SICSA Summer Schools

by Dr Jeremy Singer, SICSA Graduate Academy Director

Summer SchoolA summer school is a fantastic experience for a research student. Learning is much more effective when learners are having fun. And what could be more enjoyable than a residential holiday, mixing with PhD students and subject experts, focusing on a hot topic in Computer Science?

SICSA sponsors PhD summer schools hosted in Scotland. Check the details of the scheme here [http://www.sicsa.ac.uk/funding/academics-postdoctoral-researchers/event-sponsorship/summer-school-sponsorship/ ]. In short, we pay a block grant to cover attendance for a number of PhD students at Scottish Universities. Organizers can then advertise for RUK or overseas students to attend and pay a registration fee. In the past few years, we have funded a diverse range of summer schools, from Type Theory [https://eb.host.cs.st-andrews.ac.uk/TPL/], through Big Data [http://sachi.cs.st-andrews.ac.uk/activities/summer-schools/big-data-info-vis/ ] to Interactive Systems [ http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/~jhw/computational_interaction/ ].

PhD research can be a lonely, isolating experience for a student. A summer school is a tremendous opportunity to meet peers and mentors in the same research area, for study and social activities. Personal links forged at summer schools can last for a lifetime.

Organizing a summer school, whether as a PhD student or an academic staff member, has great benefits too. CV points, prestige for you and your institution, a boost to your research area… A summer school can turn a niche area into a hot topic – with or without the help of the Scottish summer sunshine!

Please get in touch with us [http://www.sicsa.ac.uk/contact/ ] if you want to apply for funding to run a summer school in Scotland.

2017-02-14

SICSA Education Director… a look back at the last four years.

by Dr Karen Petrie, SICSA Education Director

On the 1st of September 2013 I (Dr Karen Petrie, University of Dundee) replaced Professor Greg Michaelson (Heriot-Watt University) as the SICSA Director of Education.  This included taking over as HE representative on a number of boards including the Skills Development Scotland ICT Investment Plan implementation group and the Advanced Higher Qualification Development Team.

It has been a very busy 4 years, but I feel that we achieved a lot. Some of the highlights for me were:

  • Admission Criteria Round-Table: The majority of the University admissions tutors for computing in Scotland met with representatives of the school sector (including computing teachers and the SQA) to discuss admission criteria. Following this meeting 7 Universities in Scotland decided to endorse the new Curriculum for Excellence qualifications by recommending Higher Computing Science for entrants.
  • SICSA Education Ministerial Visit (Women in Computing). A women in computing event was held in the University of Dundee as part of the Scottish Government focus on Young People week that coincided with the launch of the ICT Skills Investment Plan. The speakers at this event included Shona Robison MSP who has Equality within her portfolio.  Members of the computing industry and academic also shared best practice for recruiting and retaining women in the ICT industry.
  • The inception of Education Short themes; the first two short themes were:
    1. Towards a Continuum in School to University Computing Education which is lead by Richard Connor, University of Strathclyde along with Quintin Cutts, University of Glasgow and Greg Michaelson, Heriot Watt University;
    2. Recruiting and Supporting Women in Computing. Which is lead by Ishbel Duncan, University of St Andrews and Alison Pease, University of Dundee. It will STEM secondary school activities, which are being coordinated by Natalie Coull, University of Abertay.

This morphed in to our current workshop call which is open to all.

  • We organised an education conference in partnership with SICSA Education, Computing at Schools, Scotland, BCS, College Development Network, ScotlandIS, Education Scotland and the School of Computing at the University of Dundee. All these education based groups joined forces to organise an education conference in Dundee on Saturday 7th of November, 2015.  This followed on from the success of three annual conferences looking at Computing Science in Primary and Secondary schools.  The partnership with SICSA Education provided an academic and research strand, and partnering with ScotlandIS and College Development Network provided an industry and vocational strand. This was the first ever conference in Scotland to bring people together with interests in computing education from primary teachers to HE academics including those from industry.
  • We organised a CPD event for Computing school teachers with Education Scotland to cover the new topics in the new Advanced Higher Computing Science syllabus.

