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What's wrong with computer science?

At U of C, computer science is a part of the Physical Sciences Division (along with math; hey, I don't make the org charts). It turns out that twice a year, a committee comprising about thirty business and academic leaders from around the country and the world comes in to visit; the PSD puts on several presentations saying what it's doing and what it plans to do, and the committee gives it advice. The most recent meeting of this committee was yesterday, and as part of it I was asked to be on a discussion panel about my research experience.

I told them about PLaneT; I told them about the Freshman Dating Study (which incidentally just had some of its results published in a journal paper); I told them about going to Estonia and Aachen and so on. It was fun. After I and the rest of the panel had given our little introductions, the visiting committee asked us questions for about an hour. Most of them were about being a woman in the sciences, which I'm not really very qualified to answer, but I did get asked one really good question: what, a committee member asked me, was the worst part of the computer science department?

I had to take a second to think about that. What I ended up saying was that there is a tremendous amount of need in all the sciences for the expertise we've got, and we're letting a lot of it go unmet. We actually do a lot of outreach — the scientific computing people, the computational linguistics people, the whole bioinformatics group — but these efforts are drops in the bucket. Everyone in every scientific discipline needs to know enough about programming to make computers work for them, and we in computer science could be making sure that all those people learn how to do things the right way. As it is they learn from each other, which sounds to me like a recipe for propagating suboptimal programming techniques and depending on old and bad technologies.


  • When have you been to Aachen (RWTH, I assume?), if I may ask?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 07:48  

  • Yes, it was RWTH. I gave a talk at RTA 2004 about PLT Redex; I guess that would have been June '04 then. I was in Aachen for three days or so, and then I spent a few days in Frankfurt on my own before flying back to Chicago.

    By Blogger Jacob, at 09:45  

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