Thus Spake Zuska

Why should any woman get any degree in a STEM discipline? Especially if she has to wade through tons of bullshit courses to get there, and part of the learning, it appears, has to do with learning how to be someone you aren’t? Some other gender, some other race – or some other social class?

skeptifem challenges the female STEM universe thus:

I am not working in some kind of grueling coursework, so I am not “most of us”, I guess. What happened to me was that I never imagined I could be a college graduate or learn the sciences/maths (mostly because of being a woman in this culture), and I ended up doing some college courses because it was financially possible for once. I learned how much bs you have to go through to get the lowest of college achievement: an associates degree. I was helped a lot by my chemistry and math courses (though I did self teach most of that shit). A good example of how intolerable everything became is my first english class. I had to learn about all the various forms of citation, and that bullshit took up the majority of the course work for the semester. This wasn’t about english or writing- it was instruction to show that you had been to college, period. It was even more snobbish in that learning the preferred citation method for your major was something that would be important from that point on. Footnoting accomplishes absolutely everything meant to be contained in the different (and completely ARBITRARY) citation styles. I can’t deal with it. I don’t know how much college I can realistically take as a result. Noam Chomsky wrote about how there were social programs available for new ivy league college professors that teach things like what wines to drink and how to taste em. The shit just builds up thicker from this point on, and I am not sure that it is really for me anymore. I am not going to quit learning- I learn about math and science in my free time, without the credit. The awarding of certificates for doing so is so much more about conformity than learning that I am unwilling to do much more of it. I am happy learning without a GPA or deadline for understanding the material.

I am attempting to unionize my work place. I don’t know if moving up the latter is worth a damn. This is the kind of thing that matters to me now.

I kinda wanted to vent because I am commenting and conversing with all these women with extraordinary training in their fields and I am pretty out of place when it comes down to it. That kind of work used to be my ambition but I don’t think it is realistic or worthwhile anymore. Convince me otherwise lady scientists/engineers/students, I am open to listening.

Personally, I don’t think skeptifem is out of place AT ALL, but I see the point she is making. Okay, female science blogosphere: are there any good reasons for skeptifem to hang on to an ambition for a STEM degree and/or career in a STEM field?

A thousand years ago, when my parents really sacrificed to send me off to college, it was absolutely clear to me that I was not going to “waste” any time mucking about in majors like English or history, as I might have chosen to do if I’d come from a well-to-do family. I needed to pick something that had a high probability of landing in me in reasonably well-paid employment upon graduation, and engineering was it. Any other interests had to be tucked in around the sides – a one-credit course in the piano one summer to bring my roster up to 10 credits, a full-time load (my only brush with piano lessons); an African literature course used to complete a required “sequence” of liberal arts courses in one subject area; a theater course, fulfilling another liberal arts requirement, giving me an excuse to get away from homework and go to some plays (and develop a lifelong love of theater).

I’ve mentioned before Thomas Benton’s essay A Class Traitor in Academe. I think it really gets at some of that “learning to taste wine properly” business that skeptifem references.

But, even as a child, I can remember feeling that school was training me to be a subordinate in a culture — nearly a caste system — where the people who have money and power were different from us in personal style, language, and values. The suited professionals in their BMWs looked like members of some kind of alien occupation army; there was no possibility of communicating with them on equal terms. And they seemed to wield almost absolute power — over rent, jobs, health care, schools, prices — from inaccessible conference rooms in downtown office buildings. We never met their children because they lived in faraway suburbs.

Becoming a scientist worked out well for me in many ways, personally, despite all the hardships entailed (by me and family), and despite having to put up with a lot of extraneous bullshit to prove I was a member of the tribe (such membership, of course, always subject to review at a moment’s notice, without warning, by any REAL member who so chooses). But there are other values, too. During a lot of the time I was becoming, and being, a STEM-ladee, I was a clueless douchewad about sexism and racism and heterosexism and ableism and every other -ism you can think of. I totally support the goal of diversifying the scientific workforce, as a worthy end in its own right, without giving a crap about the politics of that diversified workforce. But of course, I also care a great deal about the politics of the scientific workforce. So I support agitating the current scientific workforce, in all its ghostly pallor and wankish glory, to take a long critical look at our reigning values. (For example.) We must constantly be reminded to consistently ask difficult questions of ourselves – because history shows we generally aren’t going to remind ourselves. Otherwise,scientific praxis becomes as self-satisfying as a circle-jerk, and just as fruitful, too.

skeptifem has done a great job of posing a difficult question here. So how do we answer? This is a really important question, and a good example of why I don’t think skeptifem is out of place, and why I get so tired of reading yet all those pieces about how increasing the number of women in STEM hinges on our ability to market better, because those crazee ladeez just don’t understand what a great fit STEM careers are for the caretaking and nurturing social relevance interests so dear to their hearts. What are good reasons for a woman with an interest – a love, even – of STEMmy things, to pursue a degree or career in a STEM field? What are good reasons for her to pursue her interests in STEMmy things in other ways?