We provided sponsorship for several events aimed at school children including:

  • Transport for young people to be able to attend the YRS Festival of Code
  • A bus to get attendee to the SICSA Christmas Cyber-lectures.
  • The First Lego League
  • A digital response to a Green Year

There have also been more workshops organised by members of the SICSA community than I can recount and at least 3 new lecturer inductions!

I have represented SICSA on several committee including:

  • The Data Lab (an SFC funded innovation centre) Education board
  • The Scottish Government Digital Skills: Industry – Education and Training Strategy boardThe Digital Skills academy advisory board (became Code Clan)
  • E-placement Scotland advisory board
  • Computing at Schools, Scotland
  • SQA Computing Qualifications steering group
  • Skills Investment Plan for ICT (in Scotland)
  • SFC Digital Skills working group
  • BCS Scotland committee

It has been a very busy 4 years for me, but I do not think I have ever learned so much in such a condensed period of time!

That brings me to the main point of the blog which is to say a huge thank you to all of the people I have worked with throughout the years. There have been times when it has not been easy but your support has always helped me through.

I am especially grateful to Aileen and Steven, who have never said we do not have time to help you with another one of your “good ideas”, even though they would have been more than justified in doing so!

Christmas Cyber Lectures

by Alan Settery, SICSA Cyber Security Network Integrator

Once again the annual Cyber Security Christmas lectures has been a huge success with over 2,600 school pupils having a fun experience in the world of Cyber Security and chocolate!

The 5 day lecture series was held just before Christmas across Scotland at universities UHI – Inverness, RGU – Aberdeen, Abertay – Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow Caledonian and is designed to complement the new National Progression Award in Cyber Security are based on: Digital Forensics, Ethical Hacking and Data Security.

It has to be said that this year’s event is probably the largest of it’s kind in the UK and was a logistics challenge with pupils from 81 schools being co-ordinated and transported (lots of buses!) to and from the events. So well done to all involved and thank you SICSA for kindly sponsoring 5 bus loads of pupils to come who otherwise would not have done so, including one all the way from the borders.
Christmas LectureThe presentations were exciting, fun, often thought provoking and engaging – tackling a range of areas; from Bill Buchanan hacking and taking control of mobile devices and cameras, Police Scotland raising awareness of on-line cyber crime, Strathclyde / Edinburgh university linking school pupils into a physical “block chain” and Abertay’s talk about “a fridge full of spam”.  Brian Higgins from ISC2 showed a cyber wheel of fortune game and for the first time the lectures attracted an international keynote speaker – Amalie Wedege from Alpha-zero presented about “Zero days and Stuxnet”.  There were further talks about Public key encryption and NCCGroup’s discussed ‘Why after 15 years of web security was the web not fixed yet?”  All of the presentations were interactive with high energy audience participation – being provided by the numerous chocolate prizes – over the week 55 kg handed out!!!

Media wise, the lectures always attract a large coverage and here are some of the links;

Special recognition is given to Dr Martin Beaton – the main organizer for the event who’s motivation is “… helping pupils to understand the risks they face as well as the opportunities available if they choose a career in the sector.”

Thanks also to everyone who contributed to make the Cyber Christmas lectures a great success; to the speakers who have freely contributed their time; to the sponsors PwC, CGI, Fujitsu, Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, SDS, University of Glasgow (USB wristbands!), SICSA and the hosting universities.

For more information please contact:
Alan Settery
SICSA Cyber Security Network Integrator, University of Glasgow
Email: Alan.Settery@glasgow.ac.uk
Phone: +44 (0) 141 330 4845

Christmas Lecture Data

DataFest17, A Festival of Data Innovation

DataFest17 is a festival of data innovation run by The Data Lab, with events hosted across Scotland from 20th to 24th March 2017. Scotland is a melting pot of data innovation and the festival will further catalyse activity across the country and bring an international breath on data innovation and best practice to Scotland. DataFest will showcase Scotland’s leading role in data on the international stage, while offering an unprecedented networking platform where you can interact with local and international talent, industry, academia and data enthusiasts.

