Girls Just Wanna Be Computer Scientists [video]

The world has a big problem.

Developing technology is the primary way we’re advancing toward the future, and yet in 2010, only 18.2% of American undergraduates studying computer science were women. To work in technology is to innovate, and innovation benefits from a diversity of minds, which often comes from a group of people who don’t look alike.

So where are the women? Maria Klawe has an answer.

The president of Harvey Mudd College, Dr. Klawe has helped transform the way computer science is reaching students. She was recently profiled in a New York Times story that examined how Harvey Mudd’s intro computer science class has been made-over to appeal to more learners:

Known as CS 5, the course focused on hard-core programming, appealing to a particular kind of student — young men, already seasoned programmers, who dominated the class. This only reinforced the women’s sense that computer science was for geeky know-it-alls.

“Most of the female students were unwilling to go on in computer science because of the stereotypes they had grown up with,” said Zachary Dodds, a computer scientist at Mudd. “We realized we were helping perpetuate that by teaching such a standard course.”

To reduce the intimidation factor, the course was divided into two sections — “gold,” for those with no prior experience, and “black” for everyone else. Java, a notoriously opaque programming language, was replaced by a more accessible language called Python. And the focus of the course changed [from] computational approaches to solving problems across science.

“We realized that we needed to show students computer science is not all about programming,” said Ran Libeskind-Hadas, chairman of the department. “It has intellectual depth and connections to other disciplines.”

See how inclusion is done? To embrace those who’ve traditionally been left out, it takes self-reflection, broad thinking, and action. 

Harvey Mudd isn’t the only college to revamp its curriculum:

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Doctors Guided by the F-Word

We expect to get a dose of the facts when we visit the doctor: details of our health, maybe a diagnosis, then a prognosis for the near future, with a swift good-bye. Yet what if these facts were heavily influenced by something less objective?

This happens every time we interact with a medical professional, or with anyone. Because whether we realize it or not, each one of us is guided by that dreaded f-word, our feelings.

In fact, Danielle Ofri, associate professor at NYU School of Medicine, recently shed light on how doctors’ natural feelings continue to influence their work.

We flipped when we first read it! Check out what Dr. Ofri says:

By now, even the most hard-core, old-school doctors recognize that emotions are present in medicine at every level, but the consideration of them rarely makes it into medical school curriculums, let alone professional charters. Typically, feelings are lumped into the catch-all of stress or fatigue, with the unspoken assumption that with enough gumption these irritants can be corralled.

Boo, hiss! Looking at emotions as “irritants [that] can be corralled” is very 2011. So out with the old wisdom; Ofri goes on with the new:

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The Police: Revealed on Stage

When we go to a concert, we often imagine ourselves on stage and contemplate what it must feel like to perform in front of a cheering audience. During The Police’s reunion tour a few years back, drummer Stewart Copeland let the world know exactly what it’s like.

In candid prose he detailed his experience on the first night of the tour, a real disaster:

I stride manfully to my drums. Andy has started the opening guitar riff to MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE and the crowd is going nuts. Problem is, I missed hearing him start. Is he on the first time around or the second? I look over at Sting and he’s not much help, his cue is me – and I’m lost. Never mind. “Crack!” on the snare and I’m in, so Sting starts singing. Problem is, he heard my crack as two in the bar, but it was actually four – so we are half a bar out of sync with each other.

Sounds rough! Yet Copeland confidently continues with his criticism of that night’s performance, saying “there is just something wrong. We just can’t get on the good foot. We shamble through the song.” Ultimately he ends with what happened backstage after the main set:

We fall into each other’s arms laughing hysterically. Above our heads, the crowd is making so much noise that we can’t talk. We just shake our heads ruefully and head back up the stairs to the stage. Funny thing is, we are enjoying ourselves anyway. Screw it, it’s only music. What are you gonna do?

His laissez-faire attitude seems refreshing, yet it belies a big truth: he cares so much about his craft, he knows that opening up about the group’s foibles will attract attention, and paying customers. In fact, the Police Reunion Tour of 2007-2008 is currently listed at #6 among the highest-grossing tours ever, having raked in a total of $358 million.

So Stewart Copeland is right. Bring your whole self to work — faults and all — then watch your productivity, and your income, rise.

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Who Are You Outside the Workplace?

We were riding the morning train recently, when we witnessed the following exchange:

(Older White man walks into subway car and stands near a seated younger White woman, who soon recognizes him.)

