Volume 95, Issue 92

Wednesday, March 27, 2002
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DNA nets award for computer wiz

"Outcasts" feel at home

"Snake lady" charms Western audience

Ladies shun the computer nerd lifestyle

Tuesday, bloody Tuesday

School is back in session after four week strike at Dalhousie

Ladies shun the computer nerd lifestyle

By Michelle Broersma
Gazette Staff

According to a new study released by York University, women are turned off by the 'geek' culture of computer science.

Cim Nunn, director of media relations at York, said the study, which was completed by sociology professor Lorna Erwin, found the number of female undergraduate computer science students in Canada has decreased by one-third since 1986.

Erwin found a correlation between the decreased female presence and the late-nights and solitary work environments associated with a computer science degree. Her findings suggest that both contribute to male predominance in the field of computer science.

Women are willing and able to learn, but the male dominated environment prevents this from happening, Erwin noted.

While Erwin's study cited the above factors as deterrents to women, some female computer science students do not find the atmosphere bothersome.

Brianna Mersey, a third-year computer science student at Western, said she enjoys her program.

"You do some things individually, but you end up talking to lots of people," she said.

"There is a social pressure and a lack of self-esteem – that is causing these women to believe that they cannot do as well [as their male counterparts]," Erwin added.

Erwin said she believes the current state of women in the field is unique to Canada, citing cultural differences in self-confidence as one of the factors.

According to the study, women often believe they have not done well and attribute their failure to self-perceived inadequacies. Men generally believe they have done well and when they do not, blame failure on their professor or examination.

According to Jo Skillings, PeopleSoft specialist at Western's office of the registrar, female enrolment in the computer science program at Western has remained relatively steady over the past few years – women make up approximately 20 per cent of enrollment.

Despite this, Skillings said recent enrollment numbers present an increase over rates in the early 1990s.

However, Lila Kari, associate professor in the department of computer science at Western, attested to the validity of Erwin's findings.

Kari said the trends Erwin uncovered are not the same around the world. In Europe, where Kari completed her degree, women comprise about two-thirds of the computer science and math departments, she said.

Doug Vancise, lecturer and undergraduate chair of the faculty of computer science at Western, said the difficulty researchers face when trying to remedy the problem is pinpointing where it begins.

"We don't really know where the split comes in," he said.

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