#DataChangesEverything

We are at the beginning of the data revolution: data innovation is disrupting all areas of our lives from business to public services and beyond. The theme for the festival is #DataChangesEverything and the programme will explore data innovation including successes, challenges and the future.

Gillian Docherty, CEO of The Data Lab, said: “Momentum is building for DataFest17 – in just two months we’ll welcome insight and debate from international academics, businesses and public services on how #DataChangesEverything. The packed programme will showcase data innovation and catalyse further activity while underlining Scotland’s leading role in data on the global stage.

“We want to ensure that people across the world look to Scotland’s data science community as a benchmark for the future of data science. The festival is a platform that not only celebrates the work on data that is being led from Scotland but crucially encourages others to leverage the power of data.”

Programme:

DataFest has 3 elements:

Data Summit (23rd & 24th March 2017, Edinburgh)
A two-day international conference presenting compelling stories of how #DataChangesEverything with keynotes, panels, pitches and lots of inspiration. Speakers include:

Data Talent Scotland (22nd March 2017, Edinburgh)
Data Talent Scotland is an annual collider event that brings together data science students, data enthusiasts, universities and businesses from across Scotland. The event connects new data talent and education with industry, providing businesses with fantastic opportunities to access the best of Scotland’s data talent and education.
A number of free Data Talent Scotland tickets will be allocated to all SICSA universities to offer to their students.*

Fringe and training events (w/c 20th March 2017, Scotland wide)
Events around Scotland exploring/hacking/debating data innovation. Events include meetups, hackathons, debates, public engagement, and programme of Data Science training events. Schedule will be published late January.

Data Talent Scotland (#DTS17):
Now in its second year, Data Talent Scotland will bring together students, data enthusiasts, universities and employers from across the country; acting as a catalyst for employment and skills development whilst growing links between industry, universities and data talent. At Data Talent Scotland, students can land their dream job and employers can recruit their ideal candidate. Universities will also have the chance to interact with industry and discuss collaboration opportunities, and recruit postgraduate students amongst the attending data enthusiasts.

We expect to host:

  • Over 200+ MSc students studying data.
  • 150+ data enthusiasts looking for careers in data.
  • 50+ company exhibitors looking to hire in Scotland.
  • 11 universities representing 16 master’s data courses.
  • World class speakers & workshop hosts.

Data Talent Scotland will focus on identifying the skills Scotland’s data talent will need to forge Scotland’s data-driven future prosperity. Activities throughout the day will include keynote speakers, skills workshops, a panel discussion, and plenty of networking time. Speakers include Marc Priestley (Formula 1), Sainsbury’s Bank and Aquila Insight.

Join us!

A limited number of early bird tickets are available now for the Data Summit and Data Talent Scotland. (Tickets for events are sold separately).

*A number of free Data Talent Scotland tickets will be allocated to all SICSA universities to offer to their students. Please contact your relevant course coordinator for more information, or contact us at skills@thedatalab.com

Collaborating to succeed; SICSA and the Scottish Research Pools

by Dr Stuart Fancey, Director of Research and Innovation at the Scottish Funding Council

Scottish Research Pools are one of our universities great success stories. Not only do they demonstrate the value of collaboration in academic research, they prove how well we can cooperate within our small, well-connected and inventive country.

A recent blog from our colleagues at SICSA (the Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance) describes the impact of its work. According to its Executive Officer, Steven Kendrick, it’s “all about building communities, developing research expertise and ensuring that the experience of the PhD community in Scotland is second-to-none”. These are exactly the kind of benefits the Scottish Funding Council and Scotland’s universities hoped could be achieved back in 2004 when they began the £450million programme to set up the 11 research pools.

We also hoped that the research pools would accelerate discovery, attract research talent and increase levels of international competitiveness. There is now good evidence that they are doing all three. The 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) results show that the proportion of top-rated research improved significantly in academic disciplines supported through the pooling initiative.

Accomplishments such as SICSA’s Education Group and Graduate Academy are further testament to the impact the research pooling initiative is continuing to have. Since 2011 SFC has also been investing an additional £500,000 a year to help research pools compete for European funding and to support postgraduate and early career researcher exchanges with Europe, North America, China and India.

