News Roundup

Newspaper

In the news this week ...

Do women shun STEM careers because they perceive these careers to be incompatible with “communal” goals, or engaging in work that helps others? 

That’s the finding of a research study recently published in the journal Psychological Science. The researchers surveyed over 300 male and female psychology students about their career interests, academic abilities, and personal objectives.  These personal objectives were divided into “agentic goals” (such as power, recognition, mastery, success) and “communal goals” (helping others, serving humanity, intimacy, spirituality). The researchers found the more strongly a participant endorsed communal goals, the less likely he or she was to express interest in a STEM career. Not surprisingly, women were more likely than men to endorse these care-oriented objectives.

“There’s a certain irony at work here; as the researchers point out, advances made by scientists ‘hold the key to helping many people.’” Nevertheless, such careers ‘are commonly regarded as antithetical (or at best irrelevant) to such communal goals.”

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In looking at the number of women-led companies at Silicon Valley startup incubator Y Combinator, the San Jose Mercury News this week touches on the nature vs. nurture debate and the idea that “Maybe the paucity of female tech entrepreneurs has something to do with what has been called the soft bigotry of low expectations.” 

The piece is one of several mentioned by NCWIT’s board chair, Brad Feld, in a blog post about how the women-in-tech “meme” has gotten much attention in the last few days; his piece was itself picked up in Fast Company and MIT Technology Review.  Meanwhile venture capitalist Fred Wilson, entrepreneur Tereza Nemessanyi, and others are debating the idea of an “XX Combinator”, in conversations that got picked up by The Wall Street Journal’s Venture Capital Dispatch.  The meme takes flight!

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The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal this week both reported on new research from Barnard that underscores an age-old problem for many women academics: the incompatibility of motherhood with tenure.  They report that the average female doctorate is awarded at 34, “an age when many college-educated women are starting families...Tenure, a defining moment in a professor's career, is decided roughly seven years later, just as the parenting window is closing.” Working fathers, on the other hand, have been shown in research to benefit from parenthood in their academic careers.

Does your institution have policies in place to assist women – and men, for that matter – who want to have both a family and an academic career? Are there strategies you would share with young women who are thinking about pursuing a PhD in computing?

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This week we enjoyed reading an interview with Moira Hardek, founder of Best Buy’s Geek Squad Summer Academy.  We had the opportunity to meet Moira in person recently when she and the Geek Squad Summer Academy rolled through Denver on its nationwide tour, and we can tell you that she is doing amazing work.  Not only did she create the Summer Academy program – out of her own desire to see more girls and women opt to be tech gurus among her Geek Squad peers -- but she’s expanded the program into a fully-funded initiative to serve both girls and boys.

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The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) this week released the results of its Summer 2010 Salary Survey, which puts computer science and computer engineering in the third ($61,112) and fourth ($59,917) spots among the top five highest-paying starting salaries for grads. A NACE representative confirms that “All of the top five earners are in short supply,” with each accounting for “less than 1 percent of the degrees granted.”

The disconnect between supply and demand here underscores the need for efforts to raise awareness among young people and their parents, teachers, and guidance counselors about how rewarding a computing-related career can be.

Interestingly, during one of the world’s worst petroleum-related disasters, petroleum engineers received the highest starting salary offers at an average of $74,799.  It makes us think that broad efforts to change the image of STEM careers overall might leverage not only the earning potential of these careers, but their capacity to have a world-changing impact on science that tackles the world’s major challenges and could better the lives of millions of people.

Have a great weekend!