N.B.: skeptifem, if I have mis-translated what you were getting at in your comment, please feel free to amplify in the comments here.

Very Special N.B. to thegoodman: it would be most helpful and appreciated if you would keep quiet and listen a great deal on this thread. You may even learn some things if you do.

Comments

  1. #1 ScientistMother
    June 29, 2010

    Because you can. Truth be told, I love asking questions and have always wanted to know the why. I was fascinated by biochemistry and the coolness of DNA from my very first biochem class. Yet I was discouraged, by well-intentioned individuals. Obviously I didn’t want to bother my pretty little head with these complex ideas. But I knew I could do it and I wanted to learn. So I’ve sucked up some of the bullshit, called out some it and found a place where my gender doesn’t matter, nor does my personal life. Just the questions I ask. I’m always thinking about work and what experiment I can do, what the biological significance is.

    I love it. that is why. I advocate for increased diversity because not everyone is as stubborn and thick-skinned as I have had to be.

  2. #2 JustaTech
    June 29, 2010

    Because it’s awesome? At this (early) point in my life I’ve assumed that a career should 1)keep you fed, housed and clothed; and 2) be something you like/love. If you love STEM, and doing it won’t make you destitute, then do it.

    But I know I’ve always had it easy; girl’s school means no boys to not look smart in front of, tech-directed college, even if I did get crap for being a biologist and not a “hard science”. But I know I’ve had that because other people said, “I’m sick of this BS, let’s make a better system.”

    Which is to say: I don’t know about any one other person in STEM, but I want to thank all of them, women and men, for sticking it out.

  3. #3 Rosie Redfield
    June 29, 2010

    But skeptifem doesn’t experience the awesomeness. Surely ‘because you can’ isn’t a good reason to do something you don’t enjoy. And I think it’s a lot harder to do well at something if it makes you miserable.

    Now that she’s discovered that she doesn’t like academia, skeptifem should figure out what she does like and find a way to do that.

  4. #4 skeptifem
    June 29, 2010

    It isn’t just the sexist bullshit, I deal with that everywhere and have accepted that. It is the bullshit of how science and engineering work in our corporate system. Corporate systems need people who are good at STEM to keep going, and so they make sure to indoctrinate people who get that far very heavily. People who work in STEM have the products of their labor used in ways that oppress other people. I mean, the military subsidizes research all the time, and then turns it over to companies when the resulting technology can be sold for profit (this happened with computers). All the fun of inquiry is within this toxic context.

    Women in STEM careers gives me the same feeling as when they become CEOs- it is being an honorary man. We are being equal in a patriarchal and oppressive system. If women had some kind of say in how complex systems like this operated I doubt that it would end up being the war machine that we currently observe.

    Containing the force that the educated and useful classes of people (like scientists and engineers) is extremely important to the power structures that exist here, so it would take a lot of radical action to fix it. It seems unlikely to occur. Even non STEM academics support the powers that be by determining the acceptable range of political opinion in the media. It is why perpetually wrong economists like ben stein still get to do op ed pieces. It is doubtful that I am so special that I would do so much better than anyone else after years of dealing with this stuff. It would probably wear me down and make me apathetic, at a minimum. If I didn’t I would probably get booted out.

    Most of that was pretending that I could stand it at all. I just think I will fail. Not because I am not smart enough, but because I cannot be motivated to do pointless things. I have extreme difficulty doing things like buying clothes and newer textbooks. How the hell am I going to pull off charades like professionalism?

    Thanks for starting this thread Zuska, I have presented a pretty negative view of everything but I still really want to read what everyone has to say about this. Maybe things aren’t as crappy as I imagined.

  5. #5 Comrade PhysioProf
    June 29, 2010

    Well, if you do rise up through the ranks and finally secure an independent lab head position, life is pretty fucking schweet. You get to spend most of your time thinking, reading, and writing, and mentoring the creative efforts of a team of younger scientists whom you have inspired with your own scientific vision. You get paid very well, and you don’t really have a “boss”, in the sense of someone to whom you have to answer for your time and justify its allocation. And you get to dress pretty much however you like.

  6. #6 Hope
    June 29, 2010

    I wrote another, more autobiographical response, but before posting it I saw skeptifem’s comment (#4), and now I feel like I’ve walked in during the middle of a conversation.

