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Integrating Ethics in Computing Research Leads to Prestigious Switzerland Conference

Posted on Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Noelle Brown, a second-year PhD student and Utah chapter ARCS Scholar, studies how people can best integrate ethical components into technical courses at University of Utah. Her first year led her to write a paper about how students think about an ethical problem when technical solutions make ethical consequences. The results led to a conflicting conclusion and one worth presenting to the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Conference on International Computing Education Research in Lugano, Switzerland. The conference is one of the most prestigious in the computing education field with a low acceptance rate.

It was not an easy process to earn the honor of presenting in Switzerland. The conference has a seventeen percent acceptance rate. Brown submitted her paper for peer review and received feedback from three anonymous peer reviewers in a double-blind submission. They thought her work was valuable and worth sharing.

“I was really, really honored,” Noelle shares. Her paper detailed how her study was conducted and the results. “There’s a mismatch in students’ technical calculations and their ethical goal or what they want to accomplish. That has big implications because those are the types of ethical decisions that an actual computer scientist will be making. How do you optimize a path for safety?” questions Noelle.

The conference was not only an opportunity to share her research with peers but also to connect with them and the top professionals in her field.

“My favorite part, and why it was rejuvenating in my PhD, was I got to meet the top people in my field whose work I’ve been reading for years, looking out to, and citing. They’re almost like celebrities, it’s nerdy to say, but I really did feel like I was meeting my celebrities,” explains Noelle. “It was really inspiring and after my presentation, I got really good feedback from the community. My peers whom I really look up to, also value my work, so I must be doing something good. That was really special.”

Noelle credits her ARCS Scholar Award as the reason why she was able to do such a rare accomplishment as a first-year PhD student. The ARCS Scholar Award provided Noelle with security by ensuring her basic needs were met, which meant she could focus on her research. 

“The number one reason I was able to do it without overwhelm or burnout was because of the financial support from ARCS,” shares Noelle. “That extra funding really pushed me over the edge, so I don’t have to stress over finances now, and that’s huge. It’s a huge burden on grad students because we don’t make a lot. And if you’re stressed about the basics in your life, like food or housing, then you won’t be able to do well in your work.”

ARCS Foundation is also an inspiring organization to Noelle, “Computer science is a field largely dominated by men. I am very much the minority being a woman in my department. So, having support from an organization founded and run by women is really, really inspiring.”

She shares this gratitude by attending events put on by her local chapter. She enjoys reveling in the female community ARCS provides. “I just don’t get to see that in my field. It’s nice to have those women leaders as role models in the STEM field,” she concluded.