So this interesting story came out on NPR a little while back, and flooded into my inbox from various sources. Although I feel a conflicted response to the stance in this article (to feel conflicted indicates that one is carefully thinking about it, in my opinion), it did articulate something I haven’t really been able to explain all this time—how I respond to my peers as a whole.
I wouldn’t say that I respond differently to men than I do to women in science, even as I look around at my male-dominated lab environment. This “disengagement” they talk about in the article is how I react any time one of my peers attempts to engage me in scientific discussion. And although I have been passing this off as not wanting to talk about work outside of the laboratory, it’s really just a convenient excuse for me to hide my unusual feeling of being threatened when a colleague is just trying to have a casual, intellectual discussion with me.
The argument might sound really personal right now, but I’d venture to guess that this feeling affects many other graduate students as well. And if it affects graduate students, it must affect postdocs, professors, and so on. But unlike what is written in the article, this isn’t really a “stereotype threat,” for there isn’t a stereotype at its foundation. But the fear of that threat is there. And while I can probably point at a few key moments in my life that have made me feel this way, the real question is what should I do about it from now on?
I’ve been more aware of my responses recently, especially since they provide such a stark contrast to the comfortable conversations I carry out with others who are not in a scientific field. And I may be a little ashamed to admit that it may be because of this reaction that I have found difficulty in developing friendships with my peers here, which is a tragedy because these are the people I spend the most time with, the people who best understand what I am going through, and the people I intend to support through our careers. But editing the natural “fight or flight” urge I get in response to this imaginary “threat” is certainly going to take time. Time and Effort.
I think it is difficult to maintain the youthful optimism with which one enters when beginning graduate school, and I think that this fear of being judged—of being threatened—significantly impacts the depth to which we can take our achievements. So it is imperative that those of us afflicted with this feeling acknowledge and improve upon it, but where do we begin?
About the Author
Hong Tran, Ph.D. Student, Chemical Biology
Published in: Student Voices