    The short version of my answer to Zuska’s question is: The *best* reason for a woman with a love of STEMmy things to get a degree in a STEM field is just that – a love of STEMmy things. I don’t think STEM is inherently more sexist than the rest of the world, and in my experience, the better the school, the more flexible the requirements and the fewer bs courses you’ll have to take.

    As for the military subsidizing stuff, they paid for my research to develop a cheaper, portable, less painful and non-toxic way of doing mammography. I don’t think too many people—especially women in developing countries—will be oppressed by that.

  7. #7 GC
    June 29, 2010

    I have to say that if you honestly don’t feel like following a STEM career then don’t do it. Everybody should do want really makes them happy and gives them personal satisfaction.

    Just because you choose a STEM career doesn’t mean that you will be reinforcing institutional sexism. I think that it will do quite the opposite, STEM careers need intelligent and feminist women.

    Also, as someone already mentioned a STEM career allows you to earn more money, and that is something that flies in the face of many sexist people.

    I really don’t understand why are you asking US to convince you to stay in science, you pretty much seem to have made up your mind already. You don’t want to participate in ” the system”, but then do tell how is it going to change if everybody were to take the same stance as you?.

    If you need convincing to do something then it’s best not to do it and move on to something you like.

  8. #8 Isabel
    June 29, 2010

    “And, in faculty meetings and in the larger profession, I sometimes feel deeply conflicted when someone talks about diversity in terms of race and gender without explicitly considering class as another significant variable. It’s not that I am opposed to affirmative action, but that I think we need a more comprehensive vision of who needs that assistance.

    As has been said in many other contexts, academe’s admissions, hiring, and promotion practices seem to favor people who look different but mostly think alike, largely because they belong to similar class strata… In the end, I think too much of the celebration is about making privileged people feel like they care about inequality without having to really change anything.”

  9. #9 Anonymous
    June 29, 2010

    Skeptifem, I always love your comments. If only more scientists were as articulate as you. But I think in this case you are painting science with too broad a brush. What about conservation genetics? Ecology? Climate change? Alternative energy sources? Oil clean-up technologies? Epidemiology? Sustainable agriculture? Etc, etc, etc. There are plenty of fields of science that have the potential to contribute greatly to society. And absolutely you don’t need to dress in a suit and drive a beamer — I sure don’t. I can’t afford to! (But being your own boss and working your own hours…that is a true blessing).

  10. #10 Hope
    June 29, 2010

    re: citations

    I’m writing my thesis in LaTeX and using BibTeX to manage my references, so I can format my stuff any which way I want just by changing a little bit of code. When I want to publish a chapter, I just download the particular journal’s TeX template and poof! – instant journal-approved format.

  11. #11 FrauTech
    June 29, 2010

    Hm, this is tough. I was ruminating on this topic a few weeks ago on the blog (http://frautech.blogspot.com/2010/06/get-em-while-theyre-young.html). Like, what’s the difference between encouraging someone to their full potential that might be STEM without pushing them into it when maybe it’s not what they want to do.

    I guess I’d say try to imagine what kind of career would most appeal to you. Personally I think people can be happy/satisfied doing almost anything for a career. It sounds like the formal studying of science/math does not appeal to you. In that case, I woudn’t pursue it. It’s a long path to getting a degree and while I don’t love school (some days I really hate it) I have a healthy respect for it. Also for me personally, there is no way I could teach myself this stuff on my own. I am just not a motivated learner like that.

    On the other hand, you don’t need a degree to be involved in STEM. I used to have a clerical job at a medical clinic several years ago and while the job itself wasn’t that great the place sure was. Had I not shifted my focus I might still be there now. There’s plenty of support jobs like that in almost anything, whatever interests you in the slightest, and it’s a great way to get exposure to the field and decide if said thing is something you even want to do.

    But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be posting here or having conversations with people involved in “science.” I’m in engineering and some days I feel intimidated as well, as I’m only finishing my bachelor’s degree and won’t be going on for anything higher level anytime soon. But the good people of science welcome anyone with an inquisitive mind, willing to learn, and willing to engage in discussion.

  12. #12 Yvonne
    June 29, 2010

    Sometimes the kyriarchy just comes down on your head and it’s hard to think of a reason to even live. Everything we do will be co-opted by opressive systems in some way including (perhaps especially) the choice to not do something we love because we feel too much the potential of being ground down.

