Coding for Girls

Jonny Jackson is a student from the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) based within the School of Biomedical Engineering and Imaging Sciences. In February 2019, he ran a series of ‘Coding for Girls’ workshops for a local Lambeth Girl Guides. Jonny writes of his experiences here: 

My PhD focuses on how artificial intelligence can be used in healthcare. My experiences to date have shown me both how valuable coding skills are to broaden career horizons, and that there is a lack of quality coding education in school. I didn’t learn any coding skills until university and I think that’s the same story for most people. To combat this, I decided to run Coding for Girls; a series of two coding workshops for local Girl Guides. My aim was to develop their interest, confidence and skills in coding.

Over two workshops we covered the basics of coding using ‘Scratch’- a building block version of coding language developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA. I wanted to ensure that the girls developed the skills to create something independently and that they increased their understanding of what coding could be used for. I was surprised to find out that a lot of the girls already knew about artificial intelligence (AI), how it works and what it means. There was even a debate about whether replacing robots with doctors would ever happen and, if it did, whether it would be a good or a bad thing. It was really interesting to find out that these 10 year olds were familiar with such advanced technologies.

During the first workshop, the girls completed all the activities on the computer. However, the Girl Guide Leader noted in her feedback that some individuals struggled to concentrate and were distracted from the coding tasks. It was really valuable to hear this, and we took it on board to develop a hands-on activity for the second workshop. During this task, the girls rearranged printed instructions to code a human robot- aka. one of them! This helped them to develop coding skills, such as, how to use repetition and decision making when writing a programme. As this session fell on St Valentine’s Day, their task was to programme robots to pick flowers and write poetry. One of my favourite moments was watching the two teams act out the coding in a ‘robot-war’ style! It was great to see everyone get behind their team and realise how easy it is for instructions to be mistaken or misinterpreted. If instructions weren’t quite specific enough, their robot went a bit haywire – that was really fun to watch!

As there is currently a male dominance in the coding industry, I also wanted to demonstrate that women have been involved in coding throughout history. I told the girls about women such as Ada Lovelace, who developed the first computer programming language. We had asked the girls to draw what they thought a coder looked at the start of the first session and again at the end of the second session. It was fantastic to see that the drawings had changed from pictures of old men in glasses (!) to drawings of men and women in teams. That was a really rewarding moment, and made it feel like we’d achieved the aim of the programme.

Comments from the second workshop

This was such a great opportunity for me to explore how best to engage students and young people with coding. In the future I hope to run a longer and larger scale project to encourage more young people to take up coding. Stay tuned!

King’s Staff International Exchange Programme

Kavitha is the Preclinical Imaging Facilities Manager for the School of Biomedical Engineering and Imaging Sciences.

I found out about King’s Staff International Exchange Programme at a Professional Services Staff Mentoring Scheme lunch mixer in 2016, whilst chatting to a fellow attendee. I had always hoped to be able to visit the company InviCRO LLM (Boston, USA) which developed one of the software packages we use within our School for preclinical image analysis. I had come to know various members of the InviCRO team over the past 8 years following their inception and through our evolving relationship as we used their software ‘Vivoquant’. I had also been interested in the research conducted at the University of Pittsburgh as their interests, choices of radio-isotopes and disease targets for imaging closely aligned with our own.
At the end of May 2017, one month after submission of my application, I found out that I was one of the fortunate to be selected by King’s Worldwide. At this point I had already made contact with both UMPC Pittsburgh and InviCRO and had identified hosts who were willing to welcome me to their respective institutions. I decided to travel to the US in September 2017 and promptly booked on an Icelandic airline called ‘Wow airlines’! In spite of its exuberant name, purple airplanes and purple-dressed cabin crew, the flight were straight-forward from London to Pittsburgh via Reykjavik…sadly Iceland was having a heatwave (8 °C) and so there was no snow to be seen from the aircraft!

Pics for blog - Kavitha- 041017

Pittsburgh was a lovely green city filled with tall conifers, green spaces and enjoying unseasonable temperatures of 27 °C. During my two days there, I visited UMPC Presbyterian hospital and had a tour of their PET centre, Siemans cyclotron, radiochemistry labs, and multiple scanners. I had the pleasure of meeting various personnel ranging from Dr Scott Mason, Dr Jonathan Carney, and Dr Brian Lopresti, who were able to describe to me the differences in regulatory structures in the USA for preclinical and radiation work and the workflow from PET isotope production to patient administration. During my visit a new Mediso PET/CT scanner was being acceptance tested and I got to see how this scanner design differed from ours at King’s which was exciting. I also got to meet Prof Carolyn Anderson, Dr Barry Edwards and their teams at UPMC Hillman Cancer Centre and toured their facilities and shared our common practices and differences. They had an interest in acquiring the Vivoquant software which we use at King’s and I was able to very quickly demonstrate to them some of its functionalities using their trial version. Happily I was going to visit InviCRO in Boston and so was able to ensure they got introduced to the correct people at Invicro who could help them evaluate the software.
Moving on from sunny Pittsburgh to Boston was a little difficult. Stormy weather delayed us taking off from Pittsburgh as there was poor visibility for landing in Boston and we arrived well past midnight. The following day, I was due to attend the Invicro User meeting and by some lucky coincidence I had booked to stay directly opposite the meeting venue! I was warmly welcomed by various members of the Invicro team and got to put faces to the names of colleagues with whom I’d had emailed and spoken to via telecon over the years. My presentation was well received and whilst it was a little daunting to have my presentation broadcast live to other Vivoquant users around the world, it was great to be able to reach out to fellow scientists via technology. I met with other speakers and attendees from around the US and straight away exchanged thoughts, ideas and contact details. I had dinner my hosts Ciara Finucane, Whitney Woodson and visitors from Invicro London (previously Immanova – acquisition officially announced a few days prior to my visit). I had a pleasant evening with amiable company and an invitation to visit Invicro London upon my return to the UK. On my final day in Boston, I spent time at Invicro headquarters and visited their labs, saw their novel instruments, chatted with particular specialists regarding the software, certain hardware equipment which we at King’s might be interested in using and the possibility of Invicro hosting a user meeting in the UK, now that they had a strong presence in London. All in all, I was well taken care of by all my hosts and felt I had something to offer whilst learning about the different scientific challenges, laboratory setups, research environments and workflows in the US.
I would recommend the King’s Staff International Exchange Programme to all my colleagues here at King’s as this has been a fruitful and rewarding experience. I have returned to the School of Biomedical Engineering and Imaging Sciences feeling very fortunate that I work in such a vibrant and exciting environment and feel renewed in my enthusiasm of our multidisciplinary, problem-solving and forward thinking ethos!