreach events. Over the years, I have been able to connect and network with brilliant minds, both male and female.
However, as a female in the arena, I felt inspired to provide not only education and mentorship, but also motivation, inspiration and support for women and girls in the field.
These aligned well with the Women in Data Science global community initiatives, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be a part of a wonderful movement as an ambassador.
What is WiDS Trinidad and Tobago?
WiDS Trinidad & Tobago comprises a group of local data science enthusiasts with backgrounds in Academia and Industry. We host independent virtual events currently, as part of the global initiatives through the WiDS worldwide organisation to inspire and educate data scientists worldwide, and to support women in the field. Our team is hosting exciting events including virtual workshops, spotlight talks and fireside chats from January to March 2023. So far, we have provided training sessions to allow participants the opportunity to learn how statistics and data science tools can be used to build predictive models using climate data.
We are thrilled to be able to simultaneously feature outstanding local and international women, discussing their expertise and experiences in the field. It is an exciting initiative where we are recognising the tremendous contributions women are making in data science around the world. We encourage diversity and inclusion to support collaboration and creativity and I am happy to do all that I can, along with my amazing team of mentors, to create a safe and fun learning environment.
How do you see your contribution as a Caribbean woman in STEM impacting the region?
I am thrilled to be able to do my part to motivate and inspire a new mindset where statistics and data science can be seen as an integral part of the story of our lives.
As a woman in STEM, I do understand the challenges and need to create a safe space for a culture of change, to elevate and support women in STEM fields, such as data science. I believe that supporting communities for women, girls and underrepresented groups is critical for collaboration and growth.
These networks create vital pathways for powerful applications to be harnessed, to grow SDGs unique to the Caribbean region, such as effects of climate change on agriculture. We have enormous potential and talent in our islands and as a region. We are breaking barriers and continue to go above and beyond.
What would your advice be to women and girls looking to get into STEM-related fields?
Go for it! There are many opportunities available, and resources are at your fingertips. In my experience, it is very important to develop both hard skills and soft skills simultaneously. We should strive to go beyond what is taught in the traditional classroom. Collaboration is also the key to success. I highly recommend pursuing online courses, research projects and getting involved in research communities, with supporting mentors in your field. These elements help to build your confidence and emotional intelligence when challenges arise. With the right mindset, you will definitely achieve your goals.
What comes next for you?
I am a true proponent for the importance and beauty of Mathematics and Statistics in STEM-related fields such as Data Science. No matter how fast and far the Big Data revolution progresses, the underlying theories and fundamental Principles which govern fields such as Data Science, including AI and Machine Learning, are indispensable. Multidisciplinary approaches fascinate me, and my long-term goals involve building capacity using education, research, and outreach to create the most sustainable models to enhance our everyday lives.
What are your hopes for women in data science in the future?
I would like to see women in data science and other STEM-related fields continue to inspire and create the path for new generations to make further strides. Particularly in the Caribbean, we have the talent, and the power to improve our region in so many ways. No contribution is too small. I encourage everyone to work together to create a better future for all.
For more information, visit www.widstt.org. All events are free and open to all.
Dr. Addison is a Project Officer and proud Alumna of The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus, with over 10 years’ experience lecturing quantitative courses involving Mathematics and Statistics. She builds data-driven models using Higher Education data and has been actively involved in research and consulting. Some of her projects include building predictive models for student retention and natural disaster risk, probabilistic models for electric vehicle charging behaviours, and applications of mathematical models to simulate financial anomalies. She is also involved in Statistics and Data Science outreach activities.