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Thuraisingham Gives Six Keynote and Featured Addresses Within Six Months While Working From Home During COVID-19

We talked to ACM and IEEE Fellow as well as Founders Chair Professor Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, who has given over 170 keynote speeches and featured addresses both at highly technical conferences sponsored by organizations such as ACM and IEEE as well as at outreach events and government and industry expos over the past 26 years. We asked her to share information and insights about her keynote addresses and how she got started.

Can you tell us about the keynote addresses you have given while working from home?

I have been very fortunate to be invited to give so many keynote and featured addresses while working from home. It has really motivated me to work during these difficult times with COVID-19. I was invited to give these six keynote addresses before the pandemic began. I have not yet finished for the year. I still have five more to give this year between October and December and have started getting invites for next year. I find that it is less stressful to give keynote addresses via Zoom. I don’t have to travel, and sometimes I have given two addresses in a week – e.g., at conferences that would have been held in Las Vegas and Nanjing one week as well as in New York City and New Orleans another week.

Giving these keynote addresses also enables me to wear my business outfits and make the videos to be sent to either IEEE or ACM in case there is a technology glitch during the live event. I am always present at the live events to answer questions. This helps to alleviate some of the challenges working from home as I am connected to the world.

The following are the keynote addresses that I have given over the past six months. The first one was in March at CyberW (Women in Cyber Security Research Workshop), which was to be held in conjunction with the ACM CODASPY (Conference on Data and Applications Security and Privacy). I gave the opening keynote address and talked about integrating Cyber Security and Artificial Intelligence, including the developments and challenges. I also participated in a panel at CyberW, where we discussed the challenges women face in cyber security research. I have been involved with Women in Cyber Security for several years and find it very rewarding to motivate women to pursue cyber security careers. Click here to watch this keynote address.

My second keynote was at IEEE ParSocial 2020, which was held in conjunction with IEEE IPDPS in May 2020. ParSocial focuses on integrating parallel and social computing. My talk was on integrating AI, Cyber Security, and Social Media. I have been involved with this event held every two years since 2016. I discussed some of our work on integrating AI and Security and then discussed how the techniques we have developed can be applied to Social Media. I have been teaching Analyzing and Securing Social Media at UT Dallas since 2013, conducting research, and have also co-authored a book on this topic. Consequently, my keynote talk was essentially based on our research and book, as well as my class. Click here to watch this keynote address.

The remaining four keynote addresses were all in August. They started on August 1st, where I gave the opening keynote address at IEEE CSCloud (Cyber Security Cloud) on integrating AI, Cyber Security, and the Cloud with applications to the Internet of Transportation Systems. My focus was on how the Cloud could play a role with respect to integrating AI and Cyber Security and applying the technologies to connected autonomous vehicles. Click here to watch this keynote address.

Then on August 3rd, I gave a featured address at ACM CODASPY. This is the conference that should have been held in March but was postponed due to COVID-19. My talk would have been given as a banquet address, but as we did not have a virtual banquet, it was a featured address. The topic was, “Can AI be for Good in the Midst of Cyber Security Attacks and Privacy Violations?” I focused on protecting children as an application area. I have been following the United Nations’ work on AI for Good and would like to be more involved in this initiative. Click here to watch this keynote address. 

The last two keynote addresses were given on August 11th and 12th. The first of the two conferences was the IEEE Conference on Knowledge Graphs, and I discussed aspects of Secure Knowledge Graphs. The conference was in Nanjing, and so it was around 7:30 pm CDT on August 10th. Click here to watch this keynote address.

The second of the last two conferences was the IEEE IRI (Information Reuse and Integration) conference, and my talk was on integrating AI and Cyber Security for Information Integration and Reuse. I also participated in a panel at the conference on this topic. Click here to watch this keynote address.

As I mentioned, I still have at least five more keynote addresses to give this year between October and December. They are SmartBlock (a blockchain conference), IEEE/ACM BDCAT (Big Data Computing, Applications, and Technologies), SNAMS (Social Network Analysis and Security), IEEE Big Data Security Workshop, and the last one is an outreach event in Bangladesh at the International Conference on Computer, Communication, and Information Technology (ICCIT 2020). Also, some of the conferences where I was supposed to give keynote addresses this summer have been postponed due to COVID-19 (e.g., ICDIS – International Conferences on Data Intelligence and Security). In addition to these keynote addresses, I am also doing my day job, and that involves teaching, research, and publishing papers at top tier venues such as ACM SACMAT (Symposium on Access Control, Models and Technologies), ACM CODASPY, and IEEE IRI. I also did my first Podcast on STEM, and it will be online soon and will give a webinar in West Bengal, India in late September 2020. All of these activities have kept me very busy and motivated.

Could you provide us with some history of your keynote addresses?

