By Pierre Home-Douglas
Maria Klawe has found a novel way to deal with day-long
meetings with professors, administrators, and industry representatives
that drive some people to a mixture of distraction and ennui. She whips
out her watercolors and starts to paint. Call it a little example of
multitasking, but when you're the new dean of the School of Engineering
and Applied Science (SEAS) at Princeton University, plus a marathon
runner, kayaker, hiker, guitar player, and a talented watercolor painter
to boot, you have to squeeze things in whenever you have a chance. Plus,
It makes me enjoy the meetings so much more, Klawe explains.
Painting is one of my favorite activities in the world. Sitting
in meetings isn't one of my favorite activities, but it's
necessary to get various kinds of work accomplished. Doing the two together
gets the work done while making me very happy. And, she adds with
her typically self-deprecating humor, it keeps me from talking
Actually, given a chance, Klawe has lots to say about
what she wants to do at Princeton and the role that engineering should
play in the university and beyond. One of her main goals is to broaden
the scope of engineering and ensure that all the undergraduates at Princeton
benefit from the school's first-rate engineering program. We
need to teach courses that talk about the impact of technology on society
and how different technical decisions can really change things in society
rapidly or over a longer period of time. The key issues that affect
society require interdisciplinary approaches, she argues. It's
not just science and engineering that need to work together. You need
other areas like humanities and social sciences involved because they
have a perspective that also matters.
It's almost said so often that it sounds like
buzz or hype, but it's important that people in government who
make key decisions in science and technology often don't have any
education related to engineering whatsoever. People in arts need to
know more about science and technology so they can make informed decisions.
In the fall of 2003, SEAS embarked on a large strategic
planning process. A series of 11 one-day workshops focused on what should
be the priorities at the school for the next five to 10 years and identify
six to 12 areas of engineering that Princeton can become a world leader
in. Most of the workshops examined the interdisciplinary approach, which
works to bridge the gap between engineering and the rest of the university.
While other schools have engaged in similar studies, Klawe says SEAS
went out of its way to engage a wide spectrum of the university and
the alumni, as well as the school's faculty, staff, and students.
Another key factor in our strategic planning process, Klawe
points out, is that our president, Shirley Tilghman, has made
SEAS one of her top three priorities.
The 52-year-old Klawe seemed destined for a career in
academia from an early age. Both her parents were faculty members at
the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, so it just seemed natural
to her that she would end up teaching. She planned to study engineering,
but when she discovered that the math courses at Alberta were weaker
in the engineering program than in honors math, she chose the latter.
After her first year she went to see the mathematics chair and told
him that since she'd taken the honors calculus course, she would
be the ideal person to teach it. As Klawe recalls a little sheepishly,
He smiled at me politely and said, We normally don't
let undergraduates teach classes, but we would be very happy for you
to work as a teaching assistant.' So I did. Klawe was 18
at the time.
After earning her bachelor's degree and Ph.D. in
mathematics it seemed natural to become a mathematics professor. But
such positions were scarce in the mid-1970sparticularly at prestigious
universitiesso she embarked on a second Ph.D., in computer science.
Five months after starting her degree at the University of Toronto,
she suddenly found herself getting job offers from computer science
departments all over Canada. She ended up accepting a position as an
assistant professor at Toronto. But no sooner had she started than her
life took another turnall the result of a seminar. The person
giving the seminar, Nick Pippenger, delivered a talk on his work as
an IBM researcher so captivating that Klawe ended up accepting a position
at the IBM Almaden Research Center in California a few months lateralong
with her new husband, Nick Pippenger.
After we met at U of T and fell in love we looked
around for work, Klawe recalls. U of T made an offer to
Nick and we were recruited by MIT. But Nick is extremely shy and I thought
that getting married and having kids would be enough of a life-change
without going to a university as well. So we chose IBM.
