Qiaoqiao Ding

Qiaoqiao Ding

Born in Linyi, China • Birth year 1989 • Studied Applied Mathematics at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, China • Highest Degree Doctor in Mathematics • Lives in Shanghai, China • Occupation Assistant Research Scientist

When I was a teenager, I didn’t know what maths studies would be like. But I always took every maths lesson seriously and finished all the maths homework quickly and correctly, which gave me a sense of achievement and satisfaction among peers. I was able to find regular patterns in numbers or common features, which I found very exciting. I was not a very confident girl, but maths gave me strength.

Therefore, I decided to study maths at the University. However, I did not feel like the smartest student and university mathematics was very different from high school. I felt a bit frustrated and didn’t know how to reduce or eliminate the gap. In the second year of university, computational mathematics appeared in my life, which can be regarded as the combination of maths and computer science. Using computer science to solve mathematical problems and translating computer programs into mathematics language are two main aspects. I was attracted by the variety of applications and began to pay more attention to this field in the following semesters. From my Master’s to my doctoral research, my major was always applied mathematics. I did not only choose it because of my interests but also due to the possibility to get into contact with different subjects. Even though I saw more and more women devote themselves to computer science and mathematics, I was still hesitant. Would I do as well as men, as I needed to spend more time with my family? Could I be successful in this field? Could I find my favorite job? I did my best to find the answers to these questions.

If I can solve a problem with mathematics and present the result with a computational method, I will feel very happy.

I encountered many difficulties during my PhD. My advisor is also a woman and she gave me a lot of good advice. She had published many excellent works in optimization and medical imaging and supported my own research immensely. After finishing my PhD, I applied for an academic job in Singapore and worked there for three years. During that time, my husband was working in the US. We had to conquer the difficulty of time and distance. In my opinion, family is a very important part of one’s whole life. Every researcher needs to balance work and life, especially women. In China, women play a more important role in the relationship between husband and wife, the education of children and the connection with friends and relatives. Two years ago, my husband decided to return to China and he found a position in Shanghai. Finding a job in the same city is a big problem for me. I received a lot of help and advice from my collaborators and friends.

Now, maths has become a part of my life. Everyday, I try to solve some problems using mathematics tools and try to deduce some theorem or lemma to interpret the methodology. If I can solve a problem with mathematics and present the result with a computational method, I will feel very happy. My husband works as an assistant professor of mathematics in a university and we can discuss many interesting topics together. I think I can say that maths is my job and my life.

If anyone meets any predicament, I would strongly recommend to struggle. Try it and you will find it worth it.

At this stage of my life, I know what I want, i.e., working on applied mathematics and realizing my ideas. In China, as a woman, I never felt deprived or discriminated against for working in the field of maths or programming at the university. In fact, the contrary is the case and most people I encounter admire that I work in maths and computer science. A common perception in Chinese society is that maths is the most difficult subject and only the smartest people work on the research of it. In China, in order to encourage woman mathematicians to work in academia, many policies about gender quota have been made. In many job applications, women will be preferred over a man applicant if they have the same research abilities.

I am satisfied about the path I took, and very happy I had the courage to choose maths. I used to be afraid that I would not do well. But I know I can do my best, even if I am not the best researcher. Many of the maths students I met went through the same process and most of them did not give up. I think that most of the students that choose maths will persevere in difficult situations. If anyone meets any predicament, I would strongly recommend to struggle. Try it and you will find it worth it.

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Bernadette Spieler

Bernadette Spieler

Born in Deutschlandsberg, Austria • Birth year 1988 • Studied Information Management and eHealth at Graz University of Applied Science in Graz, Austria • Highest Degree PhD in Engineering Sciences from Graz University of Technology in Graz, Austria • Lives in Zurich, Switzerland • Occupation Professor in Computing Skills in Education, Zurich University of Teacher Education, Switzerland

