Thus Spake Zuska

“Conversations About The Tribe”

Dr. Free-Ride has graciously put the slides from her talk at the Science Blogging Conference on the conference wiki, so I’m thinking I can go ahead and blog about the stuff I thought I couldn’t blog about in my earlier post.

Specifically, Dr. Free-Ride spent some time talking about conversations that happen in the blogosphere that might not otherwise take place. She enumerated and categorized these. Her basic categories were as follows:

  • Educational Conversations
  • Political Conversations
  • Conversations About the Scientific Literature
  • The Virtual Scientific (or Lab) Meeting
  • Conversations About the Tribe

It’s this last category that I am interested in talking about here. In the blogosphere, the blogger seeks out others who are like them – “Is there anyone out here like me?” – and asks questions of the tribe – “Could things be different? What’s it like to be a person like me in a particular kind of setting?” Dr. Free-Ride argued that this kind of blogging, this kind of conversation in the blogosphere, is where one finds a predominance of women scientist bloggers.

How to explain women popping up in such large numbers in this category of blog conversations, in contrast to some of the other areas? Her hypothesis, which is quite reasonable, is as follows: In each woman’s department, she may be the only woman or one of only a few women. There are far fewer opportunities on campus for traditional communities of support. The blogosphere offers a place for honest communication, a place where a virtual community of women scientists can gather and trade information and tips. It’s a place where all the kinds of questions you may never dare ask in the “real” world can be safely posed, and you can draw on the accummulated wisdom of many other women who may have gone through the same thing.

Dr. Free-Ride showed examples from quite a few blogs by women scientists that were just wonderful. It’s worth downloading her slide presentation just to look at these examples. You may discover a blog or two you didn’t know about!

Another thing to note about this virtual community of women scientists is that nearly all women scientist bloggers blog pseudonymously (I’ve discussed this phenomenon before). In the Q&A session, one of the audience members opined that he just couldn’t understand why anybody would feel the need to blog anonymously. This, as you can imagine, nearly made Zuska’s head explode. I was mostly polite in my response except for when I got to the end and said “Only a man would make a comment like that” or words to that effect. But really. That’s some serious gender and race privilege in operation there that lets you imagine that there is nothing in the world you’d want to discuss on a regular basis about being a scientist that is so difficult and touchy to discuss that you’d need to be anonymous in discussing it. And this was AFTER the dude had seen the examples in Dr. Free-Ride’s talk. Hey, maybe he thinks there’s just no problem in trying to figure out what you do about needing to reschedule a job interview because you are nine months pregnant and you can’t fly. MORON.

ah….but I digress.

Anyway. One question I sent to Dr. Free-Ride privately, after the conference, is something that keeps nagging at me: where are the women and men of color in the science blogosphere? Why so very few? It seems to me that nearly all the women scientist bloggers I’m aware of must be white women; I’m guessing this, of course, because I don’t personally know most of them, but I’m thinking that if they were women of color, they would also be blogging about issues of race as well as gender. White people have the privilege not to have to deal with race issues on a daily basis, so it doesn’t pop up in the blogs. But if [white] women are more highly represented in the conversations-about-the-tribe type blogs, why not also scientists who are women and men of color? I would think they would need and could benefit from these types of conversation just as much. Am I just not finding them? Am I not looking in the right places? It puzzles me. I have to say, the Science Blogging Conference was a mighty white affair.

So…to end…here are Dr. Free-Ride’s points to consider about a real conversation, which, she says, gives you room to grow. With a real conversation, you will

  • Learn something new
  • Understand someone else’s point of view
  • Change your mind
  • Change how non-scientists understand science and scientists
  • Change how scientists understand their own tribe
  • Expand our sense of community

TSZ strives especially to do the last two. In the coming weeks, I’m going to embark on a task I’ve set for myself that will address the first point. A few years ago I designed a course that I never got to teach. I’m going to teach it to myself – it was a course I designed because it was the kind of course I always wanted to take. So I’m going to try and take you along with me in the course. I hope it will be fun! I hope it will change some people’s minds about certain things, maybe even change your understanding of science and technology.

In the meantime…I hope you have been finding here some sense of community and a place where you can come to better understand yourself and your tribe – the tribe of Incredibly Fantastic Women in Science and Engineering.

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  1. #1 Bill
    January 25, 2007

    Incredibly Fantastic Women in Science and Engineering

    IFWiSE? NABA. (Needs A Better Acronym.)

    Oooh, oooh, how about SEW: Science, Engineering, Women? Then you could call your conferences SEWing circles…

    Not the shoes! Not the shoes! Aaaaaaaaaah!

  2. #2 Bill
    January 25, 2007

    Eh. That is not as funny on screen as it was in my head. My pre-emptive apologies to anyone with whom that didn’t sit right. I was going for teh funny, but I can see how I might have missed.

