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These are not the criteria November 30, 2009

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.

Interesting post, to me, over on Carbon Based Curiosities.


Basically, the post and discussion are about whether sexual orientation matters within the workings of science. From all I have seen, it does not. Yeah, there will be the jomophobic ones who make it matter if they can, but that is no different than that there are homophobes everywhere and involved in everything.

Scientists are rather bipolar as far as work and personal things. They usually have a sharp division between the lab and elsewhere. In the lab, they respect talent and detest hacks or the arrogant. Their persona as scientists often shows little of their character outside of science. Einstein was a great scientist, but was also quite the Casanova outside of the physics.

In the discussion context, it was about the selection of NSF graduate fellowships. I’d rather not get into what criteria are discussed, but sexual orientation never gets into it. Gender and race cannot, absolutely. These are federally sponsored fellowships afterall. But in all the analogous discussion I have been part of – choosing invited speakers or session chairs for conference, editorial board members, whatever, the personal lives only get touched upon in one aspect. Is the person reliable, easy to work with, and team oriented? On committees, people do not want to choose and then have to work with difficult people. If you are straight and difficult, you’ll get passed on. If you are gay and reliable and easy going, you might get chosen. In other words, be a jerk and get passed over.




1. AlchemX - December 1, 2009

Thanks for touching upon this. I hate to say this, but a lot of the blogs run by women make the case that there is rampant disrespect for women. Quite the opposite in my experience. No one cares from what it seems like. As a guy and a scientist, I can say that the sex of a scientist has never been discussed with any importance in my lab. In fact I find the labs to be very welcoming toward women at least where I’m at.

In fact, it seems like men are treated more harshly or are accused of laziness more often then women, lol.

2. psi*psi - December 1, 2009

AlchemX: It depends on the lab. I’ve been lucky so far in working for fantastically unsexist and fair PIs, but I know women who have had some rough experiences. I agree that some of the hardcore-women-in-science blogs sound a little over the top, but I won’t completely dismiss what they say. When I was applying to grad school, one (male and feminist) mentor went out of his way to point out groups that were bad working environments for women, and some PIs who had sexually harassed their grad students. As long as anyone sees the need to put out warnings like that…yeah, the disrespect is real.

3. fetzthechemist - December 1, 2009

There is also a failure to differentiate bad PIs from the sexist or racist ones. Some are just terrible with any grad student. They domineer and rant because they have the power. Ascribing that to sexism dilutes the picture and lets the real sexists fade into the background noise.

I have seen tough women PIs really get on the women, thinking it helps toughen them.

But you rarely see that sexist or racist tone in the science because good scientists are at a premium. Creativity and understanding are not as common as most percieve. Innovators will publish first and have better work to talk about, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or any other criterion.

4. fetzthechemist - December 1, 2009

I did think of one “ism” that is prevalent in many forms and some of these are quite rampant. Agism. If you are a grad student or postdoc, your ideas are very readily dismissed by many professors. If you are older, the younger scientists dismiss your opinions because things have changed since your era. Even when you reach the supposedly accomplished stage of high peer recognition, you had better be prepared for a few odd reactions and responses if you’ve been precocious. The big names expect you to be of their generation, not a decade or more younger.

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