Elsewhere, initiatives such as the annual SICSA PhD conference which brings together young research talent from across Scotland to share knowledge and promote the benefits of collaboration are now seen as an essential element in academic success.

Looking to the future, research pooling makes Scotland exceptionally well equipped to meet the challenges – and to reap the benefits – of cross-disciplinary research. Connecting together research pools in different disciplines is creating a melting pot from which new advancements are beginning to emerge. Equally exciting is the prospect of connecting research pools with the new SFC-funded Scottish innovation Centres. There are already interesting things happening here. I know, for example, that SICSA is having productive engagements with The Data Lab Innovation Centre.

I feel exceptionally proud when SFC is sought out by delegations from other countries wanting to find out how we’re managing to achieve such quality of collaboration. We’ve had high-level visits from both China and Pakistan in the last two months alone. As competition increases and as public and charitable funding is ever-harder to obtain, research pooling is one the reasons I believe that 2017 and the years beyond will continue to be good ones for Scottish university research.

Another successful HCI All Hands Day

by Dr Miguel Nacenta and Dr Martin Halvey, SICSA HCI Research Theme Leaders

The SICSA HCI All Hands day was held on Tuesday November 29th at the University of St Andrews. This is an annual event where members  of the the SICSA HCI theme meet to reflect on the previous year and to discuss how to move forward for the following year. The event was a sell out and was attended by approximately 60 participants from across SICSA institutions.

Prior to the event beginning the SACHI research group in St Andrews hosted a pre-event reception and open lab session where they demonstrated some of their innovative demos.

The main meeting was bookended by two keynote talks. The opening keynote entitled “Amplifying the Mind with Digital Tools: Technologies to Enhance Human Perception and Cognition” was given by Professor Albrecht Schmidt, University of Stuttgart. This talk focussed on how digital tools can provide us with entirely new opportunities to enhance the perceptual and cognitive abilities of humans, and the interesting research problems that arise. The closing keynote entitled “Open Data Islands and Communities: How do we make digital technology serve those at physical and social margins of society?” was given by Professor Alan Dix, University of Birmingham. Alan’s talk focused particularly on open data, how we can devise ways to make it more easily found, accessed, and visualised by small communities at the edges, and moreover how they can become active creators of information: producers not merely subjects of data.

During the day we had a town hall meeting to discuss future directions for the SICSA HCI theme. One of the outcomes from this was a list of potential future events for the HCI theme over the next year. We also had a madness presentation session, each research group attending was allowed 3 minutes to present an overview of their research group. In total close to 20 groups from most SICSA universities were represented. This was a useful exercise to raise awareness of different groups and capabilities across Scotland. The variety of topics and approaches to research (from practical and industry-oriented to more abstract and fundamental research) was an eye-opener.

Over lunch we had a presentation from and discussion with the new SIGCHI UK chapter. SIGCHI is the ACM’s Special Interest Group on Computer–Human Interaction, and is considered one of the world’s leading organisations. The aim was to raise awareness of the new UK chapter and also discuss the potential for SICSA HCI and SIGCHI UK to help each other. SIGCHI UK also sponsored a social event at the end of the All Hands meeting, the fruitful discussions that started over coffee and lunch during the day were thus able to continue later on in the pub.

Overall this was an extremely successful and well attended event. The SICSA HCI community has been strong for a long time, and this was obvious at the meeting.

SICSA PhD Conference 2017

By Dr Rachel Menzies, Academic Chair for the SICSA PhD Conference 2017

Planning for the SICSA PhD Conference 2017 is now underway! The Conference is organised by PhD students for PhD students and this year is no exception with 15 students on the organising committee, representing institutions from across Scotland. It is a brilliant opportunity for students to network with industry, through sponsorship by companies such as Google, JP Morgan and Think Analytics, all of whom sponsored our event last year. Students also have the chance to discuss their own individual research during poster sessions with students in related disciplines. This collaborative environment is something that delegates love about the conference, providing opportunities for you to seek out different perspectives on your own research. Delegates also have the chance to hone skills such as presenting, reviewing and collaborative skills. With all of these benefits, I am hoping that next year we can encourage even more students to submit posters and attend the conference. Tickets are snapped up quickly, so watch out for communications in the New Year announcing that they are available!