  3. #3 catswym
    January 25, 2007

    this is a question i ask myself ALL the time. not just about the blogging world (altho that too), but in science in general. there are so many conversations about women in science (not all good but…) but i don’t see (almost) any about race and science and the lack of racial diversity. and i think about my own university which is quite ‘good’ on the female front (re: number of professors, postdocs and grads as well as discussion of the issue) but so few i can’t even think of any non-white profs in the entire life sciences sector. and NO discussion about it.

    and ooo…learning!

  4. #4 Kristin
    January 25, 2007

    Zuska, great post! Over at She’s Such a Geek I’ve already given props to the fact that so many women scientists are sharing their thoughts on blogs. And I completely understand why they would want to do so anonymously. Heck, I still have a fear that I exposed myself too much in my essay in the anthology, because of this notion I felt that if I didn’t fit into the science world, it must be my own shortcoming, because science is all about Truth and Logic! How could science be imperfect? So to admit that all is not perfect in the culture of science is dangerous, and the people who don’t fit in with this will automatically become suspect.

    As for people from races underrepresented in science, I came across very few in my time at grad school. I wonder how easy it would be for a black physicist to blog anonymously and write about race without getting identified, though, because there are so few of them?

  5. #5 transgressingengineer
    January 26, 2007

    I, too, have been searching for blogs from men and women of color in the sciences and have found very few. So, I have turned to looking at blogs about race written by folks who aren’t in the sciences. Some of these blogs that I have found most intersting to read have been ones that are VERY critical of academia and particularly of white academics who claim to care about diversity. These blogs have opened my eyes to how some folks see academia (and higher education in general) as a mechanism that reinforces whiteness. Perhaps the circles that folks run in virtually are so different (philisophically) that on the surface the blogs don’t look like they discuss the same content?

    But as far as the lack of scientists of color blogging… Could one of the reasons be time? Scientists of color have added responsibilities that white scientists don’t have. For instance, in organizations such as univeristies, the act of implementing diversity is mostly put on the shoulders of the people of color- the white people remained unmarked in this process of implementing diversity. Thus, the people of color need to carry out diversity in addition to the “normal” position responsibilities. The white folks, on the other hand, just need to take care of the “normal” responsibilties. So perhaps what you are describing (mostly blogs by scientists who are white) is the outcome of white privilege?

  6. #6 Zuska
    January 26, 2007

    Bill, it was funny enough. Regarding NABA: IF-WiSE, then Wonderful.

    Great comments from Catswym, Kristin, and Transgressingengineer. Kristin, I’ve thought too that maybe it’s much more difficult for a person of color to blog anonymously. When I was at the Frontiers in Engineering confernence last October, there was a panel by African American women engineers and one of them basically said that they could count on their fingers the number of her counterparts in her discipline, that she knew or knew of everyone of them. Perhaps if you blogged as “a scientist or engineer” and did not talk about your specific discipline…but it would be very difficult. I know that it’s difficult for even white women in some disciplines to stay anonymous; Jane at See Jane Compute has deleted her archives to maintain anonymity now that she has spoken on her blog about being pregnant.

    The time issue is key, too. There are indeed so many demands on the time of these faculty. It’s not just being asked to do all the diversity work – it’s all the students of color who show up in your office asking you to do unofficial advising and mentoring (the women on the panel at FIE talked about this) and how hard it is to say no to these requests for your time. And these are in addition to your assigned advisees.

    They are definitely carrying extra burdens that white people do not have to deal with. White women do get asked to be on everything that has to do with gender, but women of color get tapped for everything gender and race. Double duty.

  7. #7 Zuska
    January 26, 2007

    I just wanted to add: white people have race too, you know, just like men have gender. So we (white people) have some responsibility to address issues of race in our blogging. I have tried, will continue to try, to do that. I’m sure I do a poor job of it but I subscribe to the notion that even a poor job is better to no job at all, in this case.

  8. #8 Peggy Layne
    January 26, 2007

    It’s not a blog, but for those interested in women of color in science and engineering, Diann Jordan’s book Sisters in Science (Purdue University Press, 2006) is a collection of interviews of black women scientists. She address the race/gender double bind in her introduction.

  9. #9 Kristin
    January 28, 2007

    Hey, although a search for blogs by Hispanic scientists is coming up empty, it looks like there’s a new anthology by female Hispanic scientists and engineers! But you can’t find it in the online bookstores. Looks like if you want a copy, you have to email

    I think we should give them a boost at getting the word out, don’t you?

  10. #10 Kristin
    January 29, 2007

    Oh, and the book I referenced above is titled “Flor y Ciencia.”

    Also, these aren’t blogs, but here’s a whole bunch of biographies of Hispanic and Native American mathematicians and scientists: at SACNAS.

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