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.


Petra said...

I know one, and she's amazing (and just got a job at Stanford). I'm going to put you in touch!

ajbc said...

Thanks! :)

amber_mtmc said...

Me, ME!!!! I'm getting a second bachelor's degree in Math (with a minor in computer science) and am hoping to continue on with a Ph.D in applied math. I would just love to bounce ideas back with you on this new world I'm venturing into.

ajbc said...

Glad to hear it! Feel free to contact me at absonant at gmail dot com.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post! I'm not in a STEM field, but I write about work issues a lot, and I think Mormon women in particular are less likely to choose STEM careers. If there's one thing I've learned about career and family issues over the last several years, it's that the more educated/experienced you are, the more your skills are in demand, and the more choices you have. Women who are looking for family-friendly careers often don't think beyond traditional ones, when other options might in fact suit their talents and their schedules better.

Dianne said...

I am also a professional LDS woman. While I am not in a STEM field (I'm an attorney), I understand the importance of connecting with other women who are pursuing an education or working in similar fields to discuss, in meaningful ways, the profession, life, career paths/plans, etc. A friend and I recently founded the non-profit Aspiring Mormon Women with the express goal of bringing LDS women in professional and educational settings together (those already working and studying, as well as women who are exploring career options). If you're interested, check out our site at You may also be interested in a recent Career Day profile we did on a geneticist (with a PhD) here: If you'd be interested in discussing your career in computer science with us, please feel free to email me at!

Rachael said...

i totally crowd sourced for you over at the feminist mormon housewives fb page, so you may get some people from there. i hope you don't mind. if you do, let me know and i can take the post down. i just figured it was a good resource for professional mormon women so there was bound to be a few that are involved in CS. also, i found that your friend hannah is also in the group. small world.

ajbc said...

Kaylie: I've definitely seen this first hand.

Dianne: Thanks for the link. That sounds like a great resource and I'll certainly check it out!

Rachael: Thanks! I should probably break down and join fMh's fb page...