This Inspiring Working Mother in STEM Is Building a Better Future for Your Kids

On this issue of the IBM Patent Leadership Series, we are featuring Stacy Hobson, part of the IBM Research Team. In this blog, Stacy shares how motherhood has affected her career, and has made her think differently about patents and innovation. She also shares some of her top career advice and experience as a women in STEM at IBM.

The IBM Patent Leadership series marks IBM’s 25th consecutive year leading in patent grants. The series consists of innovation stories from remarkable IBMers who help make this company what it is and has been for over a century: a collection of inquisitive, restless, determined humans who drive the culture of innovation within and beyond our walls.

Stacy Hobson had her first child in 2017—a daughter. Motherhood inspired her to think about innovation and patenting in a new way.

Her approach? Collaboration. “I do a lot of brainstorming with colleagues—we meet about once a month and talk about things we’re passionate about,” she says. “While I was pregnant with my daughter, I began thinking about innovation in the context of children and safety, and how artificial intelligence could help keep children safe.”

One day over lunch, Stacy and some colleagues started kicking around ideas. Could AI help make driving safer?

Stacy and her colleagues considered self-driving taxis. “You can imagine a taxi that’s driverless, and that people might want to use a service like this for children. You might hire a taxi to take your kid from school to soccer practice, just like you have unaccompanied minors on airplanes.”

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Stacy, pictured with her daughter, the inspiration behind her patent application to keeps kids safe in self-driving cars. Stacy and colleagues also submitted an idea for AI-assisted decisions when drivers approach yellow traffic lights. “As humans, we have a split second to make that brake-or-accelerate decision. AI can help us decide whether it’s safe to go through the intersection or if we need to stop.”  Photo by: Katherine Hawkins


But, as a mom, Stacy’s top priority is safety. “You want to make sure the child gets safely from point A to point B, that an unauthorized person doesn’t come and get your child, and that the child doesn’t get out at the wrong location,” she says.

The idea for a cognitive locking system was born: When the self-driving taxi stops, the system recognizes the people approaching, and only an authorized person can unlock the doors. This system also identifies conditions safe enough to allow the child to get out of the car.

Stacy’s advice for success? “Always stay out of your comfort zone. Do things that challenge you, because that’s how you grow.” With a Ph.D. in neuroscience and cognitive science, Stacy has taken her own advice to heart.

And she’s giving back—as a mentor and volunteer with students. “As a woman of color in the tech industry, I want to show kids like me that if they have a goal, they can attain it,” she says. “It’s all about determination. I want to help others understand that they can do it, too. I want young girls and young kids to see the diversity in IT and science and aspire to pursue a career in STEM in the future.”

In celebration of Women’s Month, we asked Stacy to share her experience and personal thoughts on being a mother and a woman in a STEM role working in IBM:

“A number of years ago, I was at a meeting where IBM’s newly appointed CEO gave one of the first presentations in this new role. There stood a woman – Ginni Rometty.  I also recall another meeting I attended a few months ago where, on the very same stage, the senior leaders of my research organization held a panel discussion addressing our team. There were five people: four women and one man. I can think of the daily meetings I have where I am one of many women in attendance. Seeing the presence of women and of female leaders continually grow is one area that has inspired me and that I would highlight as illustrative of progress for women at IBM.

“Reflecting on this, one phrase that comes to mind is ‘lead by example’.  I am happy to say that the example I see as I look around is that of women in leadership positions, from the senior-most in our company, to key leadership roles in my own organization. I see the development and support of women as an integral part of the IBM culture. I think of the many unique and challenging jobs I’ve been grateful to have experienced at IBM that helped me grow, and will be an example for me to share with other women as they navigate their own career paths.

“I also see progress for women at IBM through a different lens – that of a working mother. I’ve been grateful to benefit from our extended maternity leave plan and location-specific benefits including specialized accommodations for expectant mothers, expansion and modernization of our lactation spaces and generally a willingness from our leaders to seek out perspectives from mothers to ensure that we have the items that will benefit us most in our transition back to work after childbirth.

“The media often highlights cases where being a woman is perceived negatively or impacts one in a negative way (gender stereotypes, wage gaps, etc.).  I love being a woman and am glad that the company I work for supports and encourages me for who I am.”

Stacy Hobson is a member of the IBM Research Team, and the Technical Assistant to Dario Gil, VP for IBM Research AI and IBM Quantum. Stacy received her PhD in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science from the University of Maryland, and her Masters Degree in Computer Science from Duke University.

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