The 2017 PhD Conference will be held in sunny Dundee, the city of Jute, Jam and Journalism. The event will be held over two days (27-28 June 2017) and I am delighted to announce that this year’s conference will feature keynote speaker Chris van der Kuyl. Chris is a graduate of the University of Dundee, one of Scotland’s leading entrepreneurs and chairman of 4J Studios, leading the creation of Minecraft for Microsoft Xbox 360. Those who have seen Chris speak before will know that this is not to be missed. His insightful reflections on the state of Computing Science in Scotland and across the world are inspiring and thought-provoking. Further announcement on keynotes and workshops are still to come, but the committee is working on some very interesting options at the moment in order to make this a conference to remember.

On a personal note, I have long supported the event and have encouraged PhD students from across Scotland to attend. I was co-chair of the student organising committee in 2010 and have attended whenever I can ever since. My involvement in this event was my first exposure into the complex world of event planning for academic conferences, and it was a great experience, albeit exhausting and stressful. Now, seven years on, I am involved once again as the Conference Academic Chair and am eager to find out once again what is happening in PhD research across Scotland, and to see how these can link with my own research interests.

The conference itself has changed over the years since it’s inaugural event in 2009. It now has an improved format over two days in order to better facilitate travel.  The organisation seems to get slicker every year and all organisational decisions are based on delegate feedback from the previous years, so everyone has a say in shaping the conference.    One big change I’ve noticed since 2009 is the the inclusion of academic reviews for poster submissions, which ensures that students receive worthwhile written feedback on their submissions.

I am excited to see what the next few months hold in store for myself and the rest of the organising committee. Keep an eye on the SICSA Twitter feed and regular SICSA emails to keep up to date with our progress and be ready to book your ticket in the New Year.

Christmas message from the SICSA Director

by Professor Kevin Hammond, University of St Andrews

Firstly, may I take the opportunity on behalf of the SICSA Directorate to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a successful 2017.

As the incoming SICSA Director, it has been my pleasure to meet many of you at the various SICSA events that we have run so far, such as SICSA DEMOfest which took place at the Technology & Innovation Centre Glasgow last month, and I look forward to meeting and working with you all over my term as SICSA Director. I have been visiting individual departments and hope to get around all the SICSA institutions soon http://www.sicsa.ac.uk/about-us/our-members/

To me, the strength of SICSA lies in representing the broad reach of excellent teaching and research across Scotland, and in strengthening the connections between all our institutions and with industry, both directly and through the four Innovation Centres:  The Data Lab http://www.thedatalab.com/  CENSIS http://censis.org.uk/ , Digital Health & Care Institute https://dhi-scotland.com/ and the Oil & Gas Innovation Centre http://www.ogic.co.uk/ .  It also lies in the enthusiasm and dedication of the SICSA members (both staff and postgraduate students), and in the fantastic support that is given by our executive team.  Without you, we could not make SICSA work!  Thank you, everyone, for all you have done so far!

I am particularly pleased to see strong SICSA participation in Athena Swan across the SICSA institutions (including my own) and delighted that our own Professors. Muffy Calder (Glasgow) and Carron Shankland (Stirling) have been honoured by the MRC for their contributions to Science.  Congratulations!  This is a great endorsement of their work and an encouragement to others!

As I’m sure you know, we have just instituted exciting new research themes in the areas of data science, cyber physical systems and cyber security, and we are expanding and promoting our activities in core areas such as Theoretical Computing, HCI, AI, and Networks; more information on these can be accessed at http://www.sicsa.ac.uk/research/research-themes/ . Each of these themes will be organising meetings and events that you are welcome to participate in, has its own dedicated mailing list, and its own web presence.  Our goal is for these themes to be representative and inclusive. Thank you to all the new theme leaders who have stepped forward to represent us. SICSA also offers central support for summer schools and for short themes, offer funding for visiting fellows and for research visits, have funding to assist writing European research proposals, and we will write letters of support and provide some financial support for conferences that you organise in Scotland. These activities do not need to be connected with the main themes, of course, and are not geographically restricted. Please do take advantage of what SICSA can do for you, and please do tell us if there is anything else that we can do!  Our funding page has full information on these opportunities http://www.sicsa.ac.uk/funding/

Finally, we have open vacancies for the SICSA Director for Education and for the Director for Knowledge Exchange. Please do consider applying yourself and please do encourage your colleagues to apply.  More information can be found on our vacancies page http://www.sicsa.ac.uk/about-us/vacancies/

I look forward to working with you in 2017.

