Bitter or Sad?

Sep 13 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

I want to take a moment to give a shout out to Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein. Her insights about being a woman of color in science are some of the best I've read.  I do not always agree with her, but she always makes me think. She always makes me bring my best arguments to the table. I am not a woman of color, but, as has often been pointed out, one of the most important things one can do to support people who are different from oneself is to listen. She is a good person to listen to.

A recent post of hers titled: The Truth About Colleges and Universities has the subtitle: If you’re applying to college in the US or your kid is, you should read this. Especially if you’re not white.

It is a wonderful article, and well written. She starts with two disparate facts. Here is the 2nd one:

.., but I write it optimistically as a Black woman postdoctoral researcher in particle and cosmology theory who is plunging into her second round of faculty applications in a country that has never had a Black woman theoretical cosmologist on a college or university faculty. 

I know something akin to this feeling. When I first started applying for jobs, there were far far fewer women in science than there are now. I heard "if I hire a woman, there is a man with a family to support who won't get the job". LBGTI people are more accepted, as are same-sex spouses, inter-racial couples, and people who have disabilities. The world has changed since I was young, and that is a good thing. It has not changed enough, but that is a different post.

Now, here is the first thing she said, that preceeds the "but" above:

I’m going to be called bitter for publishing this

It doesn't seem bitter to me. It is honest. It is hard to hear. But does it make me feel sad.  You need to read the whole thing which is an indictment of what is wrong with collegiate level education in America, especially for women, POC, LGBTIQ, and those who do not fit the mold. It is a reminder of the ways in which the world has not changed.

Dr. P-W outlines some of the wrongs. Her first thing wrong is:

the first thing you should know is that academics are brutal, and academia encourages brutality.

Sometimes it's not so much intentional brutality as brutal indifference. Sometimes it is people who steal or want to steal your ideas. Sometimes its just people who don't care that they are working on the same thing, and have more resources than you do.

She goes on from there, speaking truths about the, yes, brutal economics and realities of education. She talks about research intensive universities, but what she says is also true of State Universities. It's just that the latter have (sometimes, somewhat) cheaper price tags. And while she is addressing people (and their families) entering college, it could equally be true of people aiming towards any post-graduate education. But near the end Dr. Prescod-Weinstein says:

Nu. I’m not saying don’t go to college or don’t send your kid to college. All I’m saying is have zero delusions about what these institutions are up to.

So why sad?

Because part of what pushes us, the ones who do care, the ones who haven't lost all the starry-eyed hope, is that the pursuit of science still thrills us the way nothing else does. And it is sad that there is so much that gets in the way.

Out there, probably not reading this blog, but maybe one person or two away, some young trans or non-binary person of color, or even white male who understands, some human being to whom the beauty and joy of science doesn't just speak, but sings and draws pictures and enchants and thrills. And that human being is thinking "crap, do I need this much more hassle in my life?"

To that person I echo what Dr. P-W says. There are people who care. There are people who will help nurture your dreams.

Except for a slice of the world, it has never been easy to become a scientist. (or an artist of any sort). Some people take that lemon and make lemonade. Some people find other outlets for their inner drive. See Gertrude Stein, or Stanley Kaplan. All the things she says about the reality is true. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't try.



8 responses so far

  • Ria says:

    In my experience, people with disabilities are definitely NOT more accepted than they used to be. Do you have any evidence to support that people with disabilities are being more accepted than they were previously? I'd be interested to see if my experience is merely an outlier or if I'm experiencing a general trend...and maybe academia is less accepting than the general public or business.

    I work in academia, and have found that any disability is career-limiting, regardless of your capabilities, education, or interests. I've only had a single manager who looked at what I could do, and not my disability, and did his level best to elevate my career. The rest solely looked at the time off that I would have to take (FMLA leave for severe attacks, and often at the top end of allowed sick leave outside of the FMLA accommodation), and not at the fact that I was able to equal or exceed the work quality and quantity produced by colleagues at my level who never took time off. Surprisingly, to me, every single one of my managers has been extremely liberal...and by that measure, one would have expected similar accommodation for disabilities.

    • potnia theron says:

      I think people with disabilities have issues that are ignored and dismissed. I think it is still OK to make fun of people with obvious physical issues. I do not mean to suggest otherwise.

      But, I have seen progress. People with physical disabilities are not immediately assumed to have mental or cognitive limitations. The ADA got passed, (and FMLA can be used to support children with disabilities, etc) and before that it was much worse, legally.

      We have a long way to go as a society.

  • Anon says:

    Bitter or Sad? ... or Stupid?

    I agree, in general, with what she has to say. But if I'm a postdoc trying to get a job in Academia, is it really good judgement to publish something like that under my own name?

    I suppose one (or she) could argue that any place that has a problem with it is not somewhere she wants to be. But there aren't tons of openings in her filed to begin with, she is working in an unpopular sub-specialty,... IDK. Seems very foolish for her to publish this piece at this point in her career.

    If she doesn't land a good offer this year, is it because she is a black, agender woman or is it because she had the audacity to hold a mirror up to the community she longs to join?

    • David says:

      From a practical side, maybe it's not the wisest move, but that in itself is sad. Really sad if institutions are afraid of someone because of a post where "all the things she says about the reality is true." Especially institutions who are seeking "the truth" and tell their students that they have to look for the raw, unfiltered reality.

      • Anon says:

        Institutions are run by people. And my experience is that people, especially tenured academics, can be extremely petty and overly sensitive to criticism -- despite what they tell their students and each other. And yes, all of this is very sad.

        • potnia theron says:

          In my experience, Dr P-W is pretty bold and outspoken, and this post will not make or break her chances of a job. She's not used a pseudo (see new post) and, to my eyes, has called out folks on their BS. Take some time and read what else she has written. I would bet there will be something that pisses you off, but think about it.

          • Anon says:

            "Take some time and read what else she has written. I would bet there will be something that pisses you off, but think about it."

            I don't think you have a clue who I am. I've known Chanda since college; you didn't introduce me to her writing. As for getting pissed off by what she writes, there's a long list of people on the Internet that piss me off a helluva lot more than her.

          • potnia theron says:

            Just calling it as I see it. Your call/right to be anonymous, but I don't assume that anyone knows anything.

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