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.