University of York computer science team honoured for tackling gender split

York University

York University

The University of York picked up an Athena SWAN award in recognition of itssupport of women in science.  The male dominance of the discipline has been cited as one of the reasons for the woeful number of women in game jobs. Just six per cent of industry employees are female; in York’s computer science department, the figure is currently 15 per cent.

“We have a good track record of attracting female students,” says York lecturer Dr Christopher Power. “We heavily promote IBM’s Women in Technology Day and we have a strategy to increase the number of female students. I’m very proud of that.”

There’s reason to believe that games could be both part of the problem and part of the solution when it comes to the gender split in computer science. “While there is no evidence, there is a perception that computer science is for boys and a lot of that seems to be coming from the games sector,” Power adds. “But we have lots of women coming to ask us about games at open days. That’s especially been the case in the last couple of years.”

Games are a big part of the offer at York, despite the fact none of their suite of computer science degrees has ‘games’ in the name. There is, of course, as reason for that. “There’s a danger in creating programmes designed solely for games,” Power says. “You create an artificial environment where people are making games likes those that are out there now. There’s a risk students will not be thinking outside the box. If you want to make games that go beyond what they are now, you need a computer science knowledge base and a background in problem solving.”

Power believes the key reason for the lack of female computer scientists is the low number of students studying A-Level mathematics. ButYorkis working to change that with initiatives aimed at encouraging children to consider Maths as a post-16 option and computer science as a degree, such as open days targeted at younger teenagers.

When it comes to undergraduate level, the department – which is ranked in the top ten for computer science in the UK by The Guardian, The Sunday Times and The Independent – continues to promote efforts to address the gender imbalance.

Get Into Games: York University

Alina Selega is in her final year studying BSC Computer Science and Maths at The University Of York. “I’m now in my fourth year, because I wasn’t sure when I was applying to York that I wanted to do the year in industry placement. At the end of my first year I was torn between doing the sandwich course and a Masters after my first degree. But I realised a placement would be very useful.”

It was a decision she is unlikely to regret. She was one of four York students out of 24 applicants to land a placement at Philips, where she worked in the healthcare team. She used her love of maths in work on statistical models for the firm.

Alina then switched her focus to programming and developed an app as a demonstration tool. The software she worked on is used to communicate complex statistical information to medical hardware buyers. “York were amazing when it came to placements,” she recalls. “They arranged for lots of companies – like Phillips and IBM – to come to York and give presentations and the first round of interviews was here.”

And she has not ruled out a career in games. “I’m not a hardcore gamer, but I was involved in another placement this summer which meant using graphics. I had a funny idea that I could make something cool, but at the moment I’m more into medical science. One of my friends graduated and she went to work at Ninja Theory.”

Alina says she has no regrets about studying at York, or her time in the UK. “I’ve had a great time. I really do like York and – even though I’m a combined subjects student – I feel more like I belong in Computer Science. Maybe it’s partly because maths is so big, but there’s a real community in Computer Science – the lecturers are nice and easy-going and everyone wants to teach you something new every day.”