Welcome from our newest member of staff

Cyber Security Researcher - Maria Evangelopoulou

Cyber Security Researcher, Maria Evangelopoulou, at DEMOfest 2016

By Alan Settery, SICSA Cyber Security Network Integrator

I began my role as the new SICSA Cyber Security Network Integrator role just over a week ago and I look forward to working in this exciting and growing area. Of course, I’m not new to SICSA having been the first SICSA Business Development Executive and more recently managing the SICSA Smart Tourism programme, so I know many of you very well! In-line with the increased activity in this area, we have recently launched a new permanent SICSA Research Theme in Cyber Security.

To carry out some ground work for this new role I attended SICSA Demofest 2016 where it was good to see a strong Cyber Security presence at the event, with a key note from Edinburgh Napier University’s Professor Bill Buchanan on “The Key Risks of the Cyber Age”; and 4 exhibiting researchers in this area;

  • DEAV: IoT Security Threat Detection Analysis & Visualisation, Robert Gordon University.
  • Securitometer, an Overall Security Metrics App for Android, University of Edinburgh
  • Market-Scale Behavioural Security Analysis for Android Apps, University of Edinburgh
  • The “What, when, why, how and what now?” of an attack in an ICS/SCADA network, University of Glasgow

It was interesting to notice how topical these research areas are, especially considering the recent cyber-attacks on Tesco Bank and the Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on company Dyn through the IoT Mirai botnet malware, which brought down sites including Netflix, Twitter and Reddit.

With cyber-attacks becoming more prolific and sophisticated, Government, Industry and Academia are joining forces to address the issue.

I recently attended the first Scottish Cyber Awards 2016 event held in the Waldorf Astoria – Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh.  The awards, organized by the Scottish Business Resilience Centre and Scottish Enterprise had 13 categories.  There was an impressive academic performance, with awards for many of the Scottish Institutions (including Abertay, Edinburgh Napier, Edinburgh, Glasgow Caledonian and Kyle Academy).  The Champion of Champions Award went to Zonefox, a spinout from Edinburgh Napier University. https://www.sbrcentre.co.uk/news/2016/november/scottish-cyber-awards-2016-winners/

It is apparent that the needs for skills in this sector are growing quickly and a key part of my activity will be in growing this expertise through raising awareness and encouraging the next wave of graduates into our industry.

The Cyber Security Christmas lectures are next on the horizon, taking place in cities across Scotland – Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow and attracting 3000 school pupils! http://www.sicsa.ac.uk/events/cyber-security-christmas-lectures/

The Cyber Academy at Edinburgh Napier University are also holding a Christmas Cyber and STEM event for P7 Girls http://thecyberacademy.org/christmas-cyber-and-stem-event-for-school-girls-6-december-2016/

I look forward to a busy 2017!

For more information please contact me:

Alan Settery
SICSA Cyber Security Network Integrator, University of Glasgow
Email: Alan.Settery@glasgow.ac.uk
Phone: +44 (0) 141 330 4845

Positive steps for gender equality in STEMM….but there’s still much to be done

Women In Computing

By Professor Carron Shankland, University of Stirling

This Ada Lovelace Day we will see the launch of an initiative to celebrate women in Maths and Computing, rather fittingly at Bletchley Park. As a new branch of the existing Suffrage Science scheme, it will encourage women into science, and to reach senior leadership roles.  “Suffrage Science” aims to make a difference. The MRC Clinical Sciences Centre (CSC) at Imperial College London formed the scheme five years ago. There are currently two sections, one for women in the Life Sciences, and one for those in Engineering and the Physical Sciences. The event today launches a third specialism, for women working in Mathematics and Computing.

