When I Was Young, I Thought It Would Be Different….

When I was in graduate school (back before the earth cooled) I remember thinking the following thoughts:

  1. Quantum computing is a new field filled with two types of people: young people dumb enough to not know they weren’t supposed to be studying quantum computing, and old, tenured people who understood that tenure meant that they could work on what interested them, even when their colleagues thought they were crazy.
  2. Younger people are less likely to have overt biases against woman.  By this kind of bias I mean that like the math professor at Caltech who told one of my friends that woman were bad at spatial reasoning (a.k.a. Jerks).  Maybe these youngsters even had less hidden bias?
  3. Maybe, then, because the field was new, quantum computing would be a discipline in which the proportion of woman was higher than the typical rates of their parent disciplines, physics and in computer science?

In retrospect, like most of the things I have thought in my life, this line of reasoning was naive.

Reading Why Are There So Few Women In Science in the New York Times reminded me about these thoughts of my halcyon youth, and made me dig through the last few QIP conferences to get one snapshot (note that I just say one, internet comment troll) of the state of woman in the quantum computing (theory) world:

Year Speakers Woman Speakers Percent
2013 41 1 2.4
2012 43 2 4.7
2011 40 3 7.5
2010 39 4 10.2
2009 40 1 2.5

Personally, it’s hard to read these numbers and not feel a little disheartened.

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9 Responses to When I Was Young, I Thought It Would Be Different….

  1. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Geordie says:

      It’s a bit disturbing (and ironic) that this reply got downvoted so heavily.

      The reason that D-Wave has a high proportion of women is simple. The number one differentiator in whether you succeed at anything is the quality of the people involved. About half the time the best people are women.

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  2. rrtucci says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  3. anonymous says:

    QIP steering committee numbers look much better (perhaps in line with participant ratios?):
    2009: 1/9
    2010: 2/9
    2011: 2/9
    2012: 1/8
    2013: 1/10
    2014: 2/10

    Didn’t check invited speakers, but I believe the fraction of invited speakers would be comparable to these (since the list of invited speakers tends to be similar to the Steering committee—an independent problem with QIP).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

    • Dave Bacon says:

      Better like being stung by a bee is better than electroshock therapy?

      More seriously one thing I think a lot about is a common narrative thread I hear from these stories about the over assertiveness of male academics. As someone whose mouth can apparently rival the size of a whale, I often wonder about my own negative impact. Likely I’m a sinner :(

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  4. Gil Kalai says:

    But who wrote this post?
    Having a women-friendly academic environment is an important issue. Perhaps a new place to reflect on biases against women is the recent Internet activities, which usully do not represent top=of-the-line science where women presentation is smaller compared even to their persentage in the community.
    Here is something I was involved with when I was young:
    http://gilkalai.wordpress.com/2008/05/16/jerusalem-combinatorics-93/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

    • Pontifex Praeteritorum says:

      Ah sorry I was logged in as admin and not under my other account. It was your old nemesis ;)

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    • Gil Kalai says:

      Hi Dave, Interestingly, I organized the conference in combinatorics that I linked to when I reached your ancient age of 38, twenty years ago. A special aspect of the conference was the unusually large number of female speakers. 16 out of the 30 main plenary speakers were women, and also many of the additional speakers, special session organizers, and other participants. When we sat our mind to it we discovered that we could easily have invited even double the number of women researchers with important contributions to combinatorics.

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  5. anon says:

    Female Nobel laureates in the physics or chemistry by year
    1903
    1911
    1935
    1963
    1964
    2009

    If there’s a trend, it’s the opposite of what one would expect.

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