Durham on the way to being a leading centre for women in computer science


Last year, Durham University made headlines by doubling its number of female computer science students within a year. Now, as a member of the N8 Centre of Excellence in Computationally Intensive Research (N8 CIR), it has been recognised as a chapter of Women in High Performance Computing (WHPC), an organisation at the forefront of promoting women in the High Performance Computing (HPC) community across academia and industry.

HPC is the practice of combining computing power to deliver a much higher performance than is typical from a desktop computer. HPC is used to solve large problems in science, engineering and business. In particular, WHPC “strives to bring together women in HPC and technical computing while encouraging women to engage in outreach activities and improve the visibility of inspirational role models.”

As part of the application process, the N8, a collaboration between the eight most research-intensive universities in the North of England, has committed itself to addressing the issue of gender imbalance within N8 CIR and its workshops, and by identifying barriers that women face when applying for places. They will also challenge the reasons why there are so few women in senior roles in HPC, and raise the profile of people from underrepresented groups.

The number one destination for women Computer Science undergraduates”

The N8 CIR will also address wider diversity concerns and support people from minority communities, and those with disabilities, to work and contribute to the HPC community. Durham University’s Dr Marion Weinzierl, the N8 CIR Research Software Engineer theme leader, has been included in the list of trailblazing women in HPC. “Thrilled” at this recent news, Weinzierl said, “Our group is open to everyone and welcomes contributions and support from all genders and gender identities. Strong allyship will be key to the success of the group.”

In recent years, the University has worked hard to increase diversity in computer science. The Durham University Women in Tech society are “working hard to make Durham the number one destination for women Computer Science undergraduates”. The University is also heavily involved in TechUP, a programme that focuses on training individuals from minority groups for tech careers. Their most recent programme, TechUPWomen, took 100 women from the Midlands and North of England, retraining them in technology and providing interview opportunities at technology companies.

The University’s Computer Science Department is championed by Professor Sue Black OBE, a well-known advocate for women in technology, having set up the UK’s first online network for women in tech in 1998, as well as TechUPWomen.

Durham also offers the AMI scholarship for female Computer Science undergraduates. The scholarship is named after Anne-Marie Imafidon, head Stemette and co-founder of Stemettes, a social enterprise that inspires the next generation of females into STEM careers. Imafidon joined the University’s Department External Advisory Board in 2016 and has been pivotal in the launch of the Computer Science Department’s core diversity programmes.

The start of the 2021/22 academic year will see teaching begin in the new Mathematical Sciences and Computer Science building, which was completed in January this year. The University plans to more than double the number of students in these subjects by 2026, hopefully helping Durham become the forefront for women in computer science.


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