In her eight years at Big Blue, Klawe ended up managing
a department with five research groups, all working on building more
interaction between mathematicians and computer scientists. The work
was exciting and groundbreaking. But there was little chance she would
In 1988 she accepted the position of head of the department
of computer science at the University of British Columbia (UBC). In
the following 15 years she moved up through the ranks, serving as vice
president for student and academic services and then as dean of science.
It was in her new managerial roles that she came to appreciate that
her time at IBM had provided her with something potentially more valuable
for her academic career than knowledge about computers and mathematics.
Industry has great management training and universities don't,
she says matter of factly. Universities tend to put people into
managerial positions such as department chairs or deans without giving
them a lot of basic management training. IBM, on the other hand, was
a superb training ground.
Klawe recalls working like crazy, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., during the
management training sessions. You're not allowed to get e-mail
or take phone calls or anything like that. I complained the whole time
but it was fabulous. Another bonus: IBM proved very good with
diversity issues, sexual harassment, and discrimination. Klawe reckons
that the company was probably a decade ahead of universities. She credits
IBM with providing her with extensive training on issues that had become
major issues in universities and furnishing models for how to deal with
How does working in management in industry compare with the same job
in academia? Klawe says the differences are huge. The really key
people who drive development in a university are faculty members. They
are independent individuals. Your only real way to change things is
to create an environment that allows them to do what they want to do
better and have that align with what you want to see happen.
She adds that you can't force people to do things in industry
either, but you have more direct influence on what happens there. At
a university, it is all indirect, which makes it that much more interestingand
more permanent. If you do something in industry and you do it
by management fiat, it can change as soon as you are no longer a manager
or a manager of that group. But if you do something at a university
and things change because faculty members want them to change, then
the change will last as long as the faculty members are there.
As someone who has worked on both sides of the Canadian/U.S. border,
Klawe has a unique perspective on the brain-drain issue that concerns
many Canadian business leaders, who worry that the best and brightest
in Canada's science and engineering community are drifting south.
When we left the United States our friends bet on where we would
go and everyone was sure we wouldn't go to Canada because it was
the lowest salary, the least prestigious place and everyone thought
we would be nuts to do it, Klawe remembers. They did it anyway.
Klawe said she felt driven to enhance the computer science department
at UBC and make it into a world-class department. Over five years,
it made that transition, Klawe states. Of all the things
I've done in my life that's one of the things I'm proudest
Still, she is blunt in her assessment that in Canada there are problems
recruiting top people. Canada doesn't invest enough in either
its universitiesparticularly its top research universitiesor
in supporting research. It has improved dramatically over the past six
to eight years but there is still a good way to go.
Klawe hasn't ruled out the idea of moving back to Canada. In the
meantime, she has her work cut out for her. She is president of the
Association of Computer Machinery and chair of the board of trustees
of the Anita Borg Institute of Women in Technology. She is also in the
process of setting up a teaching scholarship at the University of Alberta
in honor of her mother, who died in 2003. Klawe has put in $20,000 of
her own money and plans to raise another $80,000 with her paintings.
She figures it will take 10 yearsperhaps less if she concentrates
on portraits, which she regularly sells for $1,000 or more a piece.
As one of only a dozen or so women deans of engineering in the United
States, Klawe is more aware than most of the struggle that women face
making it to the top of their field in science and engineering. Klawe
says that while discrimination against women is less overt than it was
it's alive and thriving in some areas. In September
2003, a wide-ranging study at Princeton conducted by an 11-member faculty
panel concluded that women scientists at the university are unhappier
with their jobs than men are. In addition, nearly a quarter have experienced
inappropriate behavior from male colleagues.
Klawe wasn't surprised by the results of the study, and says they
are similar to those found at other universities. Still, she remains
optimistic. We have made good progress in terms of recruiting
outstanding women faculty. Four of the nine faculty members joining
the SEAS over the last year are women. Twelve years ago there were two
women faculty in SEAS. Now there are sixteenout of 120.
Redressing discrimination against women in engineering will take time,
Klawe says. We're maybe a third of the way there. She
adds, I just hope the next third moves a lot faster than the last