I chose to interview a female Professor of Computer Science in hopes of gaining some insight into her personal experiences leading to her choice to pursue this career. Computer Science is a notoriously male dominated profession although teaching in general tends to be undertaken by more women. My questions were aimed at finding out how family background and other environmental factor as well as what personality traits lead this Professor to where she is today. At the same time I gained a little insight into her personal experience as a women pursuing a career in Computer Science.
Coming from a family described as mostly liberal and untraditional where her parents "only somewhat" acted out the traditional male/female roles it was not a lifelong dream of this Professor to enter a field in computer science. A self described 'tomboy' and coming from a background that was more liberal in thinking about gender roles, this Professor still did not feel particularly encouraged to pursue a stereotypically opposite gender career. In fact, her original plan led her to graduate college with a degree in math education and her only interaction with computers being to use some mathematical software to complete homework assignments.
After graduation this Professor worked as a substitute teacher in the city where she went to college. This allowed her the opportunity to sit in on math courses at the university and eventually even led her into a Computer Science course. Later she decided that she wanted to become certified to teach Computer Science and this led her to graduate school.
For this Professor the most enjoyable aspect of Computer Science is the problem-solving aspect. At first it was the ability to actually write and implement an algorithm to solve a problem. It then became the ability to define her own interesting problems and the fact that there are always interesting problems that are looking for new approaches and different solutions that keep the field interesting. According to the Professor her personality traits that make her a good fit for this field are that she is persistent. She tend to become obsessed with the problem she is trying to solve and will spend all of her time thinking about it until she comes up with a solution.
Though in this Professor's experience she did not find that women around her were discouraged from taking classes that were masculine or from pursuing careers that were masculine she did notice a disparity in the male/female ratio of her classes. Though her high school experience included upper level math classes that were essential split 50/50, there was a definite skew in the breakdown of students in college level math courses. The Professor recalls a large class full of mostly engineering students where there were fewer than 10 women in a class of 300. She also recalled a time when she was the only woman in a class of 30 to 40. The graduate program in Computer Science was even worse with only 5 out of 35 faculty being female and females only comprising about 10 percent of each entering class with only a few actual staying to gain a Ph.D. The majority left after they received a Masters degree. In two particularly bad years only one and in another year there were no females in the entire class of entering students.
Although this Professor never felt like a girl in a boys club even among her group of all male friends from her classes, she did appreciate the support of other female students and female faculty members. She finds the positive role model a female faculty member can provide for a student very important. If one is getting the message that women cant do CS, it is great to have these very successful counter-examples to this message.
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