Welcome to Ada Lovelace Day, Oxford

300px-Ada_Lovelace_color_svgThe 15th October marks Ada Lovelace Day, an international day to celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). This site will share events and resources at the University of Oxford that raise the profile of our women in STEM.

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Editathon Success

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell opens the event.

On the 15th October women in STEM from across the University came together to improve the coverage of women’s scientific achievements in one of the worlds most popular resource – Wikipedia.

Opened by prominent astrophysicist and visiting professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell and the University’s Chief Information Officer Professor Anne Trefethen, Oxford’s editathon had just 3 hours to make a difference. Following some quick-start training by Dr Martin Poulter (St Anne’s, 1991), Wikipedian Ambassador, those who had volunteered their afternoon went on to put STEM women back into the online world of history. In total the contents of 15 articles were improved with 7 new articles created. Many featured Oxford alumnae, including:

  • Audrey Arnott (1901-1974), a medical illustrator at the University of Oxford Radcliffe Infirmary highly influential in her technique and credited with starting the Medical Artists’ Association of Great Britain from her home in Wolvercote in 1949.
  • Margaret Jennings (1904–1994), a British scientist who was part of the group at the University of Oxford under Howard Florey who worked on the clinical application of penicillin.
  • Professor Dame Louise Napier Johnson, DBE, FRS (1940 – 2012), a British biochemist and protein crystallographer. She was David Phillips Professor of Molecular Biophysics at the University of Oxford from 1990 to 2007, and later an emeritus professor.
  • Mabel Purefoy FitzGerald (1872- 1973) a British physiologist and clinical pathologist best known for her work on the physiology of respiration. She began to teach herself chemistry and biology from books, as well as attending classes at Oxford University between 1896 and 1899, even though women were not yet allowed to receive degrees.

The impact of efforts across the globe to improve the coverage of women in Wikipedia was substantial. Just one week ago 15 female Royal Society Fellows had no Wikipedia article. They did not exist in the resource that 365 million people access to discover the world. As a result of Ada Lovelace Day editathons, they now all do.

And of course there was cake.

The Editathon featured in The Guardian and Oxford Today.

Media Gallery

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Grace Hopper – the lazy programmer who changed the world

 by Steven Albury

As the father of a 4 year old girl fascinated by how things work (she likes ‘deconstructing’ her toys to work out how they go together) I wanted to contribute something as part of Ada Lovelace day. It is an opportunity to share thoughts about people who have shaped our society through their efforts, their collaborations and their perspective as women. Grace Hopper is a shining example for my daughter; not only of how as a woman she can be free to shape her own future and participate in making the world a better place but also that it’s OK to have fun while doing it.

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper was a gifted mathematician who obtained her PhD from Yale in 1934 and became involved in the early days of electronic computing after leaving her professorship in order to join the US navy during WWII. Grace made many contributions to computer science both large and small. She helped coin the term ‘bug’ for a problem in software for example and played a key role in the development of high level programming languages with her work on creating COBOL, the most widely used programming language of the 60s 70s and 80s.

However, as a self-described ‘lazy programmer’ it was the development of the compiler that I think confirms Grace’s place in the  Pantheon of computer greats. A compiler is a nifty piece of software that takes code written in a computer language and turns it into a program that a computer can run. It was Grace’s insight that this was essential for the future of the computing industry (which at the time was mostly viewed as a new toy for mathematicians) which helped make computers relevant to the business world and helped create the information society we now live in.

Grace Hopper was a creative teacher who made great efforts to ensure programmers she was teaching understood how to be lazy, by which she meant efficient, inquisitive and always looking for better ways to solve problems. One of her noted props in class were short lengths of wire (about 30cm) representing 1 nano-second of distance travelled by an electronic signal. She would reinforce the point about sloppily written code being slow by bringing in a millisecond’s worth of wire (about 290 meters!)

This example encapsulates the genius of Grace Hopper; a serious point about software design delivered in a creative, memorable and humorous way. She was a great scientist and her tenaciousness and strength of will in the face of adversity (from misogyny to depression and alcoholism) show that with effort, humour and a dogged belief in the importance of shaping the future any of us can both inspire and be inspired by those around us.

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Tom Stoppard’s ‘Arcadia’ (Oxford Playhouse 16th – 19th October)

Production poster for ArcadiaIf Ada Lovelace Day grabs your interest, then book a ticket for the Oxford Student Company production of Arcadia at the Oxford Playhouse 16th – 19th October. First performed at the National Theatre, Arcadia is an Olivier Award winning masterpiece by Tom Stoppard. Stoppard based the character of Thomasina Coverly, a 13 year-old a precocious young genius, on Ada Lovelace.

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Public Lecture: A celebration of women in astronomy

women3.previewOn the evening of the 15th october, following Oxford’s Women in Science Wikipedia Editathon, attend Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s public lecture celebrating women in astronomy. Dame Jocelyn  discovered pulsars, the by-products of supernova explosions which make all life in the universe possible.
15 Oct 2013 – 6:00pm – 7:00pm
Venue: Martin Wood Complex, Department of Physics, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PU
Room: Martin Wood Lecture Theatre
Audience: General public (Age 12+)

Book your place now

Podcasts by Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

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What is an edit-a-thon?

