Women and Girls in Informatics
On the 11th of February, we celebrate the vast contribution that women and girls have made to the scientific world. Although Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields are widely regarded as critical to national economies, so far, most countries, no matter their level of development, have not achieved gender equality in STEM.
A significant gender gap has persisted throughout the years at all levels of STEM disciplines all over the world. Even though women have made tremendous progress towards increasing their participation in higher education, they are still under-represented in these fields.
To achieve full and equal access to science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, the United Nations General Assembly declared 11th of February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science in 2015.
To mark the occasion, today we celebrate women and girls working and studying in the School of Informatics. We asked two of them to tell us what it means to be a girl and a woman in STEM.
Aagoon Chakraborty is a second-year Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science student from Kolkata, India. When not debugging code, she enjoys reading, baking, playing the guitar, and hiking up adventure trails!
Why did you choose to study Computer Science?
I was drawn to computer science because it allows me to blend technical precision with a creative mindset. The prospect of transforming abstract ideas into tangible solutions through problem-solving is what excites me most about this field, and its far-reaching impact on various sectors from healthcare to finance and beyond, adds an extra layer of amazement to my passion for Informatics!
What is your favourite thing about studying CS?
My favourite thing about studying CS is the perpetual sense of discovery that comes with each challenge. Every problem presents a unique puzzle, fostering a dynamic environment where finding solutions requires a blend of logic, creativity, and critical thinking. The process of bringing ideas to life on screen through mere lines of code is an incredibly rewarding experience. Additionally, the ever-evolving nature of computer science brings with it a continuous learning curve, which ensures that there is always something new and exciting to explore within its vast realms.
What does it mean to be a girl in STEM?
As a girl in STEM, I see it as embracing a journey that paves way for inclusivity, where my voice contributes unique perspectives. It involves taking a dash of pride in small achievements in building even the simplest things, and maintaining unwavering passion despite moments of imposter syndrome, recognising it as a part of the growth process. Being a girl in STEM is a commitment to reshaping narratives and driving innovation in a field that has been historically underrepresented by women, and I am eager to contributing to this talented community whilst both learning from and growing with it!
Dr Susan Lechelt
Dr Susan Lechelt is a Lecturer in Design Informatics. Her work is in the domains of human-computer interaction and interaction design and ties together the themes of data literacy, creativity, playfulness, sustainability, and responsible innovation. Her research is concerned with understanding and augmenting people’s perceptions and uses of data-driven technologies.
Susan believes that learning about computing and technology should be fun, engaging, and accessible to all, therefore her work often involves developing creative approaches and playful interfaces that aim to serve as teaching tools and conversation starters.
Outside of work, Susan enjoys water sports and going to see live music.
Why did you choose to study computer science (for one of your degrees)?
I fell into computer science accidentally. I was originally interested in psychology and cognition and decided to study cognitive science as my first degree. My degree included psychology and computer science courses in equal measures. By the end of it, I realised that I was most interested in computing - particularly in reflecting on the evolution of technology, and how it shapes our lives.
Tell us about your area of research and what drew you to explore it.
After my undergraduate studies, I wanted to focus on researching applications of modern technologies in real world contexts. Hence, I became interested in Human-Computer Interaction, which is an interdisciplinary field that investigates how people interact with technology, and in turn, how to better design technology for real people. Much of my research involves designing tools and interfaces that empower a range of people to explore computing. What draws me to this is that it provides many opportunities to engage with diverse groups and communities. For example, in the past I have worked with primary schools to design and evaluate computational toolkits to support teaching of new computing curricula. I have also been able to work with many creative practitioners (e.g., choreographers, performing artists, etc.) to support them in exploring how technologies like Internet of Things, AI (Artificial Intelligence) and more, fit into their work and creative practice.
What does it mean to be a woman in STEM?
During my studies, the ratio of men to women in many of my computer science classes was often 10+ to 1, and I sometimes felt out of place. This is changing over time, but as I am sure is the case for many women, having this experience helped me become attuned to the importance of supporting diversity and inclusion in STEM. This goes beyond just gender and requires an intersectional perspective - it is crucial to foster more diversity in terms of the whole host of background characteristics and life experiences that make us who we are. I try to make a small contribution to this goal where I can through my research and outreach work, while recognising that fostering this is a huge job that takes conscious reflection and change at many levels in our field.