Six Myths Keeping Estonian Girls Out of IT

Awarding Playtech employees

Director of Playtech Estonia Kaari Simson (on the right) rewards long-term employee Kerli Rungi with a travel check. Image credit: Playtech Estonia

E-stonia is running short of IT specialists, the demand for them is skyrocketing, and no miracle solution seems to come to anyone’s mind, except maybe for girl power. Women make up half of Estonia’s labour force, but only every fifth employee in the country’s information technology industry is female. How to develop this hugely needed potential and start closing the gender gap?

To get some feasible answers and directions, Skype Estonia teamed up with the University of Tartu’s Faculty of Economics to explore women’s role and potential in Estonia’s information and communication technology (ICT) sector. Researchers Eneli Kindsiko, Kulno Türk, and Mark Kantšukov surveyed ca. 300 high school students and ca. 100 IT students to gain an insight into their beliefs, motivation, and choices. In addition, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 18 female students, employees, and leaders in the ICT sector.

So what is keeping Estonian girls and women from choosing studies and careers in IT? To no one’s surprise, our choices are guided by cultural beliefs and gender-specific stereotypes. The researchers identified six wide-spread myths that keep IT out of the girls’ lists of dream careers:

IT is for long-haired geeks

‘A guy with a ponytail’ (in Estonian: ‘patsiga poiss‘) is still a strong stereotype of an IT person in Estonia. If ten years ago it could have been almost true, those times are long gone. Even if you happen to be that kind of introverted anti-social guy who spends all of his lonely time in a dark corner behind a computer, that’s a sure disadvantage.

Current ICT students and employees point out that social skills and openness, perhaps more typically associated with being a woman, are highly valued and sought for in these jobs. Continue reading

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Your Personality Shapes How You React to Eye Contact

Owl's gaze

How comfortable are you with this gaze? Photo by Stuart Richards. Creative Commons.

Eye contact is a powerful social signal and plays a crucial role in human communication. You definitely notice when someone looks straight into your eyes, paying attention. When you look back, you two are in eye contact, and a channel for interaction is opened.

Eye contact is known to increase our physiological arousal; however, the nature of this arousal — whether eye contact encourages you to approach another person or, on the contrary, to avoid her — depends among other things on your personality. University of Tartu researchers Helen Uusberg and her supervising Professor Jüri Allik, along with University of Tampere Professor Jari Hietanen, set out to study what lies beneath these observed individual differences.

Firstly, the participants in the experiment completed a standard personality test. Then the researchers recorded the participants’ electrical brain activity while the latter were looking at another person who was either making eye contact or had her gaze averted to the side.

The researchers took care of other factors that also normally influence our reaction to eye contact, such as sympathy for a person, our mood, context, etc., making sure that these would be controlled for and thus would not influence the results of the experiment.

It appeared that people who scored highly for neuroticism in the personality test, which means that they tend to be more self-conscious and feel more anxious than others, reacted to eye contact in a way that is associated with a wish to avoid contact. To be more precise, their brain activity showed signs of avoidance motivation. Facing someone with an averted gaze felt more pleasant for these people. Also, when it was their turn to look straight into someone’s eyes, they preferred to keep it short. Continue reading

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On the Ethics and Philosophy of Sex

Francesco Orsi is a senior researcher at the UT Department of Philosophy. His research interests include meta-ethics, value theory, and the history of ethics. In January, Orsi’s book on Value Theory came out in print.

Sex in art

A naked man and woman in sexual congress on a bed. Coloured process print. Wikimedia Commons.

This year I taught the course on Ethics and the Philosophy of Sex for the third time in Tartu. While this is not my particular area of research, I had long been curious to read what philosophers had written on the topic. Sexuality had been a constant but peripheral concern of philosophers at least until Freud’s theories became popular. But an explosion of interest occurred from the late 1960s on, possibly as an academic output of the so-called sexual revolution occurring in Western Europe and North America.

Philosophers, at least in the Anglo-American academic world, began bringing the tools of rational argumentation and careful analysis of concepts to work in an area where many of their predecessors had let themselves loose (intellectually speaking), probably swayed by personal biases or simply lack of sufficient first-hand experience.