    Do STEM if you love it and then think of ways to live your life that make sense to you. STEM doesn’t equal academia. Academia doesn’t equal supporting oppressive systems. Syphoning money from the military to do research on better mammograms can be a radical act (I realize I’m taking liberties with Hope’s story, but this kind of revisioning makes me feel life is worth living.)

  13. #13 hairy math bitch
    June 29, 2010

    I do math because I love doing it and the only way to do it all the time (I’m not wealthy so if I do it all the time I must be paid for some of that time) is to go into a STEM career. At this point it is yet to be determined whether it will be academic, but it likely be STEM, as I’m in a grad program now. It takes a lot of time to do any math of consequence, and if one is to accomplish this and pay the rent, a STEM career is the only way to fly. The “play in a blues band on the week-end” model does not work for this sort of stuff due to the necessary time investment.

    The reason some hardcore STEM people can’t make a case for what we do is that we think it’s so beautiful that we don’t understand why we need to. For me, STEM is the idealistic hippie bullshit dream like surfing for a living is for some people. And I know there are a lot of women out there like me who give up because they’ve been kicked in the face too many times. We need to figure out how to keep that from happening. But as far as convincing someone to go STEM for some “greater good”? I don’t know, I think that the other commenters have already done better than I could possibly do.

    I just feel lucky most days because what I love this much benefits society (As a TA, I teach math to people who need to know it for other reasons) and I don’t have to feel like a self-indulgent sack of shit like I probably would if I was getting a PHD in interdisciplinary basket weaving.

    Maybe the big problem with a lot of the discussions about “recruiting women into STEM” is that we assume that they need to be sold on the whole thing, instead of assuming that interested parties are being frightened off by legitimate concerns. Nobody ever sold me on this shit. If anything, I was actively discouraged.

  14. #14 D. C. Sessions
    June 29, 2010

    1) What’s your ideal day ten years from now?
    2) How can you get there?
    3) Are you willing to pay the toll?

  15. #15 Big Blue
    June 29, 2010

    Well, I am probably not the right person to answer, as I work for MegaPharma and am undoubtedly providing the means of exploiting sick people, for sure.

    Be that as it may, I really like science for these reasons:

    1. You don’t actually need permission from old white d00dz to do it. It seems like that, but in fact once you truly grok the concept of experimental design, there is tons of shit you can do for low cost in your garage. See DIYBio, computer programming, and Barbara McClintock–when her grant applications were turned down, she used decorative corn as a model organism and did her transposon work in a patch of unused university yard. It limits what experiments you can do, and forces you to be very “elegant” and creative about your thinking processes, but it’s not impossible.

    Caution: You will have to slog through a lot of things you don’t like and find pointless in order to be able to do this sort of experimental design. It requires just knowing a lot, before you can make a sensible choice with a chance of success. I didn’t like memorizing representative critters of every order and 16s RNA classification, but it’s been unbelievably helpful.

    2. If you go into engineering, you can fix things. All kinds of things. If you go into science, you learn how to find stuff out–how to find anything out. Do not underestimate this power, it comes in handy: repairing stuff, growing stuff, building things, making and designing things of your own. In STEM, because (as you rightly noted) you are the originator of the product, you can work for yourself quite easily–you’re not tied to someone else’s ingenuity, really. If you want to have a startup, you can do that, many people do. See websites like InnoCentive, where organizations pose a “challenge” and ask for “solvers” to figure out a solution.

    3. You do get a chance, one of the rare chances in this world, to do stuff that helps make it a better place. Are the drugs I sent to clinical trials this year overpriced and won’t make it to many poor people who need them? Yes, no doubt about it–but at least they are making it to someone who needed help. And sooner rather than later, they will be knocked off by Teva or Dr Reddy’s or someplace where IP laws are not enforced, at which point they will become available in developing countries too. I think, personally, that is better than those drugs never being invented at all.

    My pre-college jobs consisted of waitressing, clerking in a video rental shop, copyediting a newspaper on the night shift, proofreading drafts for an offest printer, cleaning hotel rooms, door-to-door sales, and clerking at a copy shop. My first science job out of college sucked, but the second one got better, and the third was way awesome. It definitely gets better, whereas the pre-college jobs promised nothing but suckitude for ever. Worse, none of my co-workers gave a shit and were not interested in improving The System or anything else for that matter. They wanted to get through the day, go home, and have a beer or six.

    Bear in mind that I am one of the “failures” as I am emphatically not an academic. OTOH, I have a multimillion $$ budget and not-inconsiderable intellectual freedom, in many ways more freedom than the academics because I rarely teach and don’t write grants. I only wear a suit on special occasions, such as when my employer wishes to give me a Certificate of Appreciation in a handsome plastic frame. I come and go more or less as I please, although of course the work itself means several hours per day on site, but I’m not chained to a bench or even a desk.

