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  • Katy Pallister

Maths and Computing Awardee 2020: Professor Nobuko Yoshida

“My work has inspired numerous computer scientists to build on its pioneering foundations”

Professor Nobuko Yoshida is a world-leading expert in the field of concurrent and mobile computation, focusing on systems that interact with one another. One of Yoshida’s greatest contributions to the field has been her work on a particular framework called session types. “Session types are a new framework for codifying communication structures and verifying protocols in concurrent, message-passing programs, thus improving the safety and security of computer software and hardware,” Yoshida said. “I generalised the original session types theory with my collaborators and have promoted this framework in academia and industry.”

The impact of Yoshida’s work, in particular her 2008 paper introducing the theory of multiparty session types, has been far-reaching. This paper was recognised at the world’s leading programming language conference (ACM POPL) in 2018, as the most influential paper in the last decade, out of all of the papers published by POPL in 2008. “My work has inspired numerous computer scientists to build on its pioneering foundations in concurrency theory; and has initiated many applications of session types in programming tools and systems. It has also influenced other areas of research, such as software contracts, runtime verification and hardware specifications.”

“To continue my excitement for science has been one of my biggest challenges”

At a young age, Yoshida knew that she wanted to be a scientist and devoted herself to the subject throughout school. After completing a bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering at Keio University, Japan, Yoshida studied for her computer science PhD jointly at the Universities of Keio and Manchester. Following her PhD, Yoshida took up a research fellowship at the University of Sussex, and from here she climbed up the ranks in academia. In 2012, Yoshida was made a Professor in the Department of Computing at Imperial College London.

Now the head of the Mobility Reading Group at Imperial, Yoshida looks forward to new academic challenges, and reflects on past ones. “Based on our scientific discovery of session types, I need to integrate this framework with other scientific fields and expand my knowledge. To continue my excitement for science has been one of my biggest challenges.”

“You just should not give up”

Throughout her career, Yoshida has been inspired by many computer scientists, and believes strongly in supporting the next generation of female scientists. “I have supervised several female PhD students and regularly mentor female students inside and outside Imperial College London. I was also a co-organiser of one of the largest mentoring workshops in the programming language field.”

Whilst Yoshida acknowledges that there are many hurdles for women in science, she hopes that continued mentorship of young researchers will keep creating greater diversity in the field. “It is factually unavoidable that female researchers face more difficult moments which prevent their scientific career progressing smoothly, compared to men. However, the situation has improved over the years in the UK, compared to when I was an undergraduate student in Japan. You just should not give up.”

“Professor Yoshida is a distinguished mentor to many students and postdocs”

Yoshida’s innovative research coupled with her determination and resilience, has impacted many people, from students to colleagues. Professor Ursula Martin, University of Oxford, who nominated Yoshida for the Suffrage Science award, said: “I may want the lights to switch on when I get to the front door, but I certainly don’t want to be stood on the doorstep in the rain whilst the software switches on the burglar alarm instead. Professor Yoshida has developed important theoretical ideas that underpin the development of software that correctly interacts with other systems. As well as being a distinguished computer scientist, and current holder of a major fellowship from UKRI, Professor Yoshida is a distinguished mentor to many students and postdocs, especially to women, and to members of the Japanese research community.”

The Suffrage Science Maths and Computing Awards 2020 were held on Friday 6th November, 2020. You can find out more, and watch a recording of the event, here.

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