Women in STEM and other hot topics. part 1/2

It’s been quite the news week for this hasn’t it? Scandalous sexism at CERN on Monday, Nobel Prizes on Tuesday! And of course as I know… a few… scientists, this has been a topic for conversation. Especially the first point, the second has been mostly covered with the statements “Yay!” and “About time!”. So, TL;DR – Some big shot at CERN gave a lecture “suggesting” that “maybe” there was actually no sexism at all in science and that any incentive/positive discrimination toward women was weakening the field by keeping good men out of jobs. Full disclosure: I disagree completely. But it’s an interesting little thought, no? Because of course, we want the very best, and so we wouldn’t want to miss out by excluding any group! But here’s the thing: Those brilliant young guys, the ones who deserve the jobs, they will get jobs. Academia is a hard nut to crack, and yes, if you do fill a few of the top jobs with women, there will probably be a few men who don’t make it in as a result… but they won’t be the ones who are passionate, who live for this, who work their butts off for this. They’ll be the one who thought it could be fun, who have another skill set to put to work, who’ll probably do just fine in industry or in a lower stress position or be excellent technicians. They’ll teach at community colleges, and high schools, be passionate amateurs or wonderful fathers and inspire that next generation of true researchers to go and learn about stuff. We need those guys! We don’t need lazy researchers, we don’t need people who mess with data to boost their citation count, we don’t need people who are anything less than passionate in academia. We don’t need people who are anything less than brilliant at what they do. We need talent, and skill, and imagination.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret. Most people aren’t cut out for academia. I know I’m not. “But you could totally do a Masters!” I’ve heard that one. “But you’re so smart!” Yup, I sure am. “You got really good marks!” Uh, yeah… I’m good at bs’ing my way through exam questions and I write a well reasoned essay when I try. (ThisΒ  is a rant though, please don’t judge my essay writing by this piece!) And here’s the one that starts to sting: “You’re too smart to {be a teacher/ just stay home/ give up your career/ do a trade/ work in a daycare/ not try to stay in university for as long as humanly possible}” You don’t get through the wringer on good test skills alone. You need a spark. And you need to feed it into a fire. You need smarts and spark.

So lets talk about spark for a second shall we? Most people have something that they are passionate about. Some people are passionate about something in the sciences – Kyle is about astronomy. He loves that stuff. I couldn’t care less, really… Space is really big, the end. I am passionate about making things. I love textiles, sewing, weave patterns, knitting, all of it interests me. Kyle is pretty happy to have clothes that fit and tents that don’t leak. I’d say it’s a darn good thing that he’s the scientist. Though based on my marks in high school I could’ve easily gone to university in the sciences! But I didn’t. Because I KNEW I had no interest there. I have friends though, male friends, who had comparable marks and were strongly encouraged (by teachers, by family, by peers) to go and study chemistry, biology, math, what have you. I remember conversations with two such young men where I said variations of “Are you crazy, man? You’ll hate your program and yourself if you do that!” I am glad to say they both found other, more suitable (for them) things to study. I’m not taking credit for it, but what if no one had been there to give them permission to NOT go into STEM? They’re bright guys, they could maybe have made it. They’d be there in the job pool by now, too far in to back out, competing for jobs that could have gone to someone else. We need to intervene early.

I have kids to care for, but I want to get this out asap, so, uh, watch this space, I guess?



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