At the launch today I am honoured to be one of 12 women, including also Professor Muffy Calder OBE, who will receive awards to celebrate our scientific achievements and our ability to inspire others.  This is a very positive step towards addressing the issue of gender inequality in the Sciences and across society as a whole – but we need to continue the momentum if we want to see significant culture-change.

Two years ago, I wanted to send a message out to my undergraduate class advertising the annual Lovelace Colloquium, an event mainly for young women in computing. It’s rather anti-social to spam a whole group, therefore I set about the slightly tedious task of filtering the women from the class lists, and I found just 3 in in our final honours year. And another 3 in the third year. But, hallelujah, 4 in the second year. I was genuinely shocked at these low numbers. Although I stand in front of these classes all the time, I hadn’t really absorbed that the proportion of women in our degree programme had fallen to something around 10% of the total and this is not just a feature of my university.

Women are under-represented in computing in the UK, at all levels, across the industry, across the academy, across training in schools and colleges. BCS Women produce the Women in IT Scorecard each year, highlighting the numbers. For example, the proportion of females accepted to higher education courses has declined in IT and Computing related courses to just 12%. But female students are outperforming male students in IT-related GCEs and GCSEs: 15% of female students achieving grades A/A* grades in GCE (compared with 9% of male students), and 32% of female students obtaining A/A*grades in GCSE (compared with 17% of male students).

Similar patterns are repeated in the IT workforce. Women represent 17% of IT specialists, and that level has been fairly stable for a decade. In the academy 22.2% of lecturers are female. There’s a two-fold problem: clearly there aren’t enough women coming into Computing, but there aren’t enough women in senior roles either. Women represent 10% of IT directors, and 13.1% of Computing Professors.

Addressing these problems requires effort from many different groups. In higher education in the UK, one of the main drivers for change is the Athena SWAN charter. The charter was established in 2005, supported by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research. In May 2015 the charter was expanded to recognise work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law, and in professional and support roles, and for trans staff and students. The charter now recognises work undertaken to address gender equality more broadly, and not just barriers to progression that affect women.

Of the 105 computer science departments in UK institutions, 24 have Athena SWAN bronze awards either on their own, or as part of a larger faculty group. There are no gold awards, but there are three silver awards: Computer Science at University College London, the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, and the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Queen’s University Belfast. Many of the remaining 78 are preparing applications. Initiatives carried out as part of Athena SWAN typically include mentoring and training for women to develop their potential, training for managers to ensure unbiased decision-making, and policy development to support maternity leave and flexible working. Departments also recognise the importance of using female role models in recruitment materials and in outreach activities such as public lectures and school visits.

The BCS Academy with the Council of Professors and Heads of Computing and the BCS women in computing research group are supporting departments to come together to share best practice through the CygnetS network. Cygnets is just a hatchling at the moment, but it will allow us to create a, mainly online, community to share information and experience.  Within SICSA we have an active group of Athena SWAN representatives from all 14 institutions who are coming together to discuss the main issues.  There are clearly some important questions to ask ourselves here: What initiatives really work in getting women into computing? How can careers be best supported while maintaining family life (still primarily a women’s issue)? What other organisations can we work with to achieve greater visibility of female role models?

It’s important to point out that these questions do not just rest at the feet of the senior academics, strategists and policy-makers.  For the positive steps to turn into in giant leaps, everyone needs to get involved, regardless of your position or gender…Do all that you can to encourage women around you: be a mentor, or a sponsor. Champion an open and transparent culture in your workplace. If you want to get involved with Athena SWAN activities, talk to your local university: you might be able to support outreach events such as science fairs and hackathons, or you may be able to visit students to share your experience. Talk to your own family and friends…tell them what a great profession you work in!

This piece by Professor Carron Shankland (University of Stirling) is based upon an article that she wrote for ITNOW, originally published in June 2016. 

Addendum: As of the November 2016 round of Athena SWAN departmental awards there are 28 computing departments with bronze and 5 computing departments with silver