Humans of CSE June: Meet Our Co-Presidents!

Humans of CSE June: Meet Our Co-Presidents!

Welcome to Humans of CSE June! What does it take to be co-president of one of the largest societies at UNSW? What’s it like working closely with university students while keeping it enjoyable and inspiring passion? This month, we are thrilled to introduce our talented co-presidents at CSESoc UNSW who are breaking barriers and shaping the future of the field.

What inspired you to pursue a leadership role in Computer Science?

Lesley (L): If you want things to improve, you have to take action and be the change you want to see. In high school, I participated in tech outreach programs but felt the “women in tech” messaging was sometimes reductive and tokenistic. To truly have equity we would need genuine representation. This belief led me to join CSEsoc’s media subcommittee and EngSoc’s Publications in my first year - I wanted to create content that challenged perceptions and educated students about technology. Through these roles, I was able to work on projects like CSEsoc’s Ethics in Tech Podcast and EngSoc’s Engineering Student’s Google Autocomplete interview. With the help of each society, I was able to bring to life information that I saw was missing!

University societies are amazing in the way that they can allow students like us to make a tangible difference, whether it be through making impactful content or thoughtful events, and I wanted to further this drive to help and inspire as many people as possible - to have a group of students passionate about the same thing! But why should you care so much about “representation?” Because diversity is what helps us solve problems, which is the crux of computer science! The next big thing won’t be created if we all think the same way and have the same experiences. It’s no longer about questioning your abilities but more like that they need you in the room!

Elizabeth (E): It’s hard to pin-point one event or moment that inspired me to pursue a leadership role in Computer Science – it was more so a collection of my experiences throughout uni. Evidently, it all started when I was first pushed by several different people to apply for CSESoc Subcommittee (subcom) which I was very hesitant to do as I didn’t have a clue what subcom was. I did end up having a look at the different ports and joining the Student Experience portfolio (Studex) which is now known as the Outreach and Socials portfolios. From that experience of joining a subcommittee and getting a chance to create events that I could see with my own eyes making a difference to CSE student’s experience of uni, I would say is what first prompted me to think – wait, I can actually make a real difference. I had the ability to create events, experiences that could really help students, help bridge the gaps between a student’s academic needs and their university experience. That was the first moment I started to see my capability in making an impact and it was when I first even considered myself capable of applying for a leadership role.

I’d say stepping into the role of Outreach Director was also a major factor in pushing me to pursue further leadership roles and eventually putting myself forward for Co-President at CSESoc. At the start of my directorship I was pretty unsure of myself - of whether I was capable of leading a subcom. But throughout the year alongside my amazing subcom I learnt the skills I needed as I went - and you realise that you're more capable than you think you are. I built my confidence and improved my communication skills and as they say “learnt on the job” so I highly recommend just putting yourself out there. You never know - you might be just what they’re looking for and don’t be afraid to put yourself forward for male-dominated leadership roles as your perspective is such a valuable perspective so don’t be intimidated (because they’re just as intimidated of you).

Lesley, you are going on exchange soon! What motivated you to pursue an exchange program?

L: I’ve wanted to study abroad since high school - so I’ve always been on the lookout for opportunities. I’ll split my response into more general advice and Asia exchange scholarships advice.

In general, research is super important! You have to submit your application a year before you leave, but you should be researching well before the deadline, the earlier the better! There are only so many time slots available to partake in exchange, and due to other factors, life, internships, etc, that time frame may only be narrowed to one time! So it's imperative that you research your options, location, duration, school and so on. However, university exchange isn't the only way to study aboard. UNSW has Work Integrated Learning (WIL) courses which can take you overseas for part of a term, usually 2-3 weeks. These are usually run by UNSW in collaboration with another organisation. I went to one in January at Cambridge University in the UK - a great learning experience as you get exposed to new people and a new environment.

