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MIT Computer Scientists Demonstrate the Hard Way That Gender Still Matters

“We’re 3 female computer scientists at MIT, here to answer questions about programming and academia. Ask us anything!” we wrote for our Reddit Ask Me Anything session last Friday. And then, boom:

“WHY DOES IT MATTER THAT YOU’RE FEMALE?”
“WHY DID YOU PUT GENDER IN THE TITLE?”
“WHY SHOULD YOUR GENDER MATTER IF YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT RESEARCH?”

Dozens of questions like these were interspersed with marriage proposals and requests to “make me a sandwich” in our AMA. We had intended for the AMA to be a chance to answer questions about what our lives are like as PhD students at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), and what we could do to get more young people excited about programming.

The AMA became, to borrow one Reddit commenter’s phrase, “a parody of what it’s actually like to be a woman working in a STEM field.”

As computer science PhD students, we were interested in fielding questions about programming, academia, MIT CSAIL, and how we got interested in the subject in the first place. As three of the few women in our department and as supporters of women pursuing STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics], we also wanted to let people know that we were interested in answering questions about what it is like to be women in a male-dominated field. We decided to actively highlight the fact that we were three female computer scientists doing an AMA, to serve as role models in a field that’s less than 20 percent female.

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