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Record Number of Women Declare CS

By Amy Guan and Radhika Jain, Crimson Staff Writers

Though it remains a field that is predominantly male, computer science at Harvard has made important strides towards addressing the gender divide.

According to statistics from the concentration, 41 percent of sophomore concentrators are female, marking a new record for the discipline.

Of the 51 sophomores who declared computer science as their concentration this fall, 21 students were female.

This represents a 15 percent increase from the Class of 2012, in which 26 percent of concentrators are female, and a 34 percent increase from the class of 2011, in which, of 46 concentrators, just three are female.

Last year, The Crimson reported that computer science was the most gender-skewed concentration at the College, with women comprising only 13 percent of undergraduate CS majors. Since the Class of 2013 declared, that proportion has risen to 25 percent.

The rise in female concentrators corresponds with an increase in female enrollment in the computer science introductory course, Computer Science 50: “Introduction to Computer Science I.”

The class, which also attracts a large number of non-CS students, was 37 percent female this fall, up from 23 percent in 2004.

“CS50’s own gender ratio has been inching closer and closer to 50/50 over the past several years, so I do think the course and the concentration will get there before long,” said Computer Science Lecturer David J. Malan ’99, the instructor for CS50, in an emailed statement.

CS concentrator Jenny Ye ’13 said she was initially planning to pursue a degree in mathematics or government until she took CS50.

“I didn’t take CS50 until last semester and I felt like it was great,” said Ye, who will be interning at Google this summer. “I’m excited that the CS department is reaching out not just to women but to everyone on campus ... and it’s awesome that more women are concentrating.”

“Last year, CS50 as a class proved to a lot of the freshmen that CS ... was really accessible to everyone across the board,” said applied mathematics concentrator A. Cansu Aydede ’11, who has been the head teaching fellow for CS50 for the past three years.

Some female concentrators said that the male-dominated gender distribution in CS can be attributed in part to what they described as a social stigma associated with women who pursue subjects like computer science.

“I think part of it is the way that computer science is portrayed, as sort of a video game culture,” said Fiona W. Wood ’13. “That’s really starting to change—in terms of how CS is seen.”

Wood added that bringing women into the field requires exposing them to its possibilities.

“Growing up, I wasn’t expected to be into math or sciences or into computers,” said CS concentrator Tiffany J. Au ’12. But Au said she thinks the environment at Harvard is different.

“There’s nothing about Harvard that discouraged me as a female to pursue computer science,” she said.

Current female concentrators also said that they think the increase in female concentrators represents a trend that extends beyond Harvard.

“Once women start majoring in computer science, then other women see other female concentrators and start to see it as a viable concentration,” said Wood.

But she acknowledged that, even at Harvard, there is still room for improvement.

“There are fewer role models in terms of the history of CS for women. That’s obviously not something that you can fix,” Wood said. “It’s just a question of improving in the future.”

—Staff writer Amy Guan can be reached at guan@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Radhika Jain can be reached at radhikajain@college.harvard.edu.

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Computer ScienceGender and Sexuality