American University of Beirut

Closing Newsletter Welcome to the Women in Data Science (WiDS) Conference @AUB

​​​​​​​​​​​​Another year, another successful WiDS @AUB!

For the third year in a row, the impactful Women in Data Science at AUB (WiDS @AUB) conference that took place on March 1 2019 at the American University of Beirut (AUB) attracted a huge number of professionals, academics, students, and highly accomplished speakers from the field of data science in the region and the world. WiDS @AUB is an annual event organized by the Olayan School of Business (OSB), and coincides with the Annual Global Women in Data Science (WiDS) conference held at Stanford University and an estimated 150+ locations worldwide.

WiDS @AUB is the largest hub for Data Science in the MENA region, bringing in Arab and international female leaders in Data science to Beirut. This year, we had a record attendance of 1600+ attendees representing 160+ organizations. WiDS success could not have been without the highly accomplished regional and international female speakers at the forefront of data science in the region and around the world. On behalf of the WiDS @AUB organizing team, I would like to thank them for being an integral part of this effort.

The conference would not have been possible without the vision and leadership of this university. On behalf of the WiDS AUB team, I would like to thank President Fadlo Khuri, whose leadership is propelling AUB to shape the future of the region. Many thanks for the Olayan School of Business leadership, Dean Steve Harvey, who has supported us every step of the way, and whose leadership inspires each one of us to transform the business thinking in the MENA region.  Thank you from the heart for Ms. Rasha Bohsali who is working with me on institutionalizing this initiative, and whose commitment and drive are essential in making this event happen; Ms. Fida Kanaan with whom I co-founded WIDS AUB; Dr. Lina Daouk, my dear friend and colleague; and Dr. Hoda Daou, WiDS AUB ambassador, and Mr. Rajab Ghazzaoui for working hard on planning this year’s event.

I have enjoyed incomparable support from our AUB partners, who have been instrumental and core to the success and continuity of WIDS AUB: Thank you for the generous support of Prof. Mohamad Sayegh, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine; Dr. Wafic Sabra and Dr. Jihad Touma, directors of The Center for Advanced Mathematical Sciences (CAMS); Dr. Yousif Asfour, AUB Chief Information Officer; Prof. Hassan Diab, Vice President for Regional External Programs; Ms Salma Ouaida, Associate VP for advancement; Dr. Shadi Saleh, Associate Vice President for Health Affairs; Dr. Bijan Azad. Director of the Darwazah Center for innovation, management, & entrepreneurship; Special thanks to Mr. Martin Asser and Mr. Simon Kachar, and the entire AUB office of communication and a big thank you from the heart to both Ms. Kitija Chemali and the entire OSB office of communication, and to Ms. Nada Kouzi, and the entire OSB facilities team, as they worked very hard to do an outstanding work for an outstanding event. 

I would like to especially  thank the organizations who made today possible. First, Zain group, under the leadership of the Vice Chairman Mr Bader El Kharafi and Chief Diversity Officer Ms. Maryam Saif, with whom we share the vision of women empowerment for a better Arab world; The Google MENA team Joyce Baz and Selim Edde; Ms. Hana Zebian, branch Manager at Byblos bank. I would also like to highlight the incredible support of our community partners, Girls Got IT under the leadership of Ms. Asma Zein, Beirut Digital District, and Dr. Mona Zoughaib.

Finally, I would like to thank each and every one of WiDS attendees who is supporting the mission of WIDS @AUB of advancing the knowledge creation and dissemination of data science in the region, and encouraging young women to join the field. The instrumental support of our attendees is core to our success and is behind the ascending impact and reach, year after year.


Chair, WiDS@AUB Conference

Every Dataframe has a Purpose

WiDS @AUB this year presented an opportunity to hear about the latest practical and research developments in the field of the Data Science from leading international and regional female data scientists. Through tech talks in the Maamari Auditorium and specialized sessions happening in parallel to the main conference in breakout rooms, WiDS AUB 2019 was a platform to learn how leading-edge organizations are leveraging data science for success, and participate in discussions and dynamic exchanges of ideas.  Every year, WiDS AUB aims to inspire, educate and get educated in the field of Data Science, and increase opportunities for women and girls in data science in the region. As Data Science is driving innovation, driving society, and driving our future, there is more need than ever for creative minds and dedicated talent to unlock the potential of data analysis, especially in our MENA region. This conference is to provide our youth with a glimpse of their future potential.

A Journey of a Thousand Data Points Begins with WiDS AUB

From data, skills, and algorithms, to applications and future thinking, we have taken WiDS attendees through every step of the pipeline and beyond. Diverse topics discussed cover four sectors: business, media, healthcare, and public. Our speakers for this year highlighted how data creates knowledge and how knowledge has the power to change lives.

