seeking Mormon women in Computer Science

There was a lunch presentation at work recently by Mary Fernandez, CEO of MentorNet. She talked about connecting students with mentors in STEM fields, focusing on women and ethnic minority groups, who have fewer role models. This got me thinking (again) about Mormon women in STEM fields, specifically computer science.

I ran some really rough numbers based on the number of PhDs in computer science in the United States and the number of Mormons. Uniformly sampled, there should be a non-trivial number of Mormon women with PhDs in computer science--on the order of tens to low hundreds. But have I met a single one? No. Have I heard of a single one? No. Does BYU's faculty have any?  No. On the U of U's CS faculty listing, three out of 67, or 4.5% of the faculty are female.  But even still, one does not simply email women faculty at Utah-based schools and ask them if A) they are Mormon or B) they'd like to give me life advice.  I have some social skills.

I've known plenty of Mormon women who have gotten a Bachelors or Masters in STEM fields, or PhDs in Social Sciences or Humanities. I appreciate the camaraderie of both of those genres of similarity, but it'd also be really nice to have someone who I could talk to about the particular situation of being a Mormon woman in a STEM PhD.

But why is the particular combination of Mormon and STEM PhD important?  These two cultures are the strongest external pressures on my big life decisions, and have largely conflicting objectives. 

Mormon culture says I should be having my second child by now (let alone a first), that my husband's career should be getting priority, and if I do pursue higher education or have a job, I should only do around my children's schedule--once my children are in school is ideal.  I want to talk about how when I meet other Mormons, male or female, they usually ask me about what I do only after they have asked me about what my husband does, if at all.  And they pretty much never ask my husband about what I do.

On the flip side, I want to talk about the pressures of academia, and not in an abstract sense.  I want to talk about the technical details about what I'm doing and have them understand.  I want to talk about what I should do after my PhD program beyond the general categories of industry and academia--I want advice on particular institutions and people.  I want to talk about being female in a male-dominated field and how that impacts the way I perceive things and the way people perceive me.

Putting it all together, I want to talk about how I feel when my male academic colleagues and female Mormon colleagues are having kids.  I want to have kids, but I feel that I can't right now, or I'll risk falling behind.  There needs to be substantial planning for it to work, which doesn't feel fair.  I want to talk about no matter how strong my ego is, sometimes I think that I'm just not smart enough, but don't want to admit it because I need to be an example to other women, both at church and in CS.

It's actually not that important for me to have a female Mormon CS or even STEM mentor, since I have all sorts of wonderful support: my husband, my parents, my advisor, my mentor at work, my colleagues at school and work, and select friends from church.  Perhaps I've just been adding modifiers until I get such a tiny subset of people that I can complain that I haven't run into any.  That said, it never feels bad to know that you're not alone.

Regardless, if you are or know of other LDS women in CS or STEM fields that are looking to connect with similar folks, please let me know!  That is, unless they kvetch as much as I do.


new haircut!

Chopped off a good six inches of my hair today.  Or rather, Delia of La Jolie Salon & Spa chopped it off.  I think I'm done with my binge-and-purge approach to hair--it'll stay at about this length for a little while.

Nathaniel graciously indulged me when I asked him to take pictures.  Since I'm quite particular, I was still using photos from over three years ago for all my online profiles; one was from back in college, at least five years ago.  It was definitely time for a change.

Also: five years ago?!