Thursday, October 29, 2009

More Surveys, Enrollment Data, and Next Steps

These past few weeks have been mostly filled with trying to convince people to fill out our survey. I've been inputting a lot of data into spread sheets. We're not doing any analysis until we've collected all of the data, but here are just the numbers in terms of surveys collected so far. (I do not have Anthony's data included in this.)

Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior (5th or 5th double)

Gender Totals 88 31 14 0 47 7 19 2 1 1 210
Totals 119 14 54 21 2 210

Looks like we did pretty well administering surveys to the freshmen. I could not find the statistics on freshmen in SCS for 2009, but past data seems to indicate a fairly stable number of students enrolled in the program. It is my guess, though I will of course confirm this when I can get the real data, that we have completed surveys from 80-90% of the freshmen in SCS.

We haven't collected very much data from sophomores due to professors for many of the sophomore classes being unresponsive to e-mails requesting to administer the survey in their classes. I am planning on coordinating with Anthony to wait outside sophomore level classes to see if we can increase the number of completed surveys.

We are doing pretty well collecting data from juniors, and I know that Anthony had some schemes to specifically target seniors, so I am sure that we will be approaching about 50% participation rate of juniors and seniors for the survey. Unfortunately, we do not have that many women responding to our survey, however, I plan on asking women in W@SCS to fill out the survey, so hopefully we will have a more representative distribution.

In looking at enrollment data, trying to figure out the stats on SCS entering freshmen, I came across enrollment data for 2008. Here is a copy of the data with some statistics that I calculate from the data highlighted. When compared against other colleges within CMU, SCS has the highest percentage of male applicants, the highest percentage of offers of admissions to male applicants, and the highest percentage of male enrollment.

In addition, one would expect that once students have been admitted, a certain percentage will enroll. While this percentage may vary across schools as some schools and majors within CMU are more exclusive / have better reputations than other, we would not expect this percentage to vary drastically WITHIN a school across gender. For example, in H&SS (School of Humanities and Social Sciences), 22.70% of males who apply decide to enroll and 22.22% of females who apply decide to enroll. These percentages are very similar. This is pretty much true for most schools at CMU. The percentages - with the exception of SCS - differ by no more than 6%. When we look at SCS however, 36.00% of males versus 24.60% of females who were admitted, enroll.

This raises the question of why, if women are getting into SCS, are they not enrolling? Clearly the arguments of "women not being capable of succeeding in CS as it is" or "the need for 'pink' curriculum" cannot be called upon. Admissions is not based on gender, but merit - and the admissions committee felt that these women could succeed in SCS at CMU without changing the curriculum to be more "female-friendly" or "pink." And if it is not ability based or some intrinsic difference between men and women, it must be a cultural thing.

I think that the next research step that I would like to take is to develop interview / focus group questions aimed at a particular group. Anthony is focusing more on women and CS on an international level, while I focusing largely at CMU. One of the groups that I would like to target for interviews or focus groups is students who left SCS to major in something else. I don't know about the stats on men, but in my year, at least 4 women have decided to switch majors from SCS to something else (which is a significant percentage). It would be interesting to see why they switched, what major they switched to, why they thought they wanted to do CS, if they had any role models in the field of computing, etc. I would definitely be interested in seeing if men and women had the same responses for those types of questions and to see specifically what the stats were on numbers of women vs. numbers of men who switch out.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Job Search

As a senior one of the things I have started conducting is the painful job search. Many companies are hiring and some have even reached out to me for interviews. It's actually fascinating hearing about some companies I never would have otherwise and learning about all kinds of work being done in the world. However, and partly due to this study, one thing I have to wonder is the variety of jobs available to me. Specifically, I have not spoken with one company that has been interested in interviewing me for anything besides a software engineering position.

In a world where computer science is so loosely defined I have to wonder how this happens. Lots of people confuses Computer Science with any number of disciplines related to computers. Software engineering, Information Systems, Information Technology, all could probably be filled by a Computer Science major but there is no job title computer scientist. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't mind fulfilling a software engineering position as I find developing software to be quite interesting but I can't help but wonder about the numerous computer scientists that don't consider themselves software engineers. Is academia the only refuge for a computer scientist who isn't a software engineer? Is graduate school the only place I could continue to be a "computer scientist" without becoming a "software engineer."

I fear this is one of the most significant reasons that computer science is becoming equivalent to programming. Once you enter industry how many people escape being labeled as software engineers? It's definitely better than being labeled a programmer but I still don't feel it's enough. One of my battle cries throughout it all has been "you can perform computer science without even working on a computer." However, how many computer scientists in industry are doing so? Are you CS job options really just software engineer or grad school? Sometimes it's worth it to wonder if it's not academia that is responsible for all the change but industry to understand that computer scientists are more than software engineers.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Similarities Between CS and the Navy

Today a group of students and faculty from SCS had the opportunity to meet with Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations to discuss diversity. It turns out that the problem of recruiting women and minorities to a field is not unique to the field of computing. Admiral Roughead has faced issues in diversifying the Navy, similar to issues we face in recruiting women and minorities into CS programs.

