Beyond the First “Click:” Women Graduate Students in Computer Science
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Higher Education Administration
This dissertation explored the ways that constructions of gender shaped the choices and expectations of women doctoral students in computer science. Women who do graduate work in computer science still operate in an environment where they are in the minority. How much of women’s underrepresentation in computer science fields results from a problem of imagining women as computer scientists? As long as women in these fields are seen as exceptions, they are exceptions that prove the “rule” that computing is a man’s domain.
The following questions were the focus of this inquiry: What are the career aspirations of women doctoral students in computer science? How do they feel about their chances to succeed in their chosen career and field? How do women doctoral students in computer science construct womanhood? What are their constructions of what it means to be a computer scientist? In what ways, if any, do they believe their gender has affected their experience in their graduate programs? The goal was to examine how constructions of computer science and of gender – including participants’ own understanding of what it meant to be a woman, as well as the messages they received from their environment – contributed to their success as graduate students in a field where women are still greatly outnumbered by men.
Ten women from four different institutions of higher education were recruited to participate in this study. These women varied in demographic characteristics like age, race, and ethnicity. Still, there were many common threads in their experiences. For example, their construction of womanhood did not limit their career prospects to traditionally female jobs. They had grown up with the expectation that they would be able to succeed in whatever field they chose. Most also had very positive constructions of programming as something that was “fun,” rewarding, and intellectually stimulating. Their biggest obstacles were feelings of isolation and a resulting loss of confidence.
Implications for future research are provided. There are also several implications for practice, especially the recommendation that graduate schools provide more support for all of their students. The experiences of these women also suggest ways to more effectively recruit women students to computer science. The importance of women faculty in these students’ success also suggests that schools trying to counteract gender imbalances should actively recruit women faculty to teach in fields where women are underrepresented. These faculty serve as important role models and mentors to women students in their field.
Sader, Jennifer, "Beyond the First “Click:” Women Graduate Students in Computer Science" (2007). Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations. 16.