Rifat Zahan
Rifat Zahan (MSc’16) is a computer science PhD student who served as the lead organizer of Research Fest 2021. (Photography: David Stobbe)

USask alumnus funds new Graduate Prize for Women in Computer Science

Dr. Aaron Genest (BSc’07, PhD’13) wants to close the gender gap in the tech industry

A University of Saskatchewan (USask) graduate and leader in the province’s technology industry says women are “extremely underrepresented” in technology jobs—and he wants to help close the gender gap.

“If women were proportionately represented in the innovation and technology industry, we would not have a labour shortage,” said Dr. Aaron Genest (BSc’07, PhD’13), an applications engineering manager with Siemens and the president of SaskTech.

“The tech industry is the only industry where there are fewer job seekers than jobs available—and, not only has this situation (continued) for the last decade, it’s getting worse,” he added. “However, women are consistently underrepresented—frequently only 10 to 30 per cent of people working at technical jobs. Were we able to increase that by even 10 per cent, we’d see millions of women enter the workforce, alleviating the desperate demand for workers.”

Dr. Aaron Genest (BSc’07, PhD’13) is an applications engineering manager with Siemens and the president of SaskTech. (Photography: Danger Dynamite)
Dr. Aaron Genest (BSc’07, PhD’13) is an applications engineering manager with Siemens and the president of SaskTech. (Photography: Danger Dynamite)

As a result, Genest is funding the new Graduate Prize for Women in Computer Science. The purpose of the award is to recognize excellence and innovation in graduate-level research by women in computer science and bioinformatics at USask who participate in Research Fest. Three annual prizes of $500 will be provided to the top three candidates in the Women in Computer Science research competition category.

Research Fest, organized by the Computer Science Graduate Council in partnership with the Department of Computer Science in the College of Arts and Science, celebrates research undertaken by graduate students. The goal is to bring together graduate students, faculty members, researchers and practitioners from academia and industry to discuss and present research and innovation in different areas of computer science and related fields.

USask graduate Rifat Zahan (MSc’16), a current computer science PhD student, commended Genest’s generosity. Zahan, who served as the lead organizer of Research Fest 2021, noted the importance of acknowledging women’s contributions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“This award will set an example of how women’s work can be appreciated in STEM fields, and will encourage women to participate in this event,” she said. “This generous support is one of many ways to support our women, both in academia and in industries.”

As she pursues her PhD in computer science, Zahan is aiming to be a problem solver. In particular, she wants to take “a trans-disciplinary approach to contribute in public health” and is currently using computer modelling to better understand and predict suicide.

Zahan said there are already numerous intervention strategies in place aimed at preventing suicide in Canada and Australia, but studies looking at interventions within the context of systems science are limited. The benefit of computer modelling is that researchers can look at suicide incidence and prevalence in real time and observe the impacts of adjusting specific variables.

“Systems science models have long been used in infectious disease modelling, consumer behaviour, health-care delivery, operations research and business, but using such a tool in the domain of suicide is very limited,” Zahan said. “That’s why I chose to use a systems science approach to model the complex system of suicide.”

Genest said USask’s new computer science graduates will all have “a great future” ahead of them. Saskatchewan’s primary industries of agriculture, energy and mining are undergoing rapid digitization and the trend of increasing technology-centric business practices across every other industry is growing, he said.

“This is putting an enormous opportunity in front of the next generation of graduates: find those places in the rapidly changing business, education and research and development landscape and be part of the change,” said Genest.

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