    My $0.02. Take it as you will.

  16. #16 phdkso
    June 29, 2010

    I enjoyed this string and as a scientist, now retired, I give a talk on the academics of bullshit. My point is that every student should be introduced to the academic literature on bullshit because the ability to recognize what is important and what is bullshit is perhaps the most important thing that educational institutions can impart; but few do:

    If one uses google scholar with the search string “on bullshit” one is rewarded 24,700 hits of what should be mainly the academic, scholarly, peer reviewed literature on the subject – a search with google books will yield 5,500 hits. While the revival of studies on bullshit is generally credited to the phenomenal success of Princeton University emeritus philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt’s 2005 book simply entitled “On Bullshit”, this author is of the opinion that Neil Postman’s paper delivered at the National Convention for the Teachers of English on November 28, 1969 in Washington, D.C. entitled “Bullshit and the Art of Crap-Detection” should be the first reference any student should read. Postman made the following point: “As I see it, the best things schools can do for kids is to help them learn how to distinguish useful talk from bullshit.” A little later he continues: “every day in almost every way people are exposed to more bullshit than it is healthy for them to endure”. It was left to Frankfurt to proclaim that “one of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit”; however, the purpose of this short submission is to draw to the attention of readers that the rapidly expanding academic literature on bullshit has something of interest for everyone.

    1. Brandenburg, Heinz, Short of Lying – The prevalence of bullshit in political communication, presented at the Annual Conference of the Political Studies Association, Reading, 4-6 April, 2006. This excellent paper is no longer on the Internet but can be obtained from the author.
    2. For anyone wanting to go deeper into bullshit the book by Gary L. Hardcastle and George A. Reisch, 2006, Bullshit and Philosophy – guaranteed to get perfect results every time, Open Court, Chicago is a must library addition.
    While the entire book is worth reading, although some chapters are heavy slugging, the following chapters are highly recommended:
    Chapter 6 by University of British Columbia Professor Alan Richardson – Performing Bullshit and the Post-Sincere Condition, should be read by every politician and voter.
    Chapter 14 by Heather Douglas – Bullshit at the Interface of Science and Policy: Global Warming, Toxic Substances, and Other Pesky Problems, page 215, is must reading for policy wonks, politicians and bureaucrats.
    • Canadians have made excellent contributions to the literature on bullshit as can be seen by visiting http://bullshitcitynorth.blogspot.com. Perhaps University of Manitoba professor John S. McCallum said it best in his 2005 Viewpoint – On Bullshit is not bullshit, Ivey Business Journal, Sept/Oct, page 1-3; however, as a Canadian writing on the subject I must not fail to mention the book by Canadian author Penny, Laura – 2005, Your Call is Important to Us: the Truth About Bullshit, Crown, New York . And finally I would note the message of management professor , Samuel, A. – Culbert, A. 2008 Beyond Bullsh*t – Straight-Talk at Work, Stanford U. Press, Stanford, California.

  17. #17 Kea
    June 29, 2010

    My experience has taught me that a love of science is not enough. Neither is determination or stubbornness or persistence. I end up going back, again and again, because I can’t help myself. This is my vocation, and even if I feel ten thousand years old at 43 I just have to keep going. By the same token, if you are not like me, you should leave before it destroys you. Like YFS said one day: the only possible way for this war to be won at some time in the future … might be for everyone to leave … for society to have its face rubbed in the shit. I can see it happening already. I won’t be leaving myself, but that is only because I am very peculiar.

  18. #18 Zuska
    June 29, 2010

    As I’ve said before, my parents thought a good (and sufficient) reason for me to go into a STEMmy major was the promise steady work and decent $$, without having to work shift work (ergo: social class mobility!). It was my own damn fault I turned it into a “career”.

    Princeton University emeritus philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt’s 2005 book simply entitled “On Bullshit”

    I soooooooooo love.

    this author is of the opinion that Neil Postman’s paper delivered at the National Convention for the Teachers of English on November 28, 1969 in Washington, D.C. entitled “Bullshit and the Art of Crap-Detection” should be the first reference any student should read.

    Have not. Would like!

  19. #19 skeptifem
    June 29, 2010

    Anonymous- well, you made a list of the kinds of science that I am not really into. Kinda funny, how that worked out.

    DC sessions- that is such a job interview question. I would be lying to myself if I said I know the answer to the first question. I have no idea what will happen, or what I will learn, and how that will change me. I am trying to do things that will effect some kind of positive change for my community and hope that the influence spreads.

