Our Women In Computer Science
“This week, we launch a series of four short, personal videos that showcase four young women and their take on the field of Computer Science. We decided to make these videos to help everybody, in particular girls, get a better understanding of computer science: it is one of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) subjects and thus suffers from an under-representation of women (although this is only true for “the Western World”).
Fortunately, here in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Manchester, we’re proud to have a relatively strong cohort of female students and staff – but we would really like to further strengthen this because Computer Science is a very exciting field with promising career prospects and applications in all areas. These can range from potential medical treatment via water distribution to understanding the news, financial markets, astronomy and climate-modelling. And Computer Science is much more than just ‘coding’.
With this series of videos, we want to share our excitement about Computer Science and its potential impact with you.”
Professor Uli Sattler, Deputy Head of Department, Computer Science.
Anna McCartain, 2nd Year BSc Computer Science
Anna, who is 20 and from Bognor Regis, moved to Manchester to study here last year. During her childhood she wasn’t into Computer Science at all, as she explains:
I found parts of school really boring and I was never initially interested in pursuing a STEM subject – Maths in particular I didn’t like, although I always felt I was good at it. Instead, I was a keen dancer and really enjoyed the creative side of things. It wasn’t until I met my Physics teacher, Mr Watson, who excited me about STEM subjects and inspired me to take Maths, Chemistry and Physics at A-level.
So what was it that kicked off your interest in Computer Science?
Computer Science wasn’t even a subject my school offered, my interest actually began when I impressed my boss working at a chinese takeaway because I could memorise the whole menu! He then suggested that I looked into coding and recommended some books for me.
A lot also changed after my final year at the school. I decided to take a gap year to decide what I wanted to pursue. I began a diploma course in music producing in Brighton, and I thoroughly enjoyed this as I feel music producing really ties my creative and academic sides together so well.
What made you choose Manchester and how are you enjoying studying here?
Originally, I only had Manchester down as insurance as I was keen on going to a London university. However, after I came up to visit my mind was made up – Manchester and the people made such an impression on me, I knew it was where I was meant to go! I’m really enjoying the course and I am taking some cool modules this year including machine learning and microcontollers, and I’m excited to see what they’re all about.
Most of my free time is taken up with anything music related, as it is something I really love. I’ve joined the Technical Theatre Society, where I do the audio and sounds for various events. I also like to draw a lot and am loving the Manchester music scene and night life!
Finally, what’s your advice to any young women thinking of taking Computer Science?
Don’t be embarrassed to like what you like, and remember anyone can do anything. Make sure you always have a passion for what you do and it’s important to have people in your life that inspire you! Finally, always work hard!
Find out more about Anna and her experiences here in Manchester in our CS@Manchester Podcast.
Crystal Wu, PhD Computer Science
Crystal is from Taiwan and has a background in Biochemistry. She is now a second year PhD Computer Science student working on modelling the Instantaneous Time Mirror (ITM) in Electromagnetic Waves.
Hi Crystal, how did you change your career path to come study a PhD in Computer Science?
I never thought I’d be doing what I am doing today until 3-4 years ago. I’ve always been more interested in medicine, biology, and chemistry. Right after I graduated from my BSc, the university I went to started offering computer courses in the Department of Biochemistry, and that got me interested into how those two disciplines could work together. I wanted to know what Computer Science could do for the medicine and biochemistry fields without being in a lab in a coat with gloves and goggles!
For me a computer had always just been a tool (to write/message, to draw) or a toy to play with, but that was it. It wasn’t until I saw a friend who was building a game by writing a program that really got me thinking “wow, someone’s actually in the back building all of these things that I’m using, and that is just really cool”.
What is it you love most about Computer Science?
It is the possibility of solving, or assist in solving, things that other fields cannot do and that can have a real impact on society. For instance, I’m currently studying a kind of wave phenomenon, in the hope that by understanding more about it through computer simulations, we can eventually apply it as a technique in cancer treatment.
What inspires you and what dreams do you have for the future?
The novel Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland. The story line and the characters are all a bit crazy but that’s what I like about it! The curiosity to explore (to follow a rabbit, to go to an unknown place), the willingness to try and actually do it (drink me, eat me), some funny logic that exists when nothing seems to makes sense. And honestly I don’t like to think too much about the future, there isn’t “a big thing” I’m trying to accomplish. For me it’s just one step at a time, see what I find and discover at that moment, and let it take me to wherever that leads me.
Dr Sarah Clinch, Lecturer in Computer Science
Hi Sarah, what was it that sparked your interest in Computer Science?
My Dad was a computer programmer and tried many times to get me interested in computers and programming as a child and teen, but I always managed to get him to do most of the work for me! When I went to University it was to do Combined Science with a view to transferring into Psychology in the second year; Computer Science made sense as my second science as I hadn’t studied any of the other sciences in college. Although I had done computing A-Level, I felt very out of my depth for the first weeks, but somewhere towards the end of the first term I suddenly felt like I actually might know what I was doing!
Once my first year exams were over I had the difficult choice of firming up my second year modules and degree scheme and I found this really challenging. Although I still really wanted to study psychology, over the course of the year I’d almost fallen in love with programming! In the end I transferred onto Computer Science with just a few psychology modules sprinkled into the second year.
How are you using the disciplines of computer science to potentially impact society?
Retaining a human focus in Computer Science is really important to me for ensuring that the discipline continues to positively impact us as individuals and societies. I tend to work on application areas that are very human focused, e.g. mental health, but I’m also often motivated by the fear that we can hold about perceived futures in which the technology just sort of takes over. By keeping a human focus I hope that we’ll continue to develop the technologies that people actually want and need, rather than those that negatively impact our mental health or bombard us with advertising.
What particular research project are you currently working on?
I’m working on a project on Technology and Human Memory – memory is a growing concern in an ageing society, and in one that just wants to be more productive. We’re starting to design technologies that help people remember, but understanding what they want to remember (and forget) is really important. Also important is an appreciation that memory and cognition are not perfect processes, and if we’re not careful, a poorly or maliciously designed technology intervention could actively inhibit or distort memory.
Finally, how would you best sum up Computer Science?
For me Computer Science is the perfect blend of engineering, theory, creativity and methodology. I love the variety that comes with both my discipline and my career.
Dr Riza Batista-Navarro, Lecturer in Computer Science
How did you get to where you are today, Riza?
I’ve always wanted to be in Computer Science since I was at high school. So after getting my undergrad degree from the University of the Philippines, I decided to do a masters right after, and then I decided to come to Manchester to pursue a PhD specialising in Text Mining. Since completing my PhD, I’m now working as an academic member of staff.
When did you begin to be interested in computer Science?
Growing up in the Philippines, I saw my mum and grandfather use a typewriter to write documents, but then when I saw how much more efficiently one can do tasks using a computer, I thought I would like to know how that all works!
What is your area of research?
I am a researcher for an ongoing project using open source research to transform the discovery and documentation of Human Rights Violations. We are automatically mining information from social media content to make this online environment safer for the public to interact with one another.
Finally, who or what inspires you?
It’s definitely the students I teach and the mentees I mentor. Knowing I’m making a difference for young people willing to learn inspires me every day!