Woman: Hello, Mr. Baxter. Er, good morning.

Man: You can call me John when we’re not in the office.

(Pause)

Where are you headed?

Woman: I’m going to Queens today.

(They remain silent for the next 10 minutes.)

Man: (Exiting the train) Good-bye.

For what we’re about to say, it’s true we could benefit from having more context, like where these two work and their formal roles there. Still, we have enough data to form an impression that feels plausible.

The two commuters were clearly American in dress, accent, and non-verbal behavior, such as making direct eye-contact when communicating. So why didn’t their conversation correspond with the American cultural value of informality when greeting someone by name? Continue reading

Strong, Able, and Dyslexic

If you’re dyslexic, this is what you need to know about your self. And if you don’t live with dyslexia, here’s how you may be limited without it.

In “The Upside of Dyslexia,” an opinion piece recently published in the New York Times, writer Annie Murphy Paul outlines the ways that dyslexia confers advantages on workers, especially those related to the arts and sciences. She writes:

People with dyslexia possess distinctive perceptual abilities. For example, scientists have produced a growing body of evidence that people with the condition have sharper peripheral vision than others.

How does this work? Paul explains:

The brain separately processes information that streams from the central and the peripheral areas of the visual field. Moreover, these capacities appear to trade off: if you’re adept at focusing on details located in the center of the visual field, which is key to reading, you’re likely to be less proficient at recognizing features and patterns in the broad regions of the periphery.

The opposite is also the case. People with dyslexia, who have a bias in favor of the visual periphery, can rapidly take in a scene as a whole — what researchers call absorbing the “visual gist.”

If you’re dyslexic, yes, focused reading can be hard. Yet perceiving data on the periphery of your view comes naturally.

Indeed, whole research centers have been founded to study the positive attributes of dyslexia. Consider the recent creation of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, as well as the Laboratory for Visual Learning within the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

So the evidence continues to add up: dyslexia is less of a disability, and more of a different style of taking in information.  If you struggle with reading, knowing the current discoveries about dyslexia can help you find words to describe the strengths you possess along with your struggles.

And if you don’t experience what was once known as “word blindness,” you might seek the help of your dyslexic peers at work.

Especially if you’re striving to see the whole picture.

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Complicated Past? LinkedIn Can Help. [video]

Let’s say you’re a private equity information specialist. And a dancer. An unlikely pair of professions for one person, yet this is exactly the scenario we addressed recently while giving a talk to dancers about how to develop a wholly representative profile on LinkedIn.

While writing the “headline” on her LinkedIn profile, meaning the space directly under her name, a participant asked if it’s OK to write “Private Equity Information Specialist and Dancer.”

You see, she’s a client of Career Transitions for Dancers, an organization that helps dancers take their first steps toward second careers, because the physical tolls of dancing make it practically impossible to be a lifetime professional dancer.

So how did we respond? We offered that her inquiry really felt like the question “Is it OK to be who I am?” The answer to which would be “Yes, it is. Always.”

A fantastic thing about LinkedIn is the expectation that you’ll have only one profile, because you’re only one person. Also, you’ll synthesize your complicated background into a single headline, and then outline it within the various sections of Summary, Experience, and Education. Creating a profile on the “professional” social network becomes an exercise in identifying the breadth of your achievements and interests, organizing your story, and then revealing yourself in a coherent framework.

Watch how things unfolded, starting at 6:00, below:

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Are Good-Looking People Better at Work?

What we’ve suspected to be true at last has research to support its accuracy. Still, it remains a little hard to believe.

In discussing how basketball star Jeremy Lin almost didn’t get signed to the N.B.A., James Surowiecki at the New Yorker recently unearthed broader truths about how we work with attractive people.

The implications aren’t pretty.

The problems relate to what we do with others’ physical looks. On Lin, Surowiecki concludes:

As a reedy Asian-American (from Harvard, no less), Lin simply didn’t fit anyone’s image of an N.B.A. point guard.

Because many coaches harbor pre-conceived notions of what a star basketball player looks like, they initially overlooked — and missed out on — Lin. Meanwhile, Lin’s agent Roger Montgomery is having the last laugh.

The New Yorker staff writer expounds on the subject:

In the U.S., [economist Daniel Hamermesh] finds, better-looking men earn four per cent more than average-looking men of similar education and experience, and uglier men earn thirteen per cent less.

Whoa, right? It gets worse.

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