One of the things that we talked about at the meeting were seeing "people who look like you" succeeding in your field - whether that be CS, the Navy, or another field. People love to see patterns. And if you see someone of your race or gender succeeding in a certain field, you think, "Hey, that computer scientist is a woman," or, "Hey, that admiral in the Navy is Hispanic." And then you might think, "I'm a woman too, I guess computer science isn't just for guys, I can do that too" or, "I'm also Hispanic, maybe I can succeed in that field."

We've talked at our meetings about how we justify having a women's group (Women in the School of Computer Science - W@SCS) when we claim that women and men aren't all that different. Why is there this need for a women's group if we don't need to make computer science "pink" or if women shouldn't be treated differently? And I think we've hit exactly on this. It's not that W@SCS aims to treat women differently, it aims to give women the same opportunities that men are given by default in a male dominated field. Men are automatically given a lot of "people who look like them" in the field. Whereas it is much more difficult for women to find colleagues, mentors, and role models "who look like them." If you don't feel isolated, if you don't feel alone, you will be much more likely to succeed in CS, in the Navy, in any field.

I was looking online for more information about Admiral Roughead, and it seems that diversity is one of his main goals as Chief of Naval Operations. I found a quote of his from 2008 that I found really brought across an important point. "I’ve been around the country meeting with opinion makers and shapers, attending events that give me a better sense of how we can best attract representative minorities into the Navy. I believe we have tremendous things to offer, we just have to make sure the opportunities are known to the folks that are out and about."

I think this is the same in CS. We have so much to offer, we just have to insure that everyone has the opportunity to participate by getting rid of stereotypes and by figuring out exactly how to draw women and minorities to the field.

I found a webpage which is a collection of quotes by Admiral Roughead on the subject of diversity which I thought was pretty interesting.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Splitting the numbers

A couple weeks ago I mentioned reading "Occupational Ghettos." I left off wondering what exactly would cause theoretical utopias in gender egalitarianism to be only on the surface. Why do these countries labor forces seemed to be so segregated at the manual labor level? While Charles and Grusky spend a lot of time working through case studies on the United States and Japan, the case on Switzerland I found the most intriguing.

Specifically, one point in Switzerland study I did not see addressed in the others was the discussion of nativity. I found this especially intriguing as I grew up in a state along the Mexican border where the question of who can perform a job often included the question of citizenship. While this discussion doesn't directly relate to the issue of immigrant workers in border states, Charles and Grusky do discuss the importance of countries with a history of immigrant labor forces. One interesting aspect is that while Switzerland's educational opportunities began opening up higher paying jobs to women, the jobs they began to leave were being filled with a largely male immigrant labor force. Additionally, nationalization efforts have pushed immigrant men out of a lot of government and service jobs that began to be filled by the native women labor force.

All-in-all this goes to show that sex segregation is not always driven by a more egalitarian movement. Switzerland's changes in the distribution of the work force were in some ways not driven by a policy for gender equality. Instead, the changes they saw were driven by alterations in the immigrant labor force. Rather than an increase in men in female dominated fields they saw immigrant men fulfilling previously female dominated jobs and instead of an increase in females in male fields they instead found a decrease in immigrant males. This purely by the numbers approach shows how not taking into account the different ways change occurs can suggest a change in society that may not be what it seems.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Besides reading Gender Differences, I have been doing a lot of work on getting the survey out there. We finalized the survey at our meeting last week and I've been contacting professors of core classes, asking if we can use the last 5 to 10 minutes of a class period to come in and do our survey. We believe that this method will give us a higher number of responses than just standing in a hallway trying to get people to answer our survey. No one wants to answer a survey when they're rushing off to class. I have contacted a number of professors, and of the one who have responded, all have said yes!

I administered the survey at my Competition Programming class last night and everyone was willing to answer the survey. Even in administering the survey, before reviewing the findings, I am learning so much. It turns out that about 1/3 of the students in the Wednesday Competition Programming class are not primary CS majors. Most students who were not primary CS majors were either ECE students (most of them) or math majors or graduate students in the CSD. Most said that they were double majoring or minoring in CS. I actually got one ECE student who asked to see the survey and when he looked at the questions, said that only a few of the questions were specifically related to students in SCS and that he would be happy to answer the survey! Unfortunately, I had to turn him down as this is specifically for students in SCS.

Gender and Culture (part 2)

Carol recommended that I read Same Difference by Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers for more thoughts on gender and culture and the differences between them. I haven't finished the book yet, but even in the first few pages, the book gave some really great ways to think about gender and culture. It's very well written and enjoyable to read, and definitely a great resource for this research project. It has proved to be very insightful and I'm not even all the way through!

Barnett and Rivers write, "We begin with the premise - which we support throughout the book - that people's behavior is determined more by situation than by gender." (p. 5) I think that this statement is the very essence of what we're trying to get at when we ask the difference between gender and culture. Culture is everything that surrounds you, and affects you - gender is only the set of stereotypes or cultural norms placed upon you depending on whether you are a man or a woman. Clearly culture is so much more than gender and it makes sense that people are affected more culture than gender.

They go onto explain the following, which I feel is consistent with our view on culture and gender:

"In the past, gender was all-important. Whether you were male or female determined your role in society: the way you behaved and the work you did. Under these circumstances, it's easy to assume that the reason men and women were doing different kinds of work was biological. If you look around a community and see only women weaving and only men tilling the soil, you are apt to conclude that the "cause" of this difference is that women are suited for weaving and men for tilling. But that conclusion would be wrong. Being female doesn't automatically give you a talent for weaving. Rigid cultural norms, not biology, are operating here. As gender roles loosen - as they have done in the developed world - women's and men's behavior reflects many forces: their gender, their individual talents and preferences, their personalities, and the situations in which they find themselves." (p. 5,6)

As I mentioned in a previous post, my grandfather grew up thinking that French was the man's language and English the language of women because that's how it was at home. Barnett and Rivers bring up the same idea, people learn things by what they see around them. No wonder people think that women can't do computer science - they've grown up with books, films, television, family, friends, and teachers telling them that nerdy, white guys are computer scientists.

This idea - that culture not gender is responsible for women's low representation in computer science - is supported throughout many other papers. Women in Computer Science: NO SHORTAGE HERE! by Mazliza Othman and Rodziah Latih, An Expanding Pipeline: Gender in Mauritius by Adams, Bauer, and Baichoo, and Gender Gap in Computer Science Does Not Exist in One Former Soviet Union Republic: Results of a Study by Gharibyan and Gunsaulus are all papers about the gender divide in CS in other countries. In these countries (Malaysia, Mauritius, and Armenia, respectively) there's a pretty even balance of women and men in CS. And of the reasons is that in these countries there aren't these "rigid cultural norms" - these stereotypes of who can do computer science.

Othman and Latih write, "While the lack of female role models or mentors in the field has been cited as a demotivating factor for female students in the U.S. and Europe, this is not a problem for Malaysian females. The dean of Faculty of CS & IT at the University of Malaya was a woman, and three out four department heads are currently women. Of the faculty lecturers, 61% are female as are 73% of the Ph.D. holders. Nine out of 12 associate professors are females. At Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 66% of the lecturers at the Faculty of Technology and Information Science are female as are 40% of Ph.D. holders. Given this scenario, female students associated with these two faculties are clearly not lacking female mentors or role models, and are assured that pursuing a career in CS/IT is a normal, indeed, unremarkable option." (p. 4)

In Malaysia, where you grow up seeing women in CS, you grow up not even thinking that you wouldn't fit in or belong in CS. If you see lots of people like you doing CS, why shouldn't you be able to? And this is something that is missing in the United States. And it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. If women don't go into CS because there are no women in CS (and consequently they think they won't fit in), then there won't be a high percentage of women in CS, so more women won't go into CS!

It is very difficult to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that "women are suited for weaving and men for tilling." Unfortunately, a lot of researchers do fall into this trap. One of the most important distinctions in statistics is "correlation vs. causation." Just because it happens that there are fewer women in computer science, does not mean that women aren't in CS because they are women. Margolis and Fisher, Carol Gilligan (discussed at length in Gender Differences), and many other researchers mistake correlation for causation.

Monday, October 5, 2009

On Grace Hopper and Bathrooms

I had the esteemed honor and pleasure of being able to attend the Grace Hopper Conference this year, my first time. It was something I've been wanting to for a long time and thanks to Women@SCS and my work over the summer I was able to find the means to attend the conference this year. It's hard to convey the scale of the conference in only text but it's something I invite everyone to attend. While all of the sessions I attended had a positive affect on me, I don't think any really spoke to my experience more than the Women of Color session.

Specifically, at one point during the session Professor Taylor who was running the session spoke of meeting with the head of her university. She explained that for him to understand the situation she found herself in, he would have to attend a university where all of the students were women as well as the majority of the faculty and he would need to climb two floors in order to find a bathroom for his gender.

It was only at this point that I realized I was currently experiencing a case study in role reversal. I by no means think this a perfect reversal of the situation as everyone at Grace Hopper was very pleasant to me and I had a great time at the conference. However at the same time I became hyperaware of my surroundings. Having to walk all the way back to the lobby as all of the men's restrooms were converted to women's, the strange comfort I felt whenever I met with one of the few men at the conference, and most significantly the fact that on more than one occasion I felt I had to justify to someone I was speaking to why I was there.

While I can't pretend this scenario accurately portrays the minority existence in academic institutions I can say for me this brings a different perspective to the research we've completed thus far. Moreover it further convinces me of the need to find role models and images that support you wherever you go. It's hard to feel like you belong where there are so few people around like you.