Thursday, May 19, 2022
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Local wins computer science scholarship

Ms Wilcox has a background in mathematics and computing and is now partway through a PhD at Sydney University’s School of Information Technologies. Her project has involved working with behavioural ecologists from Israel and computational geometry experts from the Netherlands to identify patterns in the movement of Jackdaws (a bird belonging to the crow family). Wilcox examines the birds’ trajectories to help determine which birds lead and which follow. Her research is an ecological application of data mining – a mathematical and computational process of discovering patterns in large datasets.

“There is a famous quote: ‘We’re drowning in data but lacking in knowledge’. Generating data is getting cheaper and easier all the time, but what really appeals to me is making sense of it,” says Wilcox. “From weather forecasting to traffic planning, and from understanding animals’ behaviour to examining financial flows, data mining has all sorts of important applications for today.”

In addition to her research, Ms Wilcox is also passionate about outreach to school students to encourage them to consider a career in computer science. Despite the expanding role of computers in our lives, the number of domestic computing graduates has halved over the last ten years. Wilcox is a part of several programs that aim to counteract this trend, including Sydney University’s Compass social inclusion program, which targets children from disadvantaged backgrounds to encourage them into higher education. Wilcox has also tutored senior high school students at the National Computer Science School (NCSS).

“I love watching students get motivated to tackle problems, and bring their creativity to bear. I also get a kick out of helping them shift from seeing a computer as something that somebody else has programmed, to seeing it a tool that they can use themselves,” she says.

Ms Wilcox is also involved in the Girls Programming Network, which runs activities for high school girls such as dismantling and rebuilding computers and writing simple computer games. Through programs like this, and the NCSS Challenge online programming competition, which is attracting more girls each year, she hopes that more women will enter the male-dominated sector. “Before there were computers as we know them now, a ‘computer’ was a woman who did manual calculations. There is no reason why women can’t be more strongly involved in computing today.”

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