Our journey on March 1 started where all inquiries start, at Google. Our Keynote speaker, Dr. Cassie Kozyrkov, Chief Decision Scientist at Google Cloud, NY, presented the 10 tips on making data science useful. Through microwaves, data engineers, and slices of toast, our distinguished speaker illustrated the complex machine learning and AI algorithms: Algorithms that start learning about us from our clicks and requests and that have led the entertainment giant Netflix inside more than 1 million homes, creating a personalized experience to every user. Dr. Becky Tucker, our distinguished senior data scientist at Netflix, CA, USA, discussed how Netflix knows you more than you know yourself.  From Amazon, Dr. Maryam Fazel-Zarandi, a senior machine learning scientist at Amazon (Alexa), MA, USA, discussed how natural language understanding is invoked in Alexa to replicate our sense of hearing.

From the US, our regional speakers coming from Hearts & Science, MBC Group, and Zain Group, talked about how our region is integrating and adopting data science to drive business growth and client engagement. Laura Chaibi, Head of Market Intelligence and Syndicate Digital Data at MBC, Dubai, explained some of the difficulties faced in data collection and measuring key indicators in the MENA region. Only a small number of clients and companies have undergone digital transformations in the MENA region explained Dana Sarkis, Head of Marketing Science and Growth Strategy at Hearts & Science, Dubai. The MENA region needs a push to start building their business on the data that is being provided and not be scared to rely on it. “They need to accept uncertainty,” explained Tamara Albsoul, Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing Team Leader, at Zain Group Jordan.

From improving lives to saving them, the digital healthcare, moderated by Associate Dean and Professor Samia Khoury, MD, AUBMC,  took place in the afternoon, to get a glimpse of how the future of healthcare looks like with breakthroughs and developments in AI. WiDS AUB this year had AUBMC and Epic talk about the incredible partnership that resulted in digitizing all the healthcare records at AUBMC. Jutta Williams, Senior Program Manager at Google AI, CA, USA, explained the latest developments and applications in streamlining the healthcare process and what we have learned so far that will drive future innovation. Dr. Maria Gabrani, Manager of Cognitive Healthcare and Lifesciences at IBM, provided a glimpse of the future with predictive medicine and personalized healthcare, and walked us through a live demo of IBM Watson for Oncology on stage. Dr. Jumana Antoun, MD, AUBMC walked us through the AUBMC Epic implementation and presented a roadmap to physician and patient engagement. We also had Epic represented through Leela Vaugh, Product Manager, WI, USA.

A Path to Data Science: How Do we get into Data Science from my Field and Shine?

WiDS @AUB this year highlighted the field of data science to all age groups and experience levels. We addressed the question that many ask, “How do we get into data science from my field?” Our talented speakers advised, “You become whatever you can become if you have enough curiosity and passion”, Dana Sarkis (Hearts & Sciences).  “There is no perfect CV that has all the requirements for a data scientist” mentioned Tamara Albsoul (Zain). To those with second thoughts who are scared to get out of their comfort zones “Re-invent yourself … don’t be afraid to take your career in different directions” advised Jutta Williams (Google AI). Worrying about climbing the organizational ladder? Becky Tucker had a simple note on that, “When you’re enthusiastic you will shine.”

Data, Data, and more Data: Representation, Purpose, and Optimization

During WiDS AUB, data took center stage of all the talks. Best techniques to analyze, study, and optimize datasets. According to the Google Cloud Chief Decision Scientist Dr. Cassie Kozyrkov, “The world represented by your data is the only world you’re going to succeed in.” We tend to tread carefully when it comes to our healthcare data; “In the area of healthcare and life science, anything we do with data, we have to do with a purpose” insisted Dr. Maria Gabrani (IBM), Manager of Cognitive Healthcare and Lifesciences at IBM,  as she reiterated the importance of utilizing healthcare data with a goal in mind. With the right purpose in mind, we wonder what data science would be in 10-20 years. Jutta Williams, senior program manager at Google AI reassured us, “As long as there is a learner, these algorithms will get better.”

We would like to thank all our attendees for making this event a great success, and are happy to share with them the impact of this year’s conference:


  • To view photos from the day of the event, please visit our gallery to see all the pictures and talks of that day.

  • To watch the entire live recording of the day, please visit the live recording here.

  •  To watch the opening remarks, Keynote, Tech Talks, and Panels please click here.

MSBA Program

“You are all welcome to data science,” said our keynote speaker, Dr. Cassie Kozyrkov, Chief Decision Scientist at Google Cloud, NY. IF interested in pursuing a career in Data Science, we invite you to join The Master in Business Analytics (MSBA) program offered at AUB OSB. The MSBA Program is intended to prepare the next generation of experts in business analytics. Graduates of the program will develop advanced proficiency in executing applying business analytics to challenging business problems in various industry domains..The program aims to help meet the growing industry needs in the MENA region in particular and the world at large for business analytics professionals with the required data science skills and expertise.

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