Note: This interviewee initially found our questions gender-biased and responded thusly.
Sorry, I just got really turned off because I really sensed a bad vibe
about outright blaming the department and others for the shortage of
women in science, without any balanced, non-prejudicial scientific
inquiry. I think they are many many factors other than bias. Unlike
you I have never been subject to (or even noticed) any sort of
discrimination, so of course I find these arguments less than savory.
So there is bias, other women have told me about it, but since I've
never experienced it myself I find it hard to swallow. I wonder how
much of it is historic, before all the attention has been brought to
being PC. And how much of it is from women who are overly sensitive,
and not willing to be as flexible and open-minded as they would
require people to be of them. Anyway I think the best way to get rid
of any bias is to ignore it (unless it is very bad) and focus on
working together, rather than setting women apart as some special
group and doing special things for them. That aggravates the problem
and only provides a temporary solution. The prime example of this is
what happened at MIT with the female professors complaining of being
treated unfairly. Regardless of the truth of their claims, MIT should
not have fixed the problem by just throwing money and more laboratory
space at them. That's a terrible terrible solution. All it does is
engender even more resentment towards women, and reinforces the notion
that people can hijack institutions into getting stuff by playing the
race/gender/etc. card. It doesn't even really solve the problem.
But anyway, factors that I think do make a difference include
fundamental biological/genetic/social differences, and the fact that
women are still the primary caregivers when it comes to having
I went to this women's conference in Boston in 1997 (I forget the
name), and there was an enlightening seminar on fundamental
differences between men and women, that begin as early as age 5. For
example, men, when speaking, tend to prefer to address each other side
by side, while women prefer looking at the other person straight on.
Guys will form bonds of friendship by ragging on each other and
playing practical jokes, which can make girls think they are despised
rather than liked. It is little quirky differences like this that can
cause undue stress in the workplace, which has nothing to do with bias
or harassment (well the jokes can unfortunately be construed as
harassment, but it really is a form of bonding). I think differences
like this should be studied and made more public, so that men and
women can understand and appreciate their different ways of
interacting, so that they don't get into fights instead over these
So childbearing is another issue. As women we are blessed with the
choice of a career and kids. Guys don't even really get the option of
choosing. But this blessing is interpreted as a curse, because yes,
now we have to choose. So women are faced with three possibilities
(or of course only having kids or only having a career):
1. have kids then career
2. have career then kids
3. have both simultaneously.
(3) I think is what a lot of moms do, but I also think it is the most
stressful. You have to constantly balance your job and your family.
I am a little scared to go along this path because I worry that if I do
both, I will do both tasks half-assed and that is unacceptable to me
and my standards. I plan to have kids and raise them myself, I think
it will be not only fun and better for everyone, but just as
challenging and intellectually stimulating as research. I really look
forward to reading to my kids and taking them to museums, just as much
as I have taking my Crypto class and writing papers. Plus I am hoping
that I will be able to do a limited amount of research on the side --
as one of my lady colleagues told me, "You can prove your theorems
anywhere, like when waiting for your kids to get out of ballet class."
So I guess already alas!, I am watering down my aspirations because
instead of cruising full speed ahead for some kind of hard core
professorship, I might work for a while, then raise kids and maybe do
something on the side, and then return to academia/industry, where I
probably won't do as well as if I had been working the whole time. (I
am hoping this won't be the case.) But hey, and this is what people
do not understand, I am making this decision because I WANT to do
stuff with my kids, not because anyone is forcing me to. A guy could
do the same exact thing, relax his career aspirations to be a
full-time dad. Or I could send my kids off to a nanny, and continue
working. So there's no gender bias here, unless you want to count the
fact that full-time dads aren't as common in society, and women are
expected to be stay-at-home moms. But if you're going to let society
influence you like that, rather than doing what you believe to be
right, then you're spineless and its your own damn fault.
