Stanford Women in Data Science (#WiDS2018) @ the American University of Beirut

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Stanford Women in Data Science (#WiDS2018) at the American University of Beirut where I presented on one of my favorite topics, “Humanizing Analytics; Putting Society at the Center of AI Innovation“. Attending this event was a great experience both personally and professionally.

On a professional level, the event was a great opportunity to meet with a diverse cross-section of technologists and data scientists from the region and to get to hear their perspectives on the challenges that face our industry, specifically as it pertains to female participation. The event was extremely well organized and structured in such a way to give lots of opportunity for conversation, with the inspiring talks contributing to passionate discussion. I was also lucky enough to join a round table, hosted by Dr. Dima Jamali who is representative of the Global Compact Network Lebanon (GCNL), to discuss the role of data science in furthering progress of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was fascinating to engage with a broad cross-section of interested parties to explore this intersection of technology, data, analytics, and global development.

On a personal level, this trip to Lebanon resulted in so many great memories that will stay with me a long time. I have to confess that when I was initially invited to attend this event I was a wee bit nervous. I had never visited the Middle East (aside from Dubai) and what with all the negative news these days, it is not too surprising that we all freak out at the idea of visiting the region. However after speaking with the organizers, I decided to stop being a baby and just go… and I am so glad that I did.

Lebanon is the most amazing place to visit. The people are so friendly and welcoming, the food is to die for, and the history of the place is just outstanding; especially if you are a sucker for the history of ancient civilizations, which I am. Do you know that Lebanon as been conquered by 17 civilizations since the Phoenicians 3,000+ years ago? You can’t dig a hole in Beirut, but you hit on the ruins of half a dozen civilizations, all layered on top of each other. During my stay I went on 3 different tours, all recommended by my new friends at that American University which covered North, South, and East of the country. Every place I visited was amazing, however if I had to pick the top 3 places, they would be the following:

Baalbek: This has the largest and best preserved Roman temples in the world, they are truly spectacular.

Beit ed-Dine: This is a palace built during the Ottoman period and is really very beautiful and gives some sense of how they would have lived during that period.

Byblos: This is a Phoenician town and also has ruins from the Crusaders. Since the Phoenician period is much older than the Roman or Islamic periods, it’s not as well preserved but still gives a feeling of how they would have lived, and the town is also very quaint.

One extra “must visit” is the Jeita Grotto which comprises two truly beautiful (and huge) caves that are just spectacular. Unfortunately you can’t take photos inside the grottos, so here is a link to a photo on the Discover Lebanon website.

So I’ll finish up by extending a huge thanks to the folks from the AUB who organized everything and ensured that my visit was productive, both professionally and personally, with a special call-out to Fida Kanaan and Mirna Mekdashi. You guys are awesome. I also must make good on a promise I made to my Nakhal tour guide Natasha, which was that I would tell everyone I meet that “Lebanon is a great place to visit and a place you should all have on your Bucket List”.

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