    I will reply to other folks later, I am pondering all this pretty carefully…

  20. #20 Zuska
    June 29, 2010

    That “where do you see yourself in 5/10 years” question was made up, I think, by people who perceive themselves as having a great deal of control over their own destiny, and who are eager to teach others to believe in and desire that worldview. I’m not saying we are all just puppets being jerked by someone’s strings, or blades of grass whipped by the wind, but: none of the things I ended up doing was even remotely in my viewfinder at the start of college – or even at the start of grad school. Or even, when I was a postdoc, I had no idea at all the shape my career would take ten years down the road. Or that it would end soon after that.

    If I knew then what I do know, I would have answered that stupid question every time I got it (and I got it, even in grad school, from knuckleheads who weren’t even interviewing me for anything) something like “No idea. But I hope that what I am doing now will prepare me to be in a position of maximum flexibility to deal with the crazy things life throws at me, to have as many choices as possible, and to be able to respond rapidly when unexpected good opportunities come up, or I find myself in unexpectedly bad situations.”

  21. #21 D. C. Sessions
    June 29, 2010

    DC sessions- that is such a job interview question.

    Unfortunately true. I’ve never used it as such, though — to me it was part of trying to understand other people at the personal level. A lot of us don’t really think in terms of values or other abstractions, so asking about concrete images is another way to approach the same objective.

    That “where do you see yourself in 5/10 years” question was made up, I think, by people who perceive themselves as having a great deal of control over their own destiny, and who are eager to teach others to believe in and desire that worldview.

    I find the question much more interesting than the answers that the recruiters are looking for. What matters, to me, is how it pushes us to define what’s important to us. From the sound of it, you put a high value on flexibility in the face of adversity (which isn’t exactly a surprise.)

    However, the point to me is that it’s a tool to help think about what matters to us, personally. You never need to tell anyone the answers — certainly not me.

  22. #22 Zuska
    June 29, 2010

    My point, though, is that the question arose as an interview tool, by people who imagined they controlled their destiny and wanted to sell that worldview to others. Whatever you may think of that question, or whatever purposes you personally use it for, when you ask it of others, you are selling that worldview. You can’t not. That’s why douchey professors who thought they were “helping” me asked me that question – in the first raw months after my father died quite unexpectedly, for example, when I was in shock from the loss and grieving him. Had to keep me focused on controlling my destiny.

    Now I’m gonna stop talking about this, because I’m hijacking the conversation that is supposed to be about skeptifem’s question.

  23. #23 D. C. Sessions
    June 29, 2010

    Whatever you may think of that question, or whatever purposes you personally use it for, when you ask it of others, you are selling that worldview. You can’t not.

    Fair enough — it’s a contaminated tool that is no longer fit for the purpose of drilling down to the question of, “what matters to you?”

    Substitute another tool for the purpose.

    skeptifem: what matters to you? It doesn’t have to be some intellectual or moral passion, even if for some of us that’s the answer. What matters is what matters to you. Per Zuska, you may have limited power to do anything about it but you do have choice. Choose wisely, according to your own standards.

  24. #24 jc
    June 30, 2010

    I feel like hairymathbitch. No one needed to convince me to become a scientist. When I teach classes, there are women who come up to me telling me literally “I want to do what you do” and “I had no idea women did this kind of research” which makes me happy and sad at the same time. Little girls get excited when I give talks at schools, they ask awesome sciency questions. Their mothers do not ask sciency questions, instead they ask me if I have kids and a husband, tell me how driven I am, say that I’m the first woman scientist they ever met(!!!), that I must be super-smart, etc.

    I didn’t always know what I wanted to do. I did internships every year in college to figure that out. Some reallyreally sucked, and I never wanted to repeat those jobs. But others opened doors for me, and I met good people who believed in me. I kept going in science because of the good people I met, and looking around and knowing that I could do what the people around me were doing, and probably do it better. Sexism, racism, all the isms weren’t on my radar until I had my PhD in hand. It dawned on me that men perceived me as a threat, and they did their best to put me in my place. This happens on a regular basis, in fact, it happened today where a douche blew up and threw a tantrum about me scooping his non-existent shit. It’ll wear anyone down if there isn’t a love for the work. The shitty salary for years also drives lots of people out. I get up in the morning thinking about what experiments I’m going to do, what can I set up, how I’m going to analyze data. I’ve never been able to turn off the sciency part of my brain. The turnoffs are the polidicking, the douche tantrums, having to prove myself over and over and over again, watching idiots get hired into good positions, repeat myself 15 times, and the boyz club powerdicking.