At UNSW, university exchange nominations are offered by WAM, unfortunately, which means if you want to go to a top ranked uni, chances are, everyone else wants to too, and thus, places are given to those with a higher WAM - so study hard if you want to go to a UC campus or UTokyo. But of course, wam isn't everything, and there’s amazing universities available for exchange no matter what your mark is 👍

On scholarships: If you are interested in studying abroad in Asia or the Indo-Pacfic, there are two scholarships (as of now) that are available! Westpac Scholars and The New Colombo Plan Scholarship. I'll be going to Hong Kong on the New Colombo scholarship, however both of these are great opportunities and I highly recommend you research them if you're interested in exchange in the Indo-Pacific region.

Don't be afraid to apply for these - imposter syndrome will get you nowhere because the worst thing you can get is a rejection and at best a spanking scholarship - so don't be afraid to put yourself forward for an opportunity!

Elizabeth, you’re a familiar sight in the CSE labs. How did you get into tutoring?

E: If you are looking to apply to be a tutor 100% go for it even if you don’t know if you're quite qualified - have a go. It’s not just about having perfect grades or anything, it's also about previous experience teaching people and your skill sets, though having a good mark in the course you’re applying to become a tutor definitely helps. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get the tutor position you apply for first go - I had to apply twice before I was offered the role for COMP1531. Sometimes it’s as simple as supply and demand, some terms will require more tutors than others and hence why if you don’t receive the role first time round definitely try again the next term. Also a tit-bit of advice, first year courses will tend to have more people applying to be a tutor as more people have done the course, so it might be worthwhile putting a 2nd+ year course as your top course to tutor.

How do you two balance your academic commitments with your leadership responsibilities?

L: I underload! There's only so much you can do when you work, engage in extracurriculars and study, all while trying to maintain a social life. Three years is a short time for a single degree and it can fly by - so underloading or taking your time can be a good thing! You get to figure out what you want to do, spend more time on things you enjoy, be able to go more in depth than your classes instead of just struggling to pass and all in all, it's good. Of course this is just what works for me and people have their reasons for wanting to get through uni as fast as possible. But just know that you won't be falling behind if you unload because everyone goes at their own pace 👍

But also, To-do lists and Google Calendar. Cannot stress the importance of online calendars especially in university and life in general. There are always a thousand things that demand your attention no matter what you do and it would suck to forget something important so put everything on Google Calendar. Also to do lists. Stick to a format that works for you and sometimes simpler is better. It can be overwhelming trying to organise yourself with everything available so I recommend just getting either a paper diary or sticky notes and writing the things that you need to do on those - sort it out by day, week and so on.

it's easy to get overwhelmed so that's a it's important to put pen to pay off and write down everything that you need to do from there you can organise them by priority difficulty so on

E: Hahahah it is definitely NOT EASY and I definitely would not say I have found the perfect balance between academics, leadership responsibilities, working and also having fun but I’m always working on it and trying to improve. What I do to try to balance all my commitments is having a weekly schedule for the term mapping out when all my classes, work and meetings are and then I try to allocate when I will study for a particular subject within that weekly calendar. You can use Notion or Google Calendars, there are a bunch of different tools to do this. Make sure you put in times when you will study to get yourself into a routine and keep yourself accountable. Also put in times when you’ll exercise or just relax as well cause it’s not all about studying!

What I started doing for the second half of last semester that I also found really useful was putting my phone on work focus during the day so I wasn’t distracted by notifications and messages while studying and to allocate specific times when I would look at any messages related to my leadership responsibilities i.e., only checking messages and work related to society when I woke up and then again at night after 6pm or later giving myself the day to focus on my own work. My final tip is To-Do lists - they work wonders, I have a separate To-Do list for my own tasks and things I need to do for society just to further separate things out so it’s evident when I need to focus more on my own work or if I need to dedicate a bit more time to my society responsibilities.

For more useful resources:

CSESoc Discord - A great place to ask questions and get advice from fellow students!

UNSW Subreddit - This is not CSESoc affiliated, however it is popular amongst students when seeking useful advice that may have been asked by past students in subreddits. Use at your own discretion.

CSESoc Outreach aims to release monthly articles that highlight the diverse experiences of students. We invite you to submit feedback or share your own insights through the form. Your stories, advice or perspectives could be invaluable to someone navigating university life.

Joyce He & Sapphire Wildie