Graduate Student Spotlight: Doreen Joseph
Ph.D. Student, Department of Computer Science
This spotlight is a part of our 2023 International Women's Day Feature.
What inspired you to study engineering? Describe your path to graduate studies at UC Davis.
Honestly, a good advisor. When I started undergrad, I was an IT major intending to concentrate on Information Security, because I had looked at a cyber security engineering degree and thought it was too hard. During my first semester, I met with my Honors College advisor and when she looked at my credentials, and the math class I was taking "for fun" at the time (Calc 3 Honors), she questioned why I was not in a more challenging program. As a math professor, she understood the rigor of the course I was taking and how rare it was for a freshman to be in the class. Basically, I was overqualified for the IT program. When I was applying to college during high school, I didn't have anyone to challenge me the way she did, so I chose the path of least resistance as I didn't have the self-confidence to choose a more difficult path. My interest in cyber security led my advisor to recommend I switch to that same cyber security engineering program I had looked at before and decided was too difficult. The planner in me was distraught at first that my well-laid out plan had to change, but halfway through my first semester of undergrad, I decided to switch my major, and the rest is history. I am now the first Black woman to have earned my B.S. in cyber security engineering from my undergraduate institution. Switching my major propelled me on a path that led me to where I am today.
Highlight your current research. What do you love about it, why are you excited, and how do you stay motivated?
I currently work on embedded firmware binary analysis. The goal of my research is simple: to encourage the development of more secure firmware for embedded devices. In practice, this goal is actually quite challenging. The work is difficult because the researcher must be well-versed in a variety of different areas, but I enjoy it because it challenges me. I'm constantly learning something new, and since firmware sits at the intersection of software and hardware, I get to collaborate with people in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. I stay motivated knowing that there is great demand for better security techniques in this field, and I'm well-positioned to make a positive impact. I aim to conduct research that will go beyond academia, and not just get buried and forgotten in research papers.
The 2023 International Women’s Day theme is #EmbraceEquity. How do you embrace equity in the engineering field?
One of the most important ways I embrace equity in engineering is by sharing the knowledge I've acquired with fellow students from marginalized demographics, both within UC Davis and outside of the university. Whether it's participating in panels for the Envision program or McNair Scholars program, spreading information and resources I receive via email, mentoring students directly or helping with grad school applications, I am more than happy to share what I've learned to get to where I am today. I have found that sharing my story has also helped several students, so I do that when I can. Another way I embrace equity is by advocating for my fellow students. For example, I have been part of the Chancellor’s Graduate and Professional Student Advisory Board since my first year at UC Davis, where I get to advocate for my fellow students to the chancellor and the dean of graduate studies. I try to be in rooms where students from marginalized demographics may not be present, including the recent Dean of Engineering search, to contribute to representation. Though I can’t represent everyone, I understand the value of my voice as one of the few Black women in an engineering Ph.D. program on campus, and the only Black woman in the computer science graduate program (to the best of my knowledge). I'm also part of the leadership of two student organizations on campus that focus on community building for multicultural students on campus: the Graduate Scholars of Color+ organization, and the Black Graduate and Professional Students Association. Though these organizations are campus-wide, engineering students are part of the students we serve.