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Scholarship Spotlight: Basil Reeve Scholar Lia Yeh on Quantum Computing and Women in Computer Science

Lia who’s from the USA is studying for a DPhil in Computer Sciences, and undertaking research into quantum computation. She said that she “aspires to develop quantum computing for public good, through research, teaching, and outreach.”

Three summers of teaching coding at a summer camp to 10 to 14-year-olds inspired Lia to take up computer science: 

“I think I was really lucky to get the experience because it influenced what I would choose to do as an undergraduate and beyond. By the time I was applying to colleges, I knew that I really enjoyed learning and teaching computer science” she said. 

But teaching at the summer camps also gave Lia an insight into the uptake of STEM subjects by female college students in the US. She reflected that, “on the summer camp programming course around a quarter of my students each week were girls and, in the US, the percentage of female undergraduate students studying computer science or physics stands at around 20%.” *

This led to Lia teaming up with her friend and fellow outreach volunteer Sarina in 2019, to co-found WomxnHacks, which gives women and non-gender binary students the opportunity to explore coding within a supportive environment.

Lia said that, “The first WomxnHacks started as a Google doc made by Sarina and I, and it was incredible that 15 of us undergraduate students came together and pulled it off. It was held at the University of California, Santa Barbara, for two years and then after I graduated, it continued for a third year during the pandemic but had to be online only due to lockdowns”.

After graduating from the College of Creative Studies at the University of California, with a BS in Computing and a BS in Physics, Lia moved to Oxford in 2020, months after the start of the pandemic. She says that it was, “definitely a really hard time to move to a different continent”. 

Despite an initial period of isolation, Lia made friends with students from Oriel and other colleges at the University. “It’s really nice to have a community in addition to your work and your research and great that Oriel has this support system”, she says.

Becoming a Basil Reeve Scholar has enabled Lia to continue the work of her research group, ‘reformulating quantum computing through diagrams’ that started 15 years ago in Oxford.

“I am excited about my work, and studying in the UK in such a vibrant learning environment has opened my eyes, contributing to my personal growth”, she said.

Lia reflected that the process of creating a fully-fledged universal quantum computer is ongoing and this kind of computer is still a hypothetical device, so there are plenty of opportunities for young scientists to develop their research:

“I think I’ve grown a lot over the course of the past two and a half years, but I’m still learning a lot more about my research area now because there is always some uncertainty, especially in this field, with such new technology.

“It’s hard to communicate what quantum computing is going to be. It’s believed to be computationally more powerful at certain types of tasks, but it’s very hard to estimate when we will be able to fully apply the technology”.

Alongside her studies at Oriel, Lia is keen to encourage women to study computer science. One of the ways that she does this is by taking part in student organisations at Oxford that support women in STEM.

*2023 American Physical Society

More information about the scholarship can be found here.