While studying the literature, it became clear to me that launching a course would be a good idea. The topic would attract interest, students would be able to relate to it, and, perhaps most importantly, it could be used as a channel to ease students into learning and practicing philosophical modes of thinking and arguing. Continue reading

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Ken from Singapore: Japanese Are a Bit Estonian

Three years ago, Saburi Ken had two final study choices on the table: one from Finland and another one from the University of Tartu in Estonia. Although Estonians are known to be slow, they still replied faster than the Finns and got this Singaporean on board.

As soon as the confirmation email landed in Ken’s inbox, he bought a plane ticket. Only then did he go and tell his father: “Here’s my ticket to Estonia”. His Dad replied: “Um, okay.” Ken smiles: “My Dad is Japanese. So in certain ways he is a bit Estonian. He is a man of few words”.

Saburi Ken

Saburi Ken in the role of international student ambassador at UT. Photo by Andres Tennus.

Why choose such a little-known and far-away country to study business administration when you live in Singapore, a country with one of the freest, most innovative, most competitive, and most business-friendly economies? All of this was undermined by Ken’s desire to start an independent life off the beaten track (Now he has even forgotten how many kilometers he is away from home: 10,000 or 20,000. Ken, it’s 9243 km).

He also wanted a change after three years of stressful work in the sports industry. In Singapore, it is quite common to work 10–12 hours a day and only get 14–16 days of vacation per year. Ken knows that time is a big asset in Singapore, that everything is very systematic and even, as he puts it, robotic.

When Ken arrived to Estonia in mid-August three years ago, everything felt like eternity — so quiet, so slow. Later, he fell in love with the calmness that Estonia had instilled in him (read more about it in Ken’s post: Embrace The Pace). Continue reading

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Lena from Ukraine: In Tartu I Learned How To Learn

Lena Sologub

Organising a ‘photolaundry’ in Tartu. Photo by Viljar Sepp.

Listen to the interview with Lena Sologub:

Lena’s first trip to Tartu two years ago was nerve-racking. It was the last day to apply for studies at the University of Tartu, she was on the bus to Tartu, and the bus was running late. When she finally reached the university and said that she came from Kiev to submit her application documents, the staff looked shocked.

Why would anyone hassle with a visa and travel long hours if you can send the required hard copies by mail?! However, Lena was eager to get to Tartu. She admits feeling absolutely fascinated by the town long before her arrival. Luckily, Tartu did not disappoint her. She praises its charm and safety. If there is something that Lena misses here, then it is the noise of a big city — she grew up in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.

Looking back at the two years of mastering the European Union – Russia Studies MA Programme, Lena sums up the result without hesitation: “You learn how to work in a team, how to do something together, how to share and present your ideas, and also how to defend them. You learn how to develop yourself, and you learn how to learn.” Continue reading

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How Successful Is Estonian Science?

biological sciences in EstoniaAfter the global financial crisis of 2007–08, Estonia’s economy started growing again modestly in 2010. However, the budget for basic research has largely remained at the pre-crisis level. Taking into account annual inflation, the research budget has in fact been diminishing.

On the other hand, as University of Tartu Professor of Experimental Psychology Jüri Allik points out in his recent paper on progress in Estonian science, Estonia deviates from other European countries in terms of how research is funded. Namely, more than 80 per cent of our research funding is project-based, coming from the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research, while in other OECD countries national project-based research funding makes up about 20 per cent on average and rarely exceeds half of the funding.

How have the diminishing financing and a heavy emphasis on project-based funding influenced the standing of Estonian science in recent years?

Surprisingly enough, bibliometric indicators of the progress in Estonian science have never been better. During 1996–2006, Estonian papers were cited 17.5 per cent less than the average paper worldwide, as registered by Thomson Reuters’ Essential Science Indicators (ESI) database. In the last eleven years (2004–2014), however, the average citations per paper authored by Estonian scientists exceeded the ESI mean citation rate by 5 per cent.

The impact of Estonian papers relative to the ESI’s average

The impact of Estonian scientific papers relative to the ESI’s average. Graph: Jüri Allik

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Estonian Wildlife Headliners

With the awakening of nature, representatives of Estonian wildlife are reaching local and international media headlines.

Deers in Matsalu

Deers in Matsalu. Photo by Toomas Tuul.

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