Ada Lovelace Day 2014: celebrating the achievements of women in STEM

Rocket scientist mugTuesday 14th October 2014 is Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. This evening I’ll be marking the day at a special dinner hosted by Equate Scotland and Edinburgh Napier University’s Athena SWAN team. Our guest of honour and keynote speaker will be astrophysicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the first female President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) is regarded as the world’s first computer programmer. Her notes on Charles Babbage’s analytical engine are recognised as the first algorithm to be carried out by a machine. Despite this achievement, hers is not a household name (although that of her father, Lord Byron, is). Some claim that Lovelace, along with a string of other women who have played significant roles in computing, has been deliberately written out of history. Ada Lovelace Day is an attempt to write her (and the others) back in, and to prompt the scientific community to acknowledge the contribution of female scientists and engineers across all disciplines. By highlighting role models such as Lovelace, those who organise events on Ada Lovelace Day hope to inspire greater participation of women in STEM.

Athena SWAN logoI have been involved in the organisation of tonight’s event as Edinburgh Napier University’s Academic Champion for the Athena SWAN charter. The charter is an initiative to encourage and recognise commitment in higher education institutions to combatting the under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM – with the extra M for medicine) research and academia, and to the advancement of women in STEMM careers.

One of the goals of my Athena SWAN role is to raise the profile of the University’s work towards gender equality at Edinburgh Napier University. So tonight, as well as the keynote speech from Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, there will also be addresses from the University’s Principal and Vice Chancellor Andrea Nolan, the Director of Equate Scotland Linda Somerville, and me. Our audience will include female undergraduate and postgraduate STEMM students, University staff, alumni, and external stakeholders from across science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine in the public and private sectors.

In my presentation I will be drawing attention to some of the interesting findings that the Edinburgh Napier University’s Athena SWAN team has uncovered in the course of the past year in its work towards a bronze institutional Athena SWAN award . For example, at 21% the proportion of female professors in STEMM subjects at Edinburgh Napier University is higher than the national benchmark of 16.5%, and the number of women who hold senior posts in our School of Computing is also remarkable: the Head of School, Director of Research, Director of Academic Development, and two of the four research centre directors (the Centre for Social Informatics and the Centre for Algorithms, Visualisation and Evolving Systems) are all female.

Not only will we be marking Ada Lovelace Day tonight, but also the University’s 50th anniversary. It promises to be a great evening for celebrating the achievements of Edinburgh Napier’s women in STEMM to date, and for looking forward to future success.
Edinburgh Npaier Athena SWAN screensaver

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