Thursday, March 10, 2011

International Women's Day Spawns Important "Science Magazine" Post

I have a "new and different" blog post in the wings that I hope to post tomorrow - I am waiting for confirmation of some information I'm very excited about.

Meanwhile, I want to reference an interesting blog entry in the Science Careers Blog (part of Science Magazine online) posted yesterday as part of acknowledgment of International Women's Day.

The post discusses the significant positive improvement in retention of women when applied contexts, in particular real world social contexts are presented as an integral part of computer science coursework. Given that this is Science Magazine, there is more to the post than unsupported opinion and commentary. I quote a few lines:

" "The faculty initially did not think that the students who dropped out could hack it," Huang said. "But, on closer examination... they found that women had lost interest because they did not see what algorithms were good for or why they needed to learn how to design a variety of complicated algorithms." The faculty decided to focus the first session of the course on how algorithms may be used to help social causes. [my added emphasis]" Once this began, the retention rate for women increased so much so that now all professors spend the first class introducing their courses by discussing the applied relevance of the material that will be presented," she added. "I admit, I was really relieved to find that the women could hack it." "

(I wonder if there was an intended play on words there. Probably not.)

The post goes on to report that the male students did not respond in the same way. Interesting, however a very intelligent response followed:

"Assuming that men and women continue to have predominantly different interests in how their research is applied later in life, here's my thought: There are differences between individuals of the same gender of course, but couldn't women scientists use these differences to find a niche for themselves that their male colleagues may not necessarily have thought of? It is still difficult for women to work in male-dominated fields in many ways, but the culture has changed drastically in the last several decades and there is now more space for new ideas and individuality."

All I can say is YES. There is space. There will continue to be more space. I happen to think that there may have always been space for new ideas and individuality but that it was not sufficiently recognized or acknowledged or supported. I am so glad to see this recognition coming along. I am even more glad to see research in support of the notion that including social relevance in computing coursework is good for the computing field itself.

Computing faculty, what do you think in reaction to this?

Full Science Careers Blog Post:


  1. Sounds like you are trying to find an excuse for watered-down courses for women who can't hack it or are too lazy and pampered to try. The idea that complex algorithms only apply to some kind of "male" interest is truly ridiculous and an insult to every woman who has achieved excellence or greatness in the field.

  2. Hi,

    Hmmm. I am reporting on an interesting article. I'm not sure what led you to believe that I personally am trying to find excuses for anything. But leaving that aside, if you read the article, you will see that nowhere does it say that coursework is being watered down. I'm not sure either what would cause you to think that adding a contextual explanation for algorithms or anything else in CS is watering down the material.

    IMO, you are making several leaps of assumption to get to the conclusion that these interesting results are an insult to every woman who has achieved excellence in computing.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective.