Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Medical Doctors and Computer Science

So in a couple of my focus groups I've come across that when some people are comparing computer science as a positive field to go into, it's often being compared to medical doctors. Why these two careers seem to be linked in many people's minds is starting to become an interesting question to me. At Carnegie Mellon, a couple of the women's studies courses have a significant focus on the women's health movement of the 20th century. The push to get women's bodies into textbooks, improved pregnancy care, a better understanding of women's bodies, and women's access to medical school are big topics of discussion throughout the courses. Whereas for some regions, these careers have been linked, I'm wondering how it comes back to the United States. How does the struggle for women in the medical field compare to the current participation of women in computer science.

In contrast to many universities today, medical universities used to have a maximum quota on number of female students. Many rejection letters simply stated that they'd already filled their quota and could not accept any more female applicants. However, today half of all medical students are female and a third of all practicing physicians are women. I looked back at a 1988 New York Times Article entitled "Are Women Better Doctors" and found the same arguments that many people use to explain the divide computer science experiences today: "part of the problem for women may be the need to delay starting a family for five to seven years of infamously arduous training" is the same, women don't want to pursue long Ph.D. degrees because it prevents them from starting a family. However, the most Taulbee report shows that female Ph.D. recipients in Computer Science are increasing, even when their bachelor's production is dropping. The article also cites that women are more likely to go into pediatrics. A similar argument is apparent in attempting to get more women involved in computer science wherein we need to develop projects that "help people." I remember specifically reading one report that encouraged high school computer science programs that created projects to help monitor patients in for pregnancy care. However, these arguments have been refused by the previous Carnegie Mellon investigations of the computer science department that found students interests varied widely and not according to gender.

However, while the comparisons may be eerie at times, there's little I've found useful in the drastic uptick in female doctors that can be applied to computer science. That being said, it's nice to be able to cite other industries that have dealt and in some ways overcome the same arguments that we run into on a daily basis. At the same time it's frustrating to be able to trace how widespread and how many different faces the same argument can take on. It's also interesting to note how while globally I get an impression for how closely medicine and computer science are tied together and strangely how I can in some ways weave them together in the case of the United States.

1 comment:

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