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Defying the Odds, Seltzer Wins CS Tenure

By David C. Newman, Crimson Staff Writer

Exactly one week ago, Margo I. Seltzer '83 learned that she was going to be offered internal tenure in the field of computer science.

It was a rare accomplishment: a woman, receiving internal tenure. In the sciences.

"Harvard is a strange and wonderful place," Seltzer mused from her Carlisle home yesterday. For the past two months, she's been on maternity leave, caring for her infant daughter, Teagan.

Once upon a time, it was considered nearly impossible for a female academic at Harvard--or anywhere else, for that matter--to balance the demands of teaching, research, graduate student advising and family.

But Seltzer and others now say that it's not such a big deal.

For one thing, Harvard provides an array of options for professors to take care of their children--from months-long maternity leaves to lightened teaching schedules to on-site child care.

Seltzer had been an associate professor at Harvard since January of 1993. A Harvard College graduate, she obtained her doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley.

Back at Harvard, she worked her way up to associate professor in four years. Along the way, she had her first child, Tynan.

Raising her child, managing her research interests and teaching her primary undergraduate course, Computer Science 50: "Introduction to Computer Science I," proved difficult.

According to Seltzer, there wasn't a whole lot of choice involved. To gain tenure in her field, she said she couldn't afford to take too much time off.

"To put your research on hold for a year is nearly impossible," she said. "And there are grad students who need to be advised."

Her solution: Bring Tynan to work. The decision proved popular among her friends, colleagues and students.

"Margo's kids are so much nicer than mine," laughed Professor of Physics Melissa Franklin. "They're low maintenance."

For seven months, Seltzer brought

Tynan to the office.

"He went to more Faculty meetings than most Faculty do," she said. "And people didn't flinch."

"Harvard has a very good policy," agreed Franklin, who has a three-and-a-half year old son.

"It's good compared to some places," she says upon reflection. "It's not good compared to Sweden," she jokes.

Very few people batted an eye when they saw Franklin, with briefcase and child in arm.

"Only a few complete idiots say stupid things," she says.

"The worst thing that happened were the few times I had to teach classes with my son in my arms," Franklin says. "Students get a kick out of it--the first time."

Elizabeth Doherty, who is an assistant dean of the Faculty, says she is gratified that Harvard doesn't always force women to choose between their career and their family.

"It seems to me that one of the virtues of academic environments is that one is able to integrate work and family life," she said. Though maternity leaves and child-rearing have sometimes been cited as the reasons why more women aren't tenured, Seltzer has a theory of her own.

"At a very young age, girls are taught that certain things are for them and certain things [like science and math] are not for them," she says as Teagan cries in the background.

"She thinks it's terrible that that's the case," Seltzer translates.

Barbara J. Grosz, who is McKay professor of computer science and is currently the only tenured woman in the computer science department, said she is happy to have Seltzer's company.

"She's a fabulous colleague," Grosz said of Seltzer. "We certainly hope she'll stay."

As a newly tenured professor, Selzter has to renegotiate her contract, and may field offers from other schools.

"It's as if I didn't have a job here," Seltzer said.

Grosz said that Seltzer has made great contributions to her areas of specialty.

Seltzer's operating systems research tackles the question of "how to make computers run faster."

She has played a major role in designing a new operating system, VINO.

Selzter maintains a web page devoted to her personal interests--cats, karate, and soccer:

Seltzer's former students are very complimentary of her work in the classroom as well as her research.

On hearing of her tenure, Alice H. Pritikin '01, a former Seltzer student, said immediately, "That's fantastic!"

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