But you know what, even if there is bias, unless it is ridiculous
people need to learn to deal with it. Life isn't perfect, and no one
is going to get the same treatment. A pretty girl is going to be
noticed more than an ugly man. That's just life. People are
imperfect and will make prejudicial judgements -- after you took CS323
you should know that of necessity you will need to make some default
assumptions, if you are going to reason about anything. But the thing
about people is that while they are prejudicial, most are also very
happy to change their behavior if it is hurtful, and will quickly
disregard any conflicting prejudices after they get to know you.
But anyway, I could ramble on and on but I should get back to work.
Sorry, most of these thoughts are rather incoherent, just things I've
noticed and counter-arguments that seem to have been omitted in these
discussions. Feel free to write me back because I am not sure I made
these arguments clearly enough.
1. Do you have a spouse/kids?
2. What is the occupational and/or education background of your
PhD both, in math. Both work for the American Mathematical society. And if you think thats bad, both my grandparents on my dads side are also math phds, and my brother did math/biology.
3. Were your parents supportive of your CS pursuit?
4. What is your perceived % of women faculty in the Stanford Computer
20%. Maybe less. Actually thats probably a little high.
5. What is your perceived % of women graduate students, masters and
PhDs, in the Stanford Computer Science Department?
Well, for PhDs there were 34 in the entering class last year. And there were at least 6 women, maybe more. I dont know about Masters.
6. What is your perceived % of women in the computer science industry
7. What motivated you to pursue CS?
Its interesting. Its kind of like math, but not really.
8. What challenges/struggles have you faced in your pursuit of
computer science? We want specific instances.
I dont think I have. There were others, not necessarily guys, who were more prepared, they had commodore 64s and wrote programs for their macs, and I didnt do that. Theres always someone better than you, and thats fine.
[I mentioned what a previous interviewee had said, that she was far less inclined to know about hardware than her male colleagues]
Im theoretically inclined and not into hardware, but thats just what I like.
9. Through the whole process, do you perceive graduate school to be
easier for males or females? Socially, does it bother you to be one of a few women?
It doesnt bother me at all.
10. Why do you think there are more males than females among the
Stanford Computer Science faculty? Or, what do you think keep women out?
Well, theres a low percentage as undergrads and graduate students.
[I mentioned that the percentage goes down]
Yeah, but if you think about the math: say you have 40 men and 2 women. If one man drops out, its no big deal. But if one woman drops then the percentage drops a lot. If there are few women to start with, the numbers are even more against them as time goes on.
12. Why do you think there are more males than females among the
Stanford Computer Science graduate students? Or, what do you think keep
If you figure it out, tell me.
11 & 13. How do you feel about shortage of women in the CS graduate
program? And among faculty?
It doesnt bother me personally. I know it bothers a lot of people. Theres programs at other universities where theres womens mentor programs, and I think its good to have for someone who needs it.
14. Why would you pick academia over Industry or vice versa? Which will you pick when youre done with the PhD, and why did you go into a PhD program instead of straight into industry?
I probably wont do academia. I dont have enough motivation to think of my own problems and then solve them. I dont know if Ill enjoy that.
But I need to learn more than I did as an undergrad. I want to do industrial research, and to make progress I need an advanced degree.
15. Why do think women would choose academia over Industry or vice
versa? Different reasons than men?
I dont think there should be. For me there arent, but there might be for other people.
15. Do you perceive discrimination against women faculty in funding
I have no idea, Im a grad student. Ask a professor about that.
17. Do you think professors are inclined to seek out female graduate
students for research?
It varies by professor. I dont know about Stanford. At Brown professors tried to attract female TAs, sometimes too aggressively, sacrificing quality.
18. For grad students, would you prefer to have male/female advisor?
It doesnt matter at all.
(Note: On the way back we were talking about video games. When her family got their first computer, they werent allowed to play shooting or racing games because it would destroy the keyboard (from punching the keys too hard), and replacement parts are hard to come by in Russia. So they played role-playing video games
which I think are pretty gender-neutral. When they were able to switch to speed games (arkenoid?) it was still a family event, when they spent six months trying to beat each others high scores.)