3album_coverA wikipedia edit-a-thon is a scheduled time where people edit Wikipedia together, whether offline, online, or a mix of both; typically focused on a specific topic, such as science or women’s history; a way to recruit new Wikipedians and teach them how to contribute.  Despite the widespread popularity of Wikipedia, its coverage of women scientists is far from comprehensive. It is also true that Wikipedia is edited primarily by men[2]. The Ada Lovelace Day edit-a-thons aimdesigned to redress this imbalance. Edit-a-thons improve the encyclopedia and can be a great way to help new Wikipedians learn to edit.

Join us for the Women in Science Editathon at Oxford  University 2013

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Engaging women in computer science

AlbumCoverElearnThere is a piece in this week’s Times Higher about the challenges of engaging young women in computer science ‘How to switch on the IT girls‘, and another in the Guardian about the female IT brain drain.

The article suggests that:

“Women are consumers and users of technology, but they are not taking the opportunities to be involved in the development of new technologies or the profession. The problem appears to be…the lack of positive role models for girls as they make their career decisions and as women look to return to work…As a profession we also need to recognise the impact that unconscious bias has.”

Addressing the “image problem” surrounding computer science is crucial. In order to do this “we need more positive media coverage, which highlights the career opportunities available in technology and the positive aspects of working in this profession – the profession of the future”.

“lack of visibility of women in the workplace and the classroom – the lack of role models, champions and mentors – is perhaps one of the most cited barriers to getting more women in tech.”

This university includes in its strategic plan a committment to working towards an increasingly diverse staffing profile. It makes mention of Athena SWAN for academic departments and involvement of under represented staff groups at senior levels.

In this spirit I am very much looking forward to our activities to support Ada Lovelace Day 2013  (15th October),  an annual celebration focussing on the achievements of women in computing, science, technology, engineering and maths. The target audiences to engage are:  women who work in computing, libraries and IT support roles; and women who research, study or teach in the relevant academic disciplines.

The day is marked in a variety of ways around the world particularly by online communities and by women who work in computing, or use social media tools.  The focus of activities is in raising awareness of women’s contribution to science via social learning and engagement tools: social media, online events, twitter discussions, community blogging and writing. Last year tens of thousands of people mentioned #AdaLovelace day on Twitter.

My hope for this year is to run another edit-a-thon during the day (possibly to include geo-location tagging, mashware, places and museum objects ) but also to enhance the day with other events including  presentations by visiting speakers.  Please let me know if you would like to be involved.

What we did last year

For Ada Lovelace Day 2012 teams in Oxford University IT Services and the Bodleian Library joined with the Royal Society Librarians, and their resident Wikipedian to organise a day long Wikipedia edit-a-thon[1] designed to improve and increase the information included in Wikipedia about women scientists.

Despite the widespread popularity of Wikipedia, its coverage of women scientists is far from comprehensive. It is also true that Wikipedia is edited primarily by men[2]. The Ada Lovelace Day edit-a-thon was designed to redress this imbalance.

We will have an afternoon edit-a-thon bringing in new contributors from academia, and some existing volunteers. Female editors are particularly encouraged to attend. It’ll be hosted by the Royal Society, who have a very strong history-of-science and biographical library which they’ll be making available to us for the day. The Society’s library holds a rich collection of printed works about women in science, including biographies and works authored by scientists. At the event the Society’s librarians will explain more about the collections and provide guidance on finding sources.[3](Wikipedia)

The event was a great success, gained international media coverage[4] and greatly improved the quality of online information[5]. As well as the face-to-face gatherings in London and Oxford hundreds of online editors joined in at a distance.

[1] A wikipedia edit-a-thon is: a scheduled time where people edit Wikipedia together, whether offline, online, or a mix of both; typically focused on a specific topic, such as science or women’s history; a way to recruit new Wikipedians and teach them how to contribute.  Edit-a-thons improve the encyclopedia and can be a great way to help new Wikipedians learn to edit.
[2] ‘Surveys suggest that less than 15 percent of its hundreds of thousands of contributors are women.The Wikipedia Foundation has set a goal to raise the share of female contributors to 25 percent by 2015’.  ‘Where are the women in Wikipedia?’ New York Times 02/02/2011  http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/02/02/where-are-the-women-in-wikipedia?
[3]‘Wikipedia:WikiProject ‘Women’s History/Ada Lovelace Day 2012’http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Women%27s_History/Ada_Lovelace_Day_2012
[4] ‘Wikipedia edit-a-thon brings women scientists out of the shadows’ The Guardian 19/ 10/2012 http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/oct/19/wikipedia-edit-a-thon-women-scientists?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

[5] ‘Edit-a-thon gets women scientists into Wikipedia’ Nature, 22/10/2012 http://www.nature.com/news/edit-a-thon-gets-women-scientists-into-wikipedia-1.11636

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