Understanding the CS Experience at Harvard

By Alex Abrahams, Tommy O'Shea, and Annie Schugart

CS171 Spring 2016

Since 2008, the number of computer science concentrators at Harvard has quadrupled.

More Harvard students than ever are getting a secondary in CS or just exploring the field by taking a class. We have set out to visualize the CS experience at Harvard, breaking the data down by gender, race and background. We have also tried to show the changes that have been occurring on the faculty side.


We have drawn on a survey of over 900 Harvard undergraduates to understand how Computer Science is viewed and experienced here.

Our data on the perceptions of Computer Science and how concentrators feel about their abilities comes from the Harvard Women in Computer Science Advocacy Council's survey. This obtained responses from a wide range of Harvard students; both computer science concentrators and non-concentrators, men and women, and varying races. Before we dive into insights from the dataset, we wanted to show you whose responses we are basing our analysis on, using these pie charts.

Perceptions of CS

The survey asked two groups of respondents (those with no CS background at Harvard and those who are concentrating or intending to concentrate in CS) what three words they would use to describe Computer Science concentrators. Their answers are displayed in the word clouds below, where the larger words represent the more common responses, and the smaller words represent less common responses. Feel free to use the filtering tools to compare responses from different kinds of students.


Prior CS Background:



Prior CS Background:


Coding Confidence Between Genders

Respondents who said that they had taken a CS class at Harvard and were intending to concentrate in CS were asked how good they thought they were at programming compared to their peers in their CS classes.

They rated themselves on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is much worse, and 5 is much better.

Click the stacked bar chart segments to see the distribution of years of programming experience for people in that group.

Years of programming experience:

Growth of Computer Science

With the concentration growing four-fold since 2008, we wanted to see if the faculty had also grown, in order to accomodate the influx of students. Below, the line chart shows the total students, total faculty, and a comparison of the two through a faculty-to-student ratio. The faculty-to-student ratio graph in particular demonstrates the increasing scarcity of CS professors relative to CS students.

Data is from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

Accessing the Department

Respondents to the Women in Computer Science survey who said that they had taken a CS class at Harvard and were intending to concentrate in CS were asked to assess the accessibility of their TFs and Professors on a 1 to 5 scale, 5 being very accessible and 1 being very inaccessible. Overall TFs are found to be more accessible than professors.

While the CS concentration becomes more diverse as its student numbers swell, the CS faculty has not yet seen much of a diversity increase. The following data is from SEAS.

Breakdown of Students in CS Concentration

Breakdown of Faculty in CS Department


Project by Alex Abrahams, Thomas O'Shea, and Annie Schugart.

Special thanks to Niamh Durfee for her extraordinary patience and help.

Layout inspired by Hugh Zabriskie and Cynthia Meng's Behind Bars.


Process Book