First PhD in CS in US went to a Sister

February 21, 2013 at 10:18 am 2 comments

An interesting excursion into the history of computing.  One of the first two PhD’s in Computer Science in the United States went to a female and a member of a religious order!  I would never have guessed.

But at virtually the same time in June 1965, two other degrees were completed: Sister Mary Kenneth Keller, BVM, earned a Ph.D. from the Computer Sciences Department at the University of Wisconsin, and Irving C. Tang earned a D.Sc. from the Applied Mathematics and Computer Science Department at Washington University in St. Louis. The purpose of this article is to show that in the United States, Keller and Tang were not just earlier but also first, thereby providing a more accurate historical record.

via Who Earned First Computer Science Ph.D.? | blog@CACM | Communications of the ACM.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dennis J Frailey  |  February 21, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    As one of the earlier PhDs in CS (1971, Purdue) I recall those early 1960’s fondly. The issue for those of us contemplating a CS PhD and deciding which school to go to was not only which universities offered the degree (very few) but which ones offered genuine CS courses. Most CS programs of that era were really EE programs or Math programs or Communication Science programs masquerading as Computer Science. At the time, it seemed that only the students knew what computer science really was, whereas the faculty all tended to think CS was a minor specialty within some other, more established discipline. The choice one had to make was whether to get a mathematician’s view, an electrical engineer’s view, or some other view. We all wanted to take courses like operating systems and compiler design, but were offered things like numerical analysis and formal language theory and circuit design (with vacuum tubes, no less!). [I recall when the students proposed a course in data bases and the faculty decried that as a topic with no academic substance.] Of course, hiring a genuine computer expert for the faculty was difficult for many schools because most computer experts were out in industry making computers happen and few of them had the doctorates and other qualifications required for acceptance in a tenure-track academic position. It all settled out in the 1970’s and 1980’s as those of us with CS PhDs began to proliferate – at least in most schools. But as late as the 1990’s I recall visiting an undergraduate “CS” program where they thought every CS student needed to have a half dozen math courses (beyond Calculus), but had no courses in operating systems or data bases and the compiler course was deeply theoretical.

  • […] First PhD in CS in US went to a Sister […]


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