On the 4th of December 2012, 5 students from Carnegie Mellon Qatar including myself took a flight to Shanghai to attend the “International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS).” As a business administration major, I had little insight into what information systems is about as most people define it as “something in-between business and computer science.” However, amongst other things, I learnt that this definition is inaccurate at best.
At the beginning of the conference, I felt lost. We were the only undergraduate students at the conference and none of us were presenting. However, our IS faculty member, Professor Rai Tsai, who accompanied us to the trip, told us to take this opportunity to see how research is done and how academic scholars interact. Once I had tried to look at the conference with a different perspective, I realized that there was a lot that I could learn. Here are a few things that I took back from the conference:
Lesson 1: People who present their research have to put their ego aside.
One of the things that I had realized was that the presenters had a difficult job. Not only did they have to present months and sometimes years of research into a short time span of 15 minutes, but they also had to face the critical eye of so many scholars. Some of the presenters said that they would take the criticism as means of future improvement, others defended their methodologies. Either way, criticism is a tough pill to swallow when you’re so accomplished and you’ve worked so hard! I guess this is why conferences like these take place – so that we can learn from each other and improve the quality of our work.
Lesson 2: Carnegie Mellon has become a pioneer in the field of ICTD
It was interesting and a matter of great pride to see how Carnegie Mellon is known for its contribution in the area of Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD). One of the members of the conference remarked how Carnegie Mellon is one of the few instructions gets ICTD right. I personally took the opportunity to talk about CMU Rwanda and how it is aiming to build capacity amongst the locals instead of having foreign scholars do local research.
Lesson 3: Undergraduates can provide a different perspective to a conference full of PhD’s.
At the ICTD panel, I was able to talk about my experience about curriculum changes that need to be made within business schools (IS comes under the school of business in most colleges) in order to place emphasis on global development. I was able to discuss about how my courses always focus on the profit-making nature of business, and how business solutions to some of the world’s pressing issues is required. I also talked about how business schools are trying to make bankers, traders or consultants but not those who will use their education to address these problems. Since many of the members were professors and academics, they were able to learn from my experience.
Lesson 4: Information Systems is about using Information to improve the lives of the people around us.
It’s not business and its not computer science. It’s finding the best way to use information so you can help others. The perfect example was one of the paper presentations, titled “Developing Electronic Markets in Low-Tech Environments: India’s Agriculture Markets” (Parker & Weber). It talked about how an India-wide price dissemination system is allowing farmers to earn more by being informed about price standards across the country. It is this power information that the field aims to exploit.
Lesson 5: There’s always opportunity to network
We were first intimated by all the experienced academics around us, but as soon as we made an effort to network, we realized that people were interested in where we are from and what we have to offer. I was able to talk to someone who is from the same town in Germany as the one I am studying abroad in next semester. I was also able to discuss the IS research that I am working on – and one person actually wanted to be a part of it!
Overall, it was a great learning experience and I am grateful to Carnegie Mellon Qatar for providing me with this opportunity. Also, China is a beautiful country with warm, welcoming people and I encourage everyone to visit it.
Parker, C., & Weber, B. Developing Electronic Markets in Low-Tech Environments: India’s Agriculture Markets. ICIS Shanghai. Shanghai.