Since February 2021, I have been at the Zurich University of Teacher Education (PHZH, Switzerland) as a professor for “Computing Skills in Education”. This professorship is located at two centres: the Centre for “Media Education and Informatics” and the Centre for “Education and Digital Transformation.” Previously, I was the Head of the Department of Informatics Didactics and a visiting professor (W2) at the Institute for Mathematics and Applied Informatics at the University of Hildesheim (Germany). I received my PhD in 2018 from the Institute of Software Technology at Graz University of Technology (TU Graz, Austria). At TU Graz, I worked first as a project assistant in the H2020 project “No One Left Behind“, and later as a postdoctoral researcher. I completed my dissertation on the topic “Development and Evaluation of Concepts and Tools to Reinforce Gender Equality by Engaging Female Teenagers in Coding”. For my thesis, I focused on the conception of a framework for a more gender equal classroom setting for inclusive computer science activities. This so-called “Playing, Engagement, Creativity, Creating” (PECC) framework suggests inclusive activities during different stages, considers the gender dimension in different intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, and shows how all students can benefit equally from them. It puts an emphasis on how to foster intrinsic motivators like pupils’ sense of belonging to computing fields, to generate interest for this area, to improve pupils’ self-efficiency towards computing, and finally, to bring fun elements to the classroom. Second, I developed different apps to engage girls in game design, e.g., “Luna&Cat” and Embroidery Designer.

(…) The focus in education is changing; it is less about imparting knowledge and more about enabling competence acquisition that is independent, reflective, and cooperative.

With its multitude of facets, computer science (CS) offers many exciting topics for children and young people. Girls in particular often do not have the opportunity to take an interest in such topics, or are quickly depreciated as a target group. For future generations, it is crucial not merely to use these technologies, but to understand and apply them. At the same time, the focus in education is changing; it is less about imparting knowledge and more about enabling competence acquisition that is independent, reflective, and cooperative. Education in a culture of digitality ensures the participation of all learners with their different prerequisites and equal opportunities. This requires the promotion of digital competences in a level-appropriate delivery (from school to teacher education to vocational training).

At the PHZH, I have the opportunity to reach teachers as multipliers in training and education. Various concepts such as game design, Maker-Education, or playful CS with quizzes and analogue activities enhance both inspiration and motivation. Furthermore, it is essential to dispel misconceptions that computer science is “not creative” or “too difficult”. Playing and creating games on smartphones are both popular activities for the new generation of digital natives, and therefore are a perfect match for the development of creativity, problem solving, logical thinking, system design, and collaboration skills. Particularly in my current project “Making at School“, we show exciting possibilities for interdisciplinary project work in various Maker activities. Making as a method for free experimentation, exploration, or (digital) tinkering enables new learning formats for education. Thus, Making facilitates open learning spaces with problem-solving tasks, interdisciplinary connections, and transversal competencies. For instance, technical understanding, creativity, craft skills, or concepts of sustainability and entrepreneurship are promoted.

In order to significantly influence future developments in CS didactics, I am involved in various expert groups. For example, as a product owner in the Catrobat Association, I am responsible for the development of apps to support children and young people in learning programming, as a member of the Swiss steering committee of the Informatics Beaver team, we create informatics riddles for the annual Bebras competition, as a member of the steering committee of digital switzerland (education and skilled workforce), we support the next generation of STEM students, and finally, I am a member of the working group for the curriculum development for informatics at the high school/secondary level.

The number of women in [computer science] is still very low, but there are promising ways to encourage and support more women to be deeply interested in [computer science] (…).

In my research, I address the aforementioned issues of equal opportunities in education, and highlight the importance of CS didactics within the context of education. Thereby my aim in this is to ensure greater diversity in technology. In my research, it is particularly important to empirically verify a positive effect on pupils. The extracurricular level should not be underestimated either. Since I have been offering courses specifically for girls in game design and programming for years, it was always a great wish to establish our own programming club in Zurich. With the help of the Manava-Foundation, we were able to realise our idea in March 2022 and proceeded to found the CoetryLab. From Summer 2022, we offer informatics and media courses for children and young people aged 10-20. This is intended to effectively support children in these subjects precisely where their needs are greatest.

By researching new concepts and standards in the field of gender-sensitive CS education and training, I hope to seek out and implement improvements in CS curricula, different CS-topics and to support girls and female adolescents in particular to gain CS skills. The number of women in CS is still very low, but there are promising ways to encourage and support more women to be deeply interested in CS and I am confident that gender-conscious pedagogy, especially in areas of CS education, is particularly useful and necessary!

Posted by HMS in Stories