By Thana Dharmarajah, (The Daily News)
May 15, 2012: Google has identified a McMaster student as one of the most promising young women in Canada's technology field.
The world's most popular search engine and web technology company has awarded master's student Fiona Whelan its $5,000 Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship.
The award includes a three-day trip to Mountain View, California, for the Google Scholars Retreat in June. The retreat offers an opportunity for scholars to attend technology talks on Google products and to network.
The scholarship is named for the late American computer scientist and founder of the Institute for Women and Technology Anita Borg, who was an advocate for women working in the technology field.
Whelan, who studies medical science in Dawn Bowdish's lab, is one of only 70 women around the globe and just 5 in Canada to be awarded the scholarship. Bowdish is a member of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research.
She said she recognizes the importance of increasing the number of women in the field of technology - one of Borg's life goals.
"When you think of a computer scientist, who do you see in your head?" she asked. "People rarely envision a woman sitting in front of a computer writing programs."
It is likely because females are not encouraged to pursue or even exposed to computer education while growing up, Whelan said, adding computer science should be a mandatory high school course.
Her desire to combine a love for biology and math took her to the University of Waterloo, where she studied computer science and bioinformatics. Following the completion of her master's degree, Whelan intends to pursue PhD studies at McMaster in biochemistry and biomedical sciences.
"I'm passionate about computer science because it really aids in the biological questions I want to answer," she said.
Biologists can greatly enhance the efficiency of lab work with computational tools and Whelan wants to see more scientists taking advantage of technology. She is currently working on a program to demonstrate to students how different viruses spread within a population.