My first keynote/featured address was on August 29, 1994, at the Department of Defense Database (DoD) Colloquium organized by AFCEA (Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association) in San Diego. This was around a 200 person conference and was highly regarded within the DoD community. I was invited by my colleague who worked for the Navy in San Diego. She heard me give several tutorials for the Navy and asked me in June that year to give this talk. I was very excited as this was my first such talk. I was to follow Lt. General Edmonds’ opening keynote address. General Edmonds was the Director of DISA (Defense Information Systems Agency) at that time. My talk was on integrating heterogeneous database systems as it was a challenging problem for the DoD. I must have done a good job as they invited me back every year to give a keynote/featured address at this event between 1994 and 2001 in San Diego. Each year I chose a topic of interest to the community from Integrating Heterogeneous Databases to Data Warehousing and Data Mining to Web Data Management. Subsequently, the books I wrote in the mid to late 1990s were based on the talks I gave at these events. Because I was working for the MITRE Corporation at that time, a federally funded research and development center, my keynote/featured addresses were mainly given at government and industry conferences such as the Federal Object-Oriented Technology Conference (FEDOOT), Object World, and the SAS Data Mining Conference. During the late 1990s, I was invited to give keynote addresses at highly technical ACM and IEEE conferences such as the ACM SAC (Symposium on Applied Computing) in 1997 and IEEE ICTAI (International Conference on Tools in AI) in 1999.

I had given around 26 keynote addresses when I joined NSF on IPA as a program director just after 9/11 in October 2001. That’s when I got quite a few invitations, including featured addresses on Data Mining for Counter-Terrorism at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the United Nations in 2002. I was also invited to give keynote addresses at outreach venues such as the conferences organized by universities in the EPSCoR states, including in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, and women’s events such as the conference organized by the Society of Women Engineers. I was really motivated to give talks at outreach events. I was also invited to give keynote addresses at top tier technical venues such as ACM SACMAT and the EDBT (Europeans Database Technology Conference). By the time I joined UT Dallas in October 2004, I had given around 55 keynote and featured addresses.

I thought that because I was no longer at NSF, I would be invited to fewer keynote addresses. But the invites have kept coming not only for technical conferences but also for outreach events. I was much honored to receive the invitation to Stanford University’s WiDS (Women in Data Science) Conference in 2018. By then, I had given around 145 keynote addresses. According to Forbes Magazine, the event at Stanford was watched by over 100,000 people around the world, which gave me a lot of visibility. While I still enjoy giving keynote addresses at technical conferences, it is the outreach events that really motivate me and keep me going.

Finally, can you give some suggestions on how to provide effective keynote addresses and anything else you want to add?

First, you have to study your audience and select the topic. If it is an event for women, then I also focus on motivating the women to get into cyber security or data science and explain the reasons. If it is a technical conference, then I focus on the topic relevant to the event. If it is an industry or government conference, then I discuss how the work is relevant to the government and industrial applications. Being thorough on the topic is critical, as you must be able to answer the tough questions. Otherwise, you lose the respect and attention of the audience.

It is also important to keep the talk interesting – that is, to give technical details but also motivate the audience. Be focused and communicate effectively. Fortunately, when I was growing up (as a Tamil person from Sri-Lanka), my mother sent me for elocution as well as western music lessons for several years. We used to have examiners come all the way from London every year to examine us. I also learned effective speaking as part of the elocution lessons where I had to give speeches at the exam every year. My topics included the United Nations and Mahatma Gandhi. This is where I learned to communicate effectively. That has helped me to this day with my teaching and especially my talks. Also, because of the practice I had for ten years growing up, I am very confident when I stand in front of an audience. The larger the audience, the more confident I get.

The third key point is to dress for the part. Before I give a keynote address, regardless of whether it is in-person or via Zoom, I take care of how I present myself. That means wear business suits (even though I am at home these days) and look presentable. I have also started making videos of my old talks and posting them on YouTube, which gives me the practice I need for the Zoom keynote talks. These talks and the preparation keep me not only busy but also extremely motivated, especially during these difficult times. Again I believe that it is very important to be connected to the professional community as well as with friends and family and try our best to live as normal a life as possible considering the extremely abnormal situation we are in. As I always say, especially to women in computing, we need to take advantage of all the opportunities in front of us. While COVID-19 has brought many challenges to our lives, it has also given us some opportunities, such as having more time for research and the ability to be in London today, New York tomorrow, and Sydney the day after and give motivational and technical talks around the world. For the future, I would like to focus on the outreach events I do, not only on Women in Computing but also on Diversity and Inclusion. I am so proud to be participating in a panel on Diversity and Inclusion in Cyber Security at the IEEE Intelligence and Security Informatics Conference this Fall. I would also like to expand my reach to Africa and motivate especially the women to participate in WiCyS and WiDS as well as other events such as the Grace Hopper Celebration (by the way, I am so pleased to attend the virtual event this year as one of the faculty mentors with my favorite tennis player Serena Williams giving the keynote address).

Finally, we must give opportunities so that everyone can thrive. Therefore, I encourage members of our cyber security team to give keynote talks and recommend them to my senior colleagues. Now our team members are also being sought after to give keynote talks at major conferences. It not only helps the professors in their careers but also brings prominence to UT Dallas.


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.

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