As any regular reader of this blog knows, I’m almost certainly heading to computer science graduate school directly after college. This got me thinking about an obvious question: how many deaf people have computer science Ph.D.s? I’ll limit the answer to those who earned them from American institutions, though if anyone has information about other countries, please let me know either via comments here or by email (see the “About” page).

A simple Google search and some outside information led to these people:

  1. Karen Alkoby (Ph.D., DePaul University, 2008)
  2. Raja Kushalnagar (Ph.D., University of Houston, 2010)
  3. Christian Vogler (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 2003)

One thing that struck me was their Ph.D. dates: 2003, 2008, 2010. That’s awfully recent, and that’s a sign that there may be some other deaf students currently enrolled in Ph.D. programs. I don’t know of any.

Another thing that was interesting is that, while all are professors, none of them are actually computer science professors! Dr. Kushalnagar is in Information and Computing Studies at RIT, Dr. Vogler is in Communication Studies at Gallaudet, and Dr. Alkoby is in Gallaudet’s Business department. Of course, the lack of a Computer Science department at Gallaudet is likely a factor.

I’ve never met nor talked with Dr. Alkoby, but I met Dr. Kushalnagar a few years ago and recently had a video chat with Dr. Vogler, so I can say a bit more about them.

Dr. Kushalnagar and I met at the 2011 Summer Academy. He was raised in India and took a heavy math and science curriculum in high school. Due to his family’s strong educational values, he not only got a B.S. from Angelo State University, but he also has the uncommon combination of a computer science Ph.D. and a law degree. His research interests deal with deaf education, and he acts as a primary tutor to deaf computer science students.

Dr. Vogler and I both think that Dr. Vogler was the first deaf person to earn a computer science Ph.D. — at least in the United States — and we also believe there are three deaf computer science Ph.D.s. He and I appear to possess similar hearing loss levels and communication ability. Dr. Vogler used “ASL” accommodations while he was in conferences and taking classes at the University of Pennsylvania. (By the way, Williams College currently has three alumni at Penn’s computer and information sciences Ph.D. program, and I may be applying there.) His key suggestion was that, when faced with a technical term dilemma, “ASL” interpreters need to abolish the standard grammar of the language and focus more on a direct English translation. Yes, it will involve a lot of finger spelling and some confusion, but trying to comprehend such technicalities on top of ASL’s grammar is not convenient for effective communication.