Ask a Geek Feminist: multidisciplinary-focussed computer science courses

This is a question that was posed to the Ada Initiative. It’s a bit out of scope for us right now (we’re focussed on fundraising), so I told Robin Whitney, who posed it, that I’d post it here (she gave permission to use her name). Conversion to computing careers and interest in multidisciplinary approaches to computing are fairly common here, so I think Robin won’t be the only person interested in the answers.

Robin is in the US, but since we’re a global site, feel free to point at non-US educational programs of a similar nature, in case other people might be interested. Either way, please make a note of the geographic location of any program you point to, so that your answers are more useful for everyone.

Robin writes:

I am a 26 year old female BBA graduate experiencing a complete end-pass in search of the right graduate program–(or 2nd bachelor’s program.)

When attending college, I founded and led the first undergraduate copyright law organization, which ignited a passion for all things creative commons, open source, fair use, and development based on what preceded (“Standing on the shoulders of giants”, etc etc.) We had moderate success with acclaim from the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet Society, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Future of Music Coalition, while assisting the student body and community with free intellectual property consulting, moot court case recreation, infringement seminars, and more experimental programs involving music sampling, derivative art installation, and circuit tweaking.

I have a very strong interest in developing skills in programming, have confronted fears in linux and ubuntu, yet I ultimately want to work with causes like yours, eliminating the gender gap in technology while invoking arts and culture. The only problem is that I do not have a computer science background, and I am not sure if I should start over again with another bachelors, or if there is an interdisciplinary masters program geared toward women while combining CS with non profits, arts, anthro, etc.

I am very curious if you have any ideas or have caught wind of any good academic opportunities for someone like me.

7 thoughts on “Ask a Geek Feminist: multidisciplinary-focussed computer science courses

  1. Lindsey Kuper

    I wouldn’t say it’s “geared towards women” (I can’t think of any school or academic program I’d say that about, except perhaps a historically women’s school), but the informatics program at my school bills itself as “technology education for people whose primary interest isn’t necessarily technology”. Unfortunately, the website is geared toward recruiting undergrads, not grad students, but if you dig a bit, you might find what you’re looking for in the graduate programs. Also look at the MIT Media Lab and at the various information schools. You’ll probably find that the quality varies widely, but some are outstanding. A degree in computer science is not a prerequisite for admission to any of these graduate programs.

  2. Nicole

    If you have interest in being a programmer, a Computer Science degree isn’t a requirement. There are several certification programs in a wide range of languages. These cost between $300-$600 for the test, plus books and courses if your interested. There are also several CS lectures online (For free!) from MIT (http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm).

    @Lindsey I have an Informatics degree, and a few years ago they defined it as “the application of IT to business, arts and professions.” Sounds like they still haven’t made up their minds ;-) (Either that or there’s a difference between the Bloomington and Indianapolis campus)

  3. Lisa

    UC Berkeley’s School of Information: “The I School is a graduate research and education community committed to expanding access to information and to improving its usability, reliability, and credibility while preserving security and privacy. This requires the insights of scholars from diverse fields—information and computer science, design, social sciences, management, law, and policy…”

  4. Mike

    Hi there, I wonder whether the CITRIS program at the various Universities of California might be of interest. Their website is http://citris-uc.org/

    Some notes: this isn’t exclusively programming oriented, and it is a research center rather than a department and so confers no official degrees. However, it sounds like it may be something along the lines of what you are thinking (especially the New Media branch).

  5. Jackie

    Like Lisa mentions above, it’s definitely worth looking into Schools of Information — especially Berkeley and the University of Michigan, which both have strong tech programs and opportunities to take cognate courses in other departments at the universities, depending on how you want to use your degree.

    Both of those ISchools primarily use Python, but there are tons of opportunities to learn other things or to go either more hardcore-coding or interdisciplinary-coding or coding as background knowledge to policy initiatives, if you want to, and the faculty at both are supportive and interesting people.

    Also, at Michigan, there are specific specialty tracks you do at the School of Information, or you can create your own — e.g. Social Computing, and Community Informatics, which deal with social/e-communities, Information Policy, which is closely connected to copyright law, Information Retrieval for more coding and less human-interaction stuff — and others, you can find out a lot more at the UM SI website. “Connecting people, information, and technology in more valuable ways.”

    I can speak to how awesome UM SI is — I was looking for something very much like you are now this past year, and UM is a wonderful place; I went there for undergrad. I strongly considered and am still considering attending Berkeley SI in the future as well — it’s awesome, but an older program (as in most people in the program have worked for a few/several years before returning to grad school), so if you’re a recent grad you might feel more comfortable in some of the other programs people have listed here; depends on what you want. (If you’re just interested in learning background to apply to things you already do, something this expensive might not be for you — but if you are looking for a degree, SI tends to have very good career services.)

    Also, UC Irvine has an Informatics program that sounds a lot like what you might be interested in.

    Sorry for length — I’m fiercely interested in multidisciplinary computing, and I think the world can always use more programmers who come from different academic backgrounds and are into diversity in CS.

    Much luck!

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