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Back to School: When You’re Sick on the First Day of College and Random Thoughts on Women in Computer Science

On Sunday, I began developing a cold that exploded into a full blown crisis by Monday morning. Monday was also the first day of Fall Term. I’m a lucky gal.

As I doubled over in a seemingly never-ending coughing fit, I mentally drafted an apologetic email to the professor. Nothing sounded better than a bowl of chicken noodle soup, lying under the weight of every blanket I own, and sleeping the day away – college be damned.

2 hours later, I was waiting in a hallway for the doors to Discrete Mathematics to open. What can I say? I’m a sucker for pain.

I went to class when I was less than 100% – a debatable choice – but I had my reasons.

  • it was only one 50 minute class
  • medicine could calm my symptoms for 50 minutes
  • math is a tough subject to begin with a disadvantage
  • syllabus and general class information!
  • needed textbooks
  • stubbornness

I sat in the back, making sure to leave a nice buffer between myself and other students. I also took a generous supply of water to suppress my cough for the duration of the class. I survived the first day, but threw in the towel on the second.

I may be stubborn, but not entirely unreasonable. Monday afternoon, I came home and fell into bed. When I woke up, I was burning up and my body felt like it’d been hit by a freight train. I’ve seen Contagion. I know how this goes.

Tuesday, I rested and went over the material that was covered in class that day. Wednesday, I was back with my water bottle and buffer zone. So far, the class is interesting. Mentally and logically challenging, but I’m getting the hang of it. And my professor seems to genuinely care about our learning which makes any class a million times better.

A quick note on women in Computer Science: On the first day of class, the ratio of women to men was 1:6. That ratio is still disproportionate, but it’s improved since I last studied a STEM field 15 years ago.

In the early aughts, I studied Electrical Engineering through my high school. I was in a small class of approximately 12-15 students; I was the only girl. Here’s the kicker: I was the first girl to take EE in 9 years. Times have changed.

My experience is limited and anecdotal, but I’d be willing to bet my numbers aren’t far off from what’s happening on a larger scale. Which is to say, women are still underrepresented, but making gains. As a society, we have a long way to go to fully accepting women in STEM, but we’re heading in the right direction.

I’ve also noticed a shift in attitude, at least in academia. When I was in EE, I dealt with harassment on an almost daily basis. Everything from name calling, being hit on, having my ass grabbed, to being undervalued when my work was as good – if not better – than my male counterparts. I’ve experienced nothing but respect in my CS program. I know women deal with discrimination every day, and my experience doesn’t speak for their situation, but my experience likely isn’t an anomaly either. It seems to me that women are getting more respect for their capabilities – certainly more than 15 years ago. The number one thing people want to know about me is whether or not I can do the work. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the praise and even the criticism. Pull no punches; tell me like it is – women can handle it.

When it comes down to it, a program is a program and has no gender; it either works or it doesn’t. The sooner everyone can get behind that idea, the better off we’ll be.

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1 Comment »

  1. speaking in generalities, different people learn differently. this doesnt mean that every individual student needs their own lesson plan (thats one way to do it) and it doesnt mean that if you are male youll learn one way, and if youre female youll definitely learn differently– though that happens sometimes.

    nor do i believe that one way is better than the other. different groups of people have more than one way of learning– which we should make some (imperfect) effort to cater to. sometimes these difference appear to fall along lines of gender, or even privilege. we can definitely teach more than just one way.

    i will tell you one difference ive noticed, that makes it easier to each females: in my own personal experience (no stats or proof at all) ive found that men are much more likely to tell me they already know something, whether thats entirely true or not. its easier to teach females in my experience, because admitting they dont know something may make them shy at first– but it also makes them more ready to learn. certainly you cant assume this for any individual person, but its one advantage for female students. it makes it very worthwhile to help anyone get past the shyness and move forward. if i told this story to a class of more than one gender, who do you think would be more embarrassed? it doesnt have to be anyone. i believe very strongly and personally that these subjects are indeed for everyone– and that convincing students that it is for everyone is simply part of the job.

    Liked by 1 person

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