Female CS PhD’s research areas

September 21, 2012 at 9:01 am 6 comments

I was surprised by these data.  Why would databases have one of the highest percentages of women?  Why would graphics and visualization have one of the lowest?  My guess is that it doesn’t have to do with features of the area and the match to women’s concerns and interests, but instead, is about how welcoming the culture of the field is to women.

The overall percent of women receiving PhDs in computing was 20.3%, but this representation is unevenly distributed across specialty areas. Table 1 shows numbers and percentages of specialty area by gender over the four years. Representation as measured by the percentage of graduates within a specialty who are women is one measure of women’s participation; raw numbers of women completing PhDs in a specialty is another. Because there are higher numbers of students graduating with specialties in Artificial Intelligence and Software Engineering, these areas have relatively high total numbers of women even though the percent of women in these areas is about average.

Highest Representation of Women (% within area): Information Science (38%), Human-Computer Interaction (36%), and Databases/Information Retrieval (26%).

Highest Numbers of Women: Artificial Intelligence, Databases/Information Retrieval, and Software Engineering

Lowest Representation of Women (% within area): Programming Languages/Compilers, Operating Systems, and Graphics/Visualization (all 14%).

via Computing Research News – Online – Computing Research Association.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg Wilson  |  September 21, 2012 at 10:46 am

    When I was an undergrad in engineering (early 1980s), Chemical Engineering was roughly 50% female, while the other departments were 10% or less. Students spoke quite openly about the feedback loop: engineering students did a general intro year, then picked a specialty at its end, by which point most of the women in the first-year class would have found out what the gender balance looked like ahead of them, and made decisions accordingly.

  • 2. Bri Morrison  |  September 21, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    I believe it’s a combination of interests, availability, culture, and employment opportunities. Most of the graphics / visualization stuff is currently geared toward gaming, which we know doesn’t attract a large population of females. I also believe that women can be more practical (“Do I want to work on this for the rest of my life, with these kind of people”) than men (speculation I know). But as someone who has routinely dismissed the “females want to work for the betterment of society” argument her whole life, I am now faced with the evidence that it’s what I, personally, want to do, as well as most of my female CS PhD friends feel. Not something I would have predicted, but I do think females have a more nurturing, giving, side of wanting to “make the world a better place” which can be seen in the statistics (HCI, social computing, etc.).

    My real gripe is where do they classify CS-Ed PhDs?

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  September 21, 2012 at 1:46 pm

      I have no idea where CS Ed PhD’s get classified. All four of them. 🙂

      That’s what makes the data so fascinating and puzzling. “Working for the betterment of society” doesn’t easily explain the popularity of databases and software engineering. That’s why I expect that the explanation goes beyond inherent aspects of the subfield. I suspect that your theory, and Greg Wilson’s, has more explanatory power — students “try out” areas, and decide that the culture isn’t for them. But I don’t really know.

  • 4. Jenny  |  September 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Mark, it might also be interesting to cross-reference these results with J. Cohoon’s research in CACM on gender and computing conference papers. That research found a higher percentage of female papers published in HCI, Documentation, Management, and Measurement, with a lower percentage of female publishers in Algorithms, Performance, and Reliability.

  • 5. gailcarmichael  |  October 10, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    That graphics is so low really surprises me. It *seems* like something women are interested in. Anecdotally, I am in a graphics/games lab with 4 female grad students and 1.5 male. I am the only one studying games; the rest are graphics.

    • 6. Mark Guzdial  |  October 10, 2012 at 6:48 pm

      I think it has to do with the community, Gail.


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