    Like Z, I also had no idea when I started down the sciency road where things would go. I still don’t know! My number one goal is to avoid asshats in collaborations, jobs, etc. I know that I can get things done and keep my sanity around good people, so that’s been the driving force around my decisions lately, rather than chasing cool projects and positions.

  25. #25 Kea
    June 30, 2010

    It dawned on me that men perceived me as a threat, and they did their best to put me in my place.

    Heck, yeah, it took me ages to see this for what it was, even though the totally random unjustified abuse should have been a big clue. For example, if I try to even mention sexism on some exclusively male blogs, they delete my comments. Even if the post is about yet another 100% male conference speaker list, a situation they must view as a perfectly natural one. That’s a relatively pleasant example, which does not involve face to face combat.

  26. #26 cass_m
    June 30, 2010

    Great question. I’ve done a few different jobs. I did research at a Uni and an off campus research group as well as having worked for a large US Multi for the past decade. Other than loving lab work, I’ve found the jobs I have let me be pretty independant once the parameters are set. I have lots of different task opportunities.

    I thought research at a Uni was sexist then went to work at a commercial real estate firm. Not only did I had the work but I got to watch nice guys get mentored into complete jerks in a couple of months. Quickly fled back to STEM.

  27. #27 prodigal academic
    June 30, 2010

    One of the issues I wrestle with is something you seem to be asking as well: how much work do I personally need to do to make the world a better place vs. how much I can just live in the life I have now, benefitting from the work of others. This is not something that you can solve by leaving STEM. In this regard, I find inspiration from the words of Rabbi Tarfon in the Pirkei Avot: “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet, you are not free to desist from it.” I think that it is always possible to make a difference in the world (no matter how small) from any position in life. And making this difference is important to me, but I also am entitled to enjoy my life as well. Maybe you need to focus now on your unionization efforts, and come back to STEM at a later point?

    I am not going to quit learning- I learn about math and science in my free time, without the credit. The awarding of certificates for doing so is so much more about conformity than learning that I am unwilling to do much more of it. I am happy learning without a GPA or deadline for understanding the material.

    I am really impressed that you are disciplined enough to do this while working full time. I, like FrauTech, don’t have the self-discipline to put in the grunt work required to master the basics on my own without a class to force me to keep doing it regularly. If you do go that route, I highly recommend MIT’s OpenCourseware and iTunesU, both of which I’ve had some good experiences with.

    As for why I stick it out in STEM, I do it because I really enjoy it. My STEM jobs have been really fun (and well paid). I get to do different stuff every day, and get paid to learn! All the school was a bit of a slog, but I wanted to be qualified for the types of jobs I’ve had, and that meant a PhD. The bs in your course load drops as you move up (highest in prereq stuff, lowest in grad school). The political bs does increase as you go along, though. That is probably true in any field.

    Big blue has some excellent thoughts about DIY science, and also about having to slog through the grunt work in order to do the fun and exciting stuff. It isn’t just about paying dues–do enough practice problems, and it will become much, much easier to set up attack plans for problems you encounter in your science/math.

    I don’t find STEM to be that much more sexist than the rest of life. I think some people who think of science as extremely sexist have limited experience outside of it. I think some people are justifiably resentful that STEM is made up of humans who exist in our current culture, and reflect that culture even as they claim it is a meritocracy. We will never have an inclusive STEM field without dismantling the external cultural drive for sexism, racism, ablism, heteronormativity, classism, etc. More on that here.

    As for having to learn how to taste wine and all that bs, the cost of cultural code switching to yourself is something only you can answer. I will say that unless you hit the privilege lottery at birth (for the US this means male, white, middle class or higher, Christian, able-bodied, heterosexual, natively English speaking), you will have to do some of this. Your taste and tolerance for it will vary. My experience in STEM jobs and internships suggests that conformity becomes somewhat less important as you move up a bit, especially if all you want is to be able to work fairly autonomously on STEM-stuff that interests you. To move up the ladder, you will need to politic a lot more. YMMV, since this is anecdata.

    Good luck, and I hope you will continue to participate in discussions online whatever you decide to do. I find your comments to be thoughtful and interesting.

  28. #28 prodigal academic
    June 30, 2010

    One of the issues I wrestle with is something you seem to be asking as well: how much work do I personally need to do to make the world a better place vs. how much I can just live in the life I have now, benefitting from the work of others. This is not something that you can solve by leaving STEM. In this regard, I find inspiration from the words of Rabbi Tarfon in the Pirkei Avot: “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet, you are not free to desist from it.” I think that it is always possible to make a difference in the world (no matter how small) from any position in life. And making this difference is important to me, but I also am entitled to enjoy my life as well. Maybe you need to focus now on your unionization efforts, and come back to STEM at a later point?

