First UK Software Carpentry workshop for Women in Science and Engineering

Posted by a.pawlik on 5 January 2016 - 4:05pm

The end of 2015 saw the first Software Carpentry workshop for Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) in the UK. The Institute co-organised the event together with Women in HPC, ARCHER, Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC) and ELIXIR UK. 34 participants attended the workshop and we also had a waiting list. The event was generously sponsored by Intel, Bank of America Merrill Lynch​ and ELIXIR UK.

This first workshop received a lot of interest from female researchers from different organisations in the UK. The attendees were from various disciplines ranging from life sciences, earth sciences and physics to social sciences. We covered the standard Software Carpentry curriculum. The instructors were Aleksandra Nenadic and Aleksandra Pawlik, both from the University of Manchester. The helpers were Toni Collis (Women in HPC, EPCC), Clair Barrass (EPCC), Simone Di Cola (University of Manchester) and Mireya Paredes (University of Manchester).

The programming skills level among the participants were quite distributed. However, the majority of them were at at least intermediate level. The participants commented that they read the description of the workshop which mentioned that the knowledge of basic programming skills was recommended and therefore, they assessed that the training would match their level. In fact, many attendees were actually very experienced programmers and found some of the modules a bit too basic and the teaching pace somewhat slow. This doesn't typically happen at Software Carpentry workshops. In most cases, the participants are actually below the intermediate level and this is what we had expected before the event. It could potentially mean that women have a tendency to underestimate their skills and assess their knowledge at a much lower level than it actually is (which phenomenon has been researched as early as 1978 and closely related to the terms such as "confidence gap" and "impostor syndrome"). 
The panel discussion in the evening of the first day of the workshop provided a great opportunity to discuss these issues. The panelists were:

  • Toni Collis, Women in HPC and EPCC
  • Louise Walker, University of Manchester
  • Sinead Mee, Bank of America Merrill Lynch​
  • Moi Hoon Yap, Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Laura Ionescu, Thoughtworks Manchester
  • Helen Ryder, Athena SWAN University of Manchester​

We talked about a number of problems faced by women in both academia and industry, stereotypes related to gender in computing and the ways the issues can be addressed. The panel was then followed by a buffet and some more informal discussions.
Several participants mentioned that they were attracted to the event by the fact that it was specifically addressed at women. We are hoping to organise more WiSE events in the UK in the coming months.