Information Security Solutions Review Magazine named Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham as one of the top 10 Key Female Cybersecurity Leaders to Know in 2020, noting that she “has a staggering list of accomplishments and titles.” The article was written in celebration of Women History Month and quoted various studies carried out by organizations such as SANS and ISC2 on the status of women in cybersecurity. The article states that depending on the source, the percentage of women in cybersecurity ranges from 11 to 24%. While these numbers are dismal, the SANS study states that senior women in cybersecurity have been proactive in paving the way for their junior colleagues to get better support in the workplace.
Thuraisingham is one such senior leader in cybersecurity, having worked in the field for close to 35 years at Honeywell, MITRE, NSF, and most recently at UT Dallas. Not only is she a world-renowned researcher as reflected through her awards such as ACM Fellow, IEEE Fellow, IEEE Computer Society’s Technical Achievement Award and ACM SIGSAC’s Outstanding Contributions Award, she has also been a strong advocate for Women in Cyber Security. She co-chaired the 800+ person Women in Cyber Security (WiCyS) conference in Dallas in 2016. She recently co-organized the Women in Cyber Security Research (CyberW) Virtual Workshop in March 2020, where she gave the opening keynote address.
In addition to her exemplary technical achievements she has also received many accolades for being a passionate advocate for Women in Cyber Security including being named in the Top Five Women in Cyber Security in 2016 from Careersincybersecurity.com, Top Four Women in Cyber Security Academia by the SC Magazine in 2017, and the Top 25 Women in Cyber Security by the Cyber Defense Magazine in 2019. In addition to Women in Cyber Security, Thuraisingham is also a passionate advocate for Women in Data Science and gives talks and media interviews at events such as the 2018 Stanford University’s Women in Data Science (WiDS) conference on topics that integrate both Cyber Security and Data Science (watch her talk here). She has also co-founded other technical groups for women, including Women in Services Computing, which also includes Cloud Computing, in 2017 at the IEEE Services Congress. Her motivational opening keynote address was commended by one of the women who attended the workshop in 2018 in San Francisco in an IEEE Blogspot.
Thuraisingham’s work on promoting women in cybersecurity and data science, as well as in other areas such as cloud computing, not only has a tremendous impact at UT Dallas, but it also has global appeal. Out of the 18 Ph.D. students she has graduated since 2008 at UT Dallas, eight are women and three more are men are from the underrepresented minority and the LGBTQ communities. The majority of her students have secured prestigious job positions in Silicon Valley, working in cybersecurity and/or data science. Thuraisingham is an influential mentor to junior faculty members at UT Dallas and various other universities. “Dr. Bhavani Thurasingham is not only an outstanding researcher and educator, but she is also a great mentor as well. It’s impressive how many young researchers she has mentored over her career. Her mentoring of junior faculty in the CS Department at UT Dallas has been exemplary; it has helped these junior faculty members achieve far beyond what they could have achieved without Dr. Thurasingham’s mentoring,” said Dr. Gopal Gupta, Erik Jonsson Professor and Head of the UT Dallas Computer Science Department. She also serves on the mentoring committee at UT Dallas and participates in panels that motivate junior faculty to write grants and papers.“Dr. Thuraisingham serves as an excellent mentor to junior faculty. As the chair of the faculty mentoring committee for UT Dallas, I reached out to Dr. Thuraisingham to serve on panels on two different occasions. Despite her extremely busy schedule, she obliged and talked to the junior faculty about publications and grant writing. She has been extremely helpful to junior faculty in her department and beyond, and is very vested in their success,” remarked Dr. Meghna Sabharwal, a UT Dallas Economic Political and Policy Professor and colleague of Dr. Thuraisingham.
Thuraisingham also has served as a distinguished lecturer for CRA-W in 2015 and has given talks at several women’s events, including the Society for Women Engineers (SWE), Women in Technology International (WITI), and the Women in Communications Engineering (WICE). For her exceptional technical achievements as well as for her tireless work on promoting women in computing, she received the Dallas Business Journal’s Women in Technology Award in 2017. “Bhavani routinely inspires us all to reach for the next goal, even when it seems to be more than a stretch. Whether it is collaborating on a grant, working toward a new degree, or guiding graduate students, she celebrates our achievements and motivates us for more,” noted Dr. Jennifer Holmes, Dean and Professor of the UT Dallas School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences.
Throughout her career, Thuraisingham has also been a mentor to numerous female cybersecurity researchers around the world. “Bhavani has been my mentor since I finished my Ph.D. in 1996 and has supported me throughout my career by encouraging me and nominating me for fellowships and awards as well as discussing career strategies with me,“ said Dr. Elena Ferrari who is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Insubria (Italy), and is now both an ACM and IEEE Fellow and one of the top researchers in Data Security and Privacy. We also spoke to Dr. Daphne Yao, Virginia Tech Computer Science professor, Elizabeth and James E. Turner Jr. ’56 Faculty Fellow, and CACI Faculty Fellow about Dr. Thuraisingham. “Dr. Thuraisingham is a huge role model of mine. I am extremely grateful for having the opportunity to know her since I was in graduate school. She gave the keynote speech in the first cybersecurity conference that I ever attended, ACM SACMAT 2004. In this extremely competitive cybersecurity profession, there are very few senior female research pioneers like her, with such an impressively productive record and this amazingly positive and exuberant attitude towards everything,” remarked Dr. Yao.
“Besides making many important technical contributions to access control and enterprise big data security problems, Dr. Thuraisingham showed me that it’s absolutely fine to be yourself, embrace who you are, no need to pretend to be somebody else in this male-dominant profession. With Bhavani, we co-organized a virtual Women in Cybersecurity Workshop (CyberW) on March 18th, 2020 — a huge success. We gave out the inaugural Early Career Award this year, which was Bhavani’s idea. She was the general chair of an extremely successful ACM CCS Conference in Dallas TX in 2017. CCS is the flagship conference of ACM SIGSAC, the Special Interest Group on Security, Audit, and Control. Bhavani inspires me to step into community-building leadership positions, take on responsibilities, and be strategic,” she noted.
Thuraisingham says that one of her major priorities at the present time is to increase the number of women in cybersecurity so that women make up at least 50% of the cybersecurity researchers and practitioners within the next five years. “This is a formidable goal, but if we senior female leaders can put our minds and work together with support from our male colleagues, then this is an achievable goal,” remarked Thuraisingham.
ABOUT THE UT DALLAS COMPUTER SCIENCE DEPARTMENT
The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 3,315 bachelors-degree students, more than 1,110 master’s students, 165 Ph.D. students, 52 tenure-track faculty members, and 44 full-time senior lecturers, as of Fall 2019. With The University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the CS Department is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for software engineers and computer scientists.