times have changed

Posted in University life at 10:53 pm by ducky

I recently needed to select two faculty members to be on my supervisory committee, and one to be the second reader on my thesis. Because I am doing data mining of user studies, I wanted there to be one HCI person and one data mining person on my committee; the second reader needs to be able to understand both.

For the HCI person, I dithered between Kellogg Booth and Joanna McGrenere, ultimately picking Kelly because he’s got a bit broader depth of experience, but Joanna would have been just fine. Karon MacLean also would have been fine. (I know from having been a TA for Joanna and Karon that they are both very easy to work with.) For the data mining person, Raymond Ng was the obvious choice, but my supervisor (Gail Murphy) pointed out that Rachel Pottinger would be a good backup.

I worried a little bit about the second reader, but a bit of sniffing about assured me that Cristina Conati had background in AI and HCI.

After I had done this exercise, I was blown over by the realization that my MS career at UBC could have easily had these people in the seven important slots:

  • Advisor (i.e. person who gives advice on classes): Karon MacLean
  • First term TA instructor: Karon MacLean
  • Second term TA instructor: Joanna McGrenere
  • Supervisor (what in the U.S. is called “advisor”): Gail Murphy
  • Supervisory committee #1: Joanna McGrenere
  • Supervisory committee #2: Rachel Pottinger
  • Second reader: Cristina Conati

All women! And the thing that most surprised me was that I had not invested one iota of effort in trying to find women faculty — it just happened. It’s not as if before I got to UBC, I said, “I want to make sure that I find women to mentor me.” (If I had been looking for women, this is the list that would have happened instead of what could have easily happened.)

Not only that, but these aren’t even all the women in the department. There are almost as many women on the faculty who aren’t on my list as are on the list: Tamara Munzner (information visualization), Anne Condon (theory), Irmtraud Meyer (bioinformatics), and Alla Sheffer (graphics).

Twenty-five years ago, when I was getting my undergraduate degree in Metallurgical Engineering, there wasn’t even one woman faculty member in my department. Ten years ago, when I was getting my MS in General Engineering, there was exactly one woman faculty member in my department.

Times have changed!


  1. ola said,

    January 24, 2007 at 11:41 pm

    That’s a lot of degrees…

  2. ducky said,

    January 25, 2007 at 12:05 am

    Heh. Don’t worry, as I now have eight transcripts, I don’t think I will ever apply to another university again. It’s too painful to chase down all the transcripts!

    There is a chance that I’ll convert from MS to PhD, but that still leaves me with only three degrees.