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Some fun recent stuff:

And then some more sad stuff in the form of a round-up of the links I've seen lately about women leaving academia. Poignant for me given that I've got a contract that'll take me away from academia... although I'm actually leaving mostly for the "work that has impact" reason and not so much for the others.

And then one thing that I didn't write (but I wish I had):

Let's say that fighting sexism is like a chorus of people singing a continuous tone. If enough people sing, the tone will be continuous even though each of the singers will be stopping singing to take a breath every now and then. The way to change things is for more people to sing rather than for the same small group of people to try to sing louder and never breathe.

Isn't that just the way of it? Thanks Mary for sharing that one.
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Last night, a post that has been percolating in my head for literally years came out in a rush:

Years ago, probably around when I started my master’s degree, I had a chat with a friend about grad school, and she was telling me about how she’d made the decision not to continue on for her PhD. She had a lot of good reasons that just made a lot of sense for her life and her family and her goals, but she mentioned that although she was sure it was the right choice for her, sometimes she felt like she was letting down her entire gender because so few women continue on to do a PhD.

You can read the whole thing here. It's about how hard it is to quit or say no when you're a minority within whatever it is you're doing, and it's about how leaving makes you feel guilty, and it's about dealing with that guilt for not being a shining paragon of people like you.

Once I was done the first draft, I looked at it and wondered... should I post this? Will it help anyone? I try to be very careful about what I write for geek feminism, trying for stuff that I think will maybe people's lives better in some small way. But this felt like a topic I'd seen covered before -- should I bother? Was I adding something useful to the discussion?

I did revisions to make it more coherent, more useful, easier to scan. But I still felt unsure about the post when I made it public. And today, I got one of those rare posts that makes me feel like it was really worthwhile.
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Tuesday's post on Geek Feminism entitled : "Quick Hit: Men, Medicine, and Meritocracy vs Affirmative Action" has some interesting discussion going on in the comments. The article is about how med schools in Canada are seeing more female applicants than male ones (and are accepting a lot of women) and some of the "stealth" affirmative action that's been taken to keep medicine from getting very disbalanced.

Wednesday's post on Web Insecurity is about firesheep. Nothing too insightful, just lauding the cleverness of it in a social hacking sense, and thinking, "why didn't we ever bother to build this in university?" (We did similar hacks for fun and education of our peers.)

Wednesday's CU-WISE blog post is on the subject of Dot Diva: The Webisode. (You can also see an extended version of the dot diva post on Geek Feminism.) We see a lot of outreach aimed at teaching girls computer science, but this is a project that tries to tackle the image of computer science. Their inspirations included the changed attitudes towards forensics thanks to shows like CSI. I'm torn because I found parts of the webisode awkward, but others fun, and I really think they've got some good brains and ideas behind this project.

Thursday's Web Insecurity post Why 12 year olds may be our best bug hunters is about this cool 12 year old boy named Alex Miller who collected on one of the Mozilla bug bounties. I always find adult reactions to smart kids can be a bit strange and sometimes condescending, so this is me musing on how the 12 year olds I've worked with are actually pretty awesome.

In non-blogging news, I'm working on some stuff about web standards vs attacks and vulnerabilities that I'll probably be posting privately soon for comments and ideas before I start putting together more comprehensive ideas for the IETF websec group. Their current discussion on dnssec irks me because it seems... mildly irrelevant to some of the real problems I assumed the group was destined to solve. I'm biased on the subject of DNSSec (see The Futility of DNSSec), but surely websec should be talking about more broad initiatives?
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This has been cross-posted from Geek Feminism, but I found this research really fascinating so you're getting a full copy here too.

Rock on!
You might think if you put together a lot of smart people, you'd get a smart group, but new research into group intelligence shows that's not always the case. (For those of you who don't have access to online journal subscriptions through your local library or university, there are more details in the Carnegie Mellon University press release.)

What we found is that the intelligence of the team members was not significantly related to the collective intelligence, either positively or negatively.


Our first observation and the one that surprised us the most was that the proportion of females in the group seemed to be strongly predictive of the collective intelligence of the group.

However, when they looked more closely they realised that it wasn't the gender that mattered, but rather the social sensitivity of the group members (previous studies had shown that women tend to score more highly in social sensitivity).

It's not the intelligence of the group members that matters; it's their social sensitivity.

So the more your group members were socially sensitive, the better the group performed in measures of collective intelligence. The key here was that group members need to collaborate, and to do that they needed those social skills to help them work together. This includes some different conversational patterns: groups where one or two people dominated conversations exhibited low collective intelligence, while groups where more people contributed had higher collective intelligence.

This scientific research is potentially a big blow to the standard "meritocracy works" theory often espoused in open source and computing groups. Standard meritocracy rules say you do clever things and you get accepted, and this will make for perfectly good teams. But given that there's often bias that dismisses "soft skills," it turns out that folk may actually be using typical geek meritocracy rules to weed out some of the people we need to make the group most effective as a whole.

Some of my female colleagues would like to conclude that you simply just need to hire more women. While that might be easier, what it really suggests is that you need to pay attention to what people refer to as these "softer skills" and thinking about who's going to be a good team player, not necessarily focused solely on individual achievement, individual accomplishments.

So if you want to claim that the best way to build tech teams is meritocracy... you might want to think more carefully about how you define merit.

Rock show DS

The quotes in this article are drawn from Bob McDonald's conversation with Dr. Anita Williams Woolley, the lead author, on the Quirks and Quarks interview aired October 9. You can download the podcast of the segment on collective intelligence here.
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I know, I know, I don't really need to be writing for another blog; I need to be writing my thesis. But my friend Cate and her friend Maggie started this cool project trying to make it easier for women to find real women in computer science when they hit up google trying to get a sense for what things are like. Their subject for Sept/Oct is "how I got into computer science" and I joined the group by sending in my story.

I suspect many readers of this blog have heard this story (some of you lived through it with me!) but here's a teaser anyhow:

How I Quit Computer Science (And What Drew Me Back)

To explain how I ended up in computer science, you have to understand the story of how I quit.


First year computer science was geared towards students who had little to no experience with computers, and I realised that I’d be wasting several years of my life waiting for my peers to catch up. On top of that, it was boom times and CS was being viewed a shorter path to a 6-figure salary than the more education-intensive med school or law school. The people who were there weren’t really in love with the discipline; many were just in love with the idea of being rich. I wasn’t interested in paying thousands of dollars per term to waste my time with peers I didn’t respect in a program that was boring me to tears.

I was disappointed, disillusioned, and wanted a challenge that was clearly going to be a long time coming in CS. So I dropped out.

Read the rest here.

(Those of you who are women in computer science are also welcome to join! the bottom of this page has more details.)
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