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Improving the Graduate School Environment for Women in Computer Science


Soheila Bana and Soha Hassoun

(soheila@eecs.berkeley.edu and soha@eecs.tufts.edu)

We have assembled the following list of the programs/practices that can enhance the graduate school environment for female graduate students in Computer Science departments. Some of the listed programs are run by students, while others are implemented formally or informally by departments. The ultimate goal is to help create a positive and pleasant environment for women where they can continue to grow both professionally and personally.

There are three sources for the following information that was originally presented at a birds-of-a-feather session at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, 1997.

Creating a Positive Atmosphere & Raising Awareness

  • Positive attitudes are conveyed by example. If the professors and staff are disrespectful of women faculty/staff/students, then they are sending the message to the students that it is OK to have such an attitude, and thus encouraging male students to follow suite, and pointing to women that they do not have equal status in the department
  • Open departmental support/appreciation for women special groups in the department, college, university, national and international (helping post notices, advertise meetings, providing facilities, and so on)
  • Encouraging informal study groups and team projects to foster opportunities for both male and female students to interact more closely -- this may decreases women's sense of isolation, and give them a chance to build confidence in their technical abilities.
  • Encouraging social activities, co-ed sports, etc., to enhance the sense of belonging and importance for everyone in the department
  • Departmental fellowships to send interested students to conferences such as Grace Hopper and the CRA mentoring workshops
  • Providing information to faculty regarding different learning styles and achieving gender equality in the classroom
  • Sensitivity on the department's side in addressing student body, such as using "he/she" rather than just referring to male students
  • Offering and publicizing interdepartmental courses on Women Studies and Women in Science/Engineering
  • Active presentation and discussion of reports, at the departmental level, that relate to the status and the reality of the environment for women in science and engineering
  • Exit interviews with women who leave the program, or do not pursue a higher degree for the purpose of obtaining feedback on the program and school environment

Setting Role Models

  • Recruiting, hiring, and retaining female faculty
  • Seeking female visiting faculty
  • Representation of women on committees (admissions, curriculum, lab policy, ..) and in seminar/colloquia series
  • Physical board where news of women in CS or Science are posted
  • Speakers that highlight the role of women in science/engineering

Support Groups

  • E-mail discussion group among women students (and faculty)
  • Informal (or formal) personal (or technical) gathering of women students (and faculty/staff) (on or off-campus).
  • Financial support to pay for the women's supporting events (food, facility, etc.)
  • Individual support by a designated staff or faculty that is committed to providing additional counseling/help to female students. The person must be both approachable, knowledgeable, and willing to help and initiate new programs for women.
  • Giving the female graduate students an opportunity to provide feedback regarding the department's success or shortcomings in providing a women-friendly environment.

Academic/Professional Support

  • Tutoring programs for women
  • Special TA position to tutor and organize tutoring for both graduate and undergraduate students
  • Study groups of incoming (women) with a grad student mentor
  • Practice talk sessions and mock interviews
  • Discussion of possible career paths and having both a successful career and a family life
  • Job forums, resume workshops, career booklets
  • Providing information on issues women face in finding jobs and seeking academic careers

Recruiting, and Special Program for First Year Students

  • Advertising of RA/TA openings on systers and other women's boards
  • Giving visiting students a chance to meet and interact with female faculty and female students
  • Updating/entering information about your school in the WCAR list
  • Assigning new female students desks in offices that have other female students
  • Informing new students of support groups that exist in the department, and also at the college, university, and national level.
  • Providing scholarships (from industry) aimed at recruiting female graduate students

Mentoring Opportunities

  • Pairing incoming undergrads with grad students or grad students with faculty other than their academic advisors
  • Matching of female grad students with women and men alumni in industry
  • Inviting speakers to the formal or informal female grad student gatherings

Women with Family/Children

  • Stopping the academic clock for new parents (student/faculty,male/female by birth or adoption)
  • Giving a part-time enrollment option (for student parents, or students with family obligations)
  • Providing information and support for subsidized health care/insurance, family housing, and child care
  • Maternity/Paternity leave
  • Paid(!) maternity/paternity leave
  • Facilities for student parents, such as a special office for parents and children (equipped with computer for student parents, and toys, TV, video, etc. for children), and changing tables in men and women's bathrooms
  • Providing special financial aid to single parents
  • Creating a student parents support group (email list, meetings)
  • Actively helping with two body problems (admission, if possible, career info/placement, etc.)

Special Programs

  • Preparing NSF proposals to support special projects (such as summer internships)
  • Re-entry program: providing courses for women with different backgrounds to prepare for applying to CS grad school