Amazon Women in Innovation Bursary

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Amazon bursary helps women pursue high tech education

 July 19, 2017

Claire Doherty is one of three women in the UK to be selected for the Amazon Women in Innovation Bursary, which provides funding for up to four years of university as well as access to an Amazon mentor.

Claire Doherty, a 19-year-old computer science student at the University of Edinburgh department of Informatics, wasn’t always interested in technology. “Both my parents have worked in software engineering,” she says, “and when I was younger I told my mum I would never do what she does.”

“But as I grew up, I started to find computer programming so interesting,” she said. “The classes I take and the work I do here at university doesn’t feel like work. It’s fun. One exercise involved working with a sequence from a DNA strand, which sounds extremely complicated but it becomes simple once you break it down into smaller steps."

Doherty is now interested in many areas of developing computer science such as artificial intelligence and cognitive science.

The Amazon Women in Innovation Bursary

This passion for technology led Doherty to apply for the Amazon Women in Innovation Bursary. She was chosen to take part in the programme after writing a personal statement about why she should be selected.

The Amazon Women in Innovation Bursary at Edinburgh University offers funding of £3,500 per year for one female student to take up a degree relating to high-tech innovation in the UK. As well as helping finance Doherty’s living costs for up to four years, Amazon also provides mentoring on technical and business skills.

“I’m really glad to have this support from Amazon. I have a mentor at Amazon, and I can go to her with questions and to see the environment at the company. It seems like an interesting, friendly place to work.”

“Also, obviously the money helps. Without it, I would have to work a part-time job to pay for everything and I would have less time to focus on my studies.”

Doherty joins two other women taking part in the programme at King’s College London and Churchill College in the University of Cambridge.

Supporting women in STEM education

The goal of the Amazon bursary is to encourage women to pursue a STEM career. STEM is a curriculum based on educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into cohesive learning courses based on real-world situations.

In 2016, women made up 25% of students graduating from UK universities with a core STEM degree, according to the UK Higher Statistical Education Authority (HESA).

Doherty feels that more women should give STEM careers a chance. “Some girls might find it off-putting to be in a class full of boys, but I think you should pursue what you are passionate about, regardless of where that is. My advice is: if you have something you love, you shouldn’t feel like gender is an issue.”

Dr. Kami Vaniea, Coordinator for Equality and Diversity for the School of Informatics, says that more women are entering computer science because more people in general are realising the potential of STEM careers. “As a growing number of people understand what computer science covers, we see more women entering the field. Computers involve everything from healthcare to all the way up to space exploration.”

Dr. Vaniea says that as diversity increases, women bring new ideas and fresh perspective to the field. She gives the example of game design where, due to more diversity, new game design has evolved from a focus on first person shooter games to novel games about sharing emotional stories.

Claire Doherty sums it up: “The world of technology is changing so quickly. Who knows where we will be in 10 years? There are so many possibilities. I want to help build that future.”

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