Technology courses throughout the country overwhelmingly remain a male student’s domain. It really shouldn’t be this way. And it really shouldn’t be up to WIT to host an event which promotes why third level technology courses are as accessible to girls as they are to boys.
But that they have held such an event for the past two years is to their credit and it’s clearly having the desired effect, with 1200 students attending the Women In Technology (yes, WIT!) event held at the WIT Arena on Thursday, March 7th.
Among the speakers at the event was Phil Healy, a current MSc student at the college who also happens to be Ireland’s fastest woman. Addressing students at Carriganore just six days after placing third in her European Indoor Championship 400 metre semi-final in Glasgow, the West Cork native extolled the benefits of pursuing the tech option at third level. “There’s definitely a stereotypical view still out there about technology and computing courses,” she told me prior to her presentation. “I initially studied nursing for three years and that would have been three quarters female to a quarter male in terms of the student population. And then I moved on to a Higher Diploma in UCC in Computing and it was the other way around percentage wise, which suggests that society thinks that boys and girls should be going in different directions academically.
Phil added: “I’d always had an interest in (computing) and having a class full of boys didn’t put me off. But since I came to WIT and progressed onto my Masters, there’s definitely a better balance (in the course), albeit still slightly more male than female. But courses in technology really are open to everyone, anyone can enter these courses and advance into a career, and of course that equally applies to secondary schools boys who want to go into nursing. I wasn’t going to let that imbalance in the lecture hall at UCC stop me from doing what I felt was the best course for me.”
Conceding that nursing wasn’t conducive to advancing her athletics career, Phil said that changing course wasn’t her sole consideration when making the switch into computing.
“It wasn’t fully based on my sport,” she stated. “I asked myself, when I’ll be 35 or 40, will I want to be working as a nurse by at that stage in my life? It’s a super job, it’s incredibly rewarding and I’m happy that I did it for three years, working at CUH (for two 13 hour shifts, back to back, plus a half day), but I was young at the time – I was just heading for 20 – and I felt I had to make a decision then: I could keep nursing and, as I saw it at the time, end up wasting my athletics career and also waste so many years of my life when I really felt I needed to make a change anyway. I was still young at the time, so I decided to make the change and take the opportunity; I still graduated with a Health Science degree which I can still use again at any point so I made sure I was leaving with something before heading back into First Year in an entirely new course. So making the change ultimately gave me more options for the future, beyond athletics.”
Striving for further qualifications is clearly as important for Phil Healy as her track ambition, a perspective which isn’t universal among elite athletes, but one suspects her life will be all the richer for retaining such a mindset. “I’ve always want to do as well on the academic side of things as I do on the track. It’s not about just focusing everything on the track; I’d be a high achiever when it comes to my studies and I’ve always pushed myself that way. Your sporting career could end at any point and you always need a fallback and I want that piece of paper that, for all I know, I might need sooner rather than later. I have that now with the Health Science degree (from WIT), the Higher Diploma from UCC and I’ll have a Masters in Computing as well looking down the line.”
Phil is studying her MSc over three years, commenting: “The college has been super supportive to me both from the academic and scholarship side of things; last year I studied two days a week, this year I’m doing a day a week and I’ve plenty of work to keep me busy. I prefer having college to being a full-time athlete as it gives me a distraction and something else to focus on, to take my time off training…”WIT have been a super support to me – I’ve another year here to go – my training group is here, my coach is here – and the college has done everything to help me both academically and in terms of athletics and I’m very thankful for that.”