In recognition of outstanding work to recruit and support gender diverse students, the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Robotics and Autonomous Systems has won the 2021 Minerva Informatics Equality Award.
The prestigious award recognises excellence in the encouragement to enrol, and retention of, female students in Computer Science and Informatics programmes.
Open to faculties and research labs in universities across Europe, the accolade is awarded to an initiative that demonstrates exceptional results in supporting the careers of women in informatics research and education.
The CDT is based at the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, a joint venture between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh, forming part of the new National Robotarium.
The award was presented at a ceremony on 26 October during the 17th European Computer Science Summit (ECSS 2021). The Minerva committee emphasised that the standard of entries this year was very high, but that the range of support offered by the CDT and its proven impact were what set the Centre apart.
Professor Helen Hastie, Director of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Robotics and Autonomous Systems, and co-academic lead of the National Robotarium based at Heriot-Watt University, said: "We are extremely honoured to receive this prestigious award in recognition of our ongoing commitment to supporting equality, diversity and inclusion at the Centre. We have collaborated closely across all areas of the CDT to recruit and retain gender diverse students, with our numbers increasing strongly year on year since 2017.
“Female and gender non-binary students made up 33% of the 2020 cohort with 100% retention of these students from the 2019 and 2020 cohorts. We are enormously proud of the success of all our students and are committed to growing and building on our existing initiatives to create a welcoming, inclusive environment and to further widen the pool of diverse and talented individuals choosing robotics as a career."
Claire Ordoyno, Business Development Executive at the CDT travelled to Madrid to receive the prize and present the scope and impact of the CDT’s actions. She said: “Our student body has many inspiring examples of inclusivity rooted at its core including a Female Mentorship Programme and the student-led WiRE (Women in Robotics Edinburgh) group, which the Mentorship Programme supports. It was created by female CDT students to address feelings of isolation and now has members outside of the CDT which is a wonderful example of its wider impact.”
Professor Barbara Webb, equality and diversity lead at the CDT, said: “It has been crucial to our approach that we combine a wide range of diversity initiatives to embed inclusion at the centre of our culture. For example, in recruitment we start by including visits to universities by inspiring female academics. We then ensure gender inclusive language is used throughout our application process, and arrange for wide representation on interview panels to make the selection process fair and transparent. We require our academic and support staff to take Unconscious Bias Training and our students have a mandatory Diversity in the Workplace course in their first year.”
The Minerva Award is sponsored by Google and carries a prize of 5,000 Euros to further work on promoting gender equality.
The goal of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Robotics and Autonomous Systems (CDT-RAS) is to train innovation-ready robotics researchers to be part of a multi-disciplinary enterprise, focusing on Safe Interaction for Robotics. This includes sensing, control, and actuation, but also human-robot interaction, collaborative working and decision-making, natural language interaction, explainable AI, verification, safety and security. Achieving impact with robotics also requires non-technical skills, for example an understanding of technology translation, creativity and entrepreneurial processes. These are an essential component of the CDT programme.
The centre is leading the UK’s efforts to realise the potential of robotics by producing a new generation of highly skilled researchers, trained to take a central role through technical ability coupled with industry, market and social awareness. The centre is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which supports postgraduate training in engineering and the physical sciences.