    I am not going to quit learning- I learn about math and science in my free time, without the credit. The awarding of certificates for doing so is so much more about conformity than learning that I am unwilling to do much more of it. I am happy learning without a GPA or deadline for understanding the material.

    I am really impressed that you are disciplined enough to do this while working full time. I, like FrauTech, don’t have the self-discipline to put in the grunt work required to master the basics on my own without a class to force me to keep doing it regularly. If you do go that route, I highly recommend MIT’s OpenCourseware and iTunesU, both of which I’ve had some good experiences with.

    As for why I stick it out in STEM, I do it because I really enjoy it. My STEM jobs have been really fun (and well paid). I get to do different stuff every day, and get paid to learn! All the school was a bit of a slog, but I wanted to be qualified for the types of jobs I’ve had, and that meant a PhD. The bs in your course load drops as you move up (highest in prereq stuff, lowest in grad school). The political bs does increase as you go along, though. That is probably true in any field.

    Big blue has some excellent thoughts about DIY science, and also about having to slog through the grunt work in order to do the fun and exciting stuff. It isn’t just about paying dues–do enough practice problems, and it will become much, much easier to set up attack plans for problems you encounter in your science/math.

    I don’t find STEM to be that much more sexist than the rest of life. I think some people who think of science as extremely sexist have limited experience outside of it. I think some people are justifiably resentful that STEM is made up of humans who exist in our current culture, and reflect that culture even as they claim it is a meritocracy. We will never have an inclusive STEM field without dismantling the external cultural drive for sexism, racism, ablism, heteronormativity, classism, etc. More on that here.

    As for having to learn how to taste wine and all that bs, the cost of cultural code switching to yourself is something only you can answer. I will say that unless you hit the privilege lottery at birth (for the US this means male, white, middle class or higher, Christian, able-bodied, heterosexual, natively English speaking), you will have to do some of this. Your taste and tolerance for it will vary. My experience in STEM jobs and internships suggests that conformity becomes somewhat less important as you move up a bit, especially if all you want is to be able to work fairly autonomously on STEM-stuff that interests you. To move up the ladder, you will need to politic a lot more. YMMV, since this is anecdata.

    Good luck, and I hope you will continue to participate in discussions online whatever you decide to do. I find your comments to be thoughtful and interesting.

  29. #29 Meg Thornton
    June 30, 2010

    My reason for going into IT: I have a brain, and I want to use it on a day-to-day basis.

    No, really. I did a year’s worth of standard office work, and it just about drove me clean around the bend. It was mind-numbingly dull. I put figures into databases, I filed paperwork, and then the next day I came back and I did the same damn thing again. The only time I had to put in any mental energy into anything at all was when I was answering the question “well, what would I like for lunch?”, so maybe about twenty minutes thought per week. It’s not enough to keep the mind alive.

    So from that job, I went into helpdesk work, and loved it. I was helping people. I was solving problems. I was getting challenged, frustrated, annoyed, irritated, and amused on a daily basis.

    I did helpdesk work for five years, and never once regretted the change. But then came the great financial crash of 2008, and I wound up out of work and apparently unemployable because I was too old, too female, too fat and Not Pretty Enough to be “office totty” material. So now I’m back at university, studying for a BSc in IT, because what the heck, it’s a field I like, and it’s somewhere I know I can keep my brain working.

    I do not ever want to go back to full-time office work.

  30. #30 Birger Johansson
    June 30, 2010

    Regardless of what courses and careers women choose, eventually the career is slowed down (for most) by chilbirth. In theory, the parents should share the burden, and maybe we will get there in another 30-40 years but right now it is damn hard for women to keep up their careers without postponing childbirth until the biological clock is dangerously late.
    So this will be good news for women who want to postpone childbirth:
    Ongoing pregnancy rates from vitrified eggs as good as those from fresh
    http://www.physorg.com/news197042202.html
    If this study is correct, it will be possible for women to pursue a carreer and not risk infertility or chromosome duplications in the fetus if they try to get children later in life.

  31. #31 Cherish
    June 30, 2010

    I decided that I can’t handle having a job where I’m not learning something new. Yeah, there is a lot of BS that goes along with academia and definitely some of the learning is ‘how to play the game’. I could spend time learning on my own. But I want to spend most of my time learning, which means having people around me who are smart and can teach me things. It means having a job where I have to learn new things on a regular basis. I just feel like doing something else wouldn’t be enough. I seriously tried to look at other things, to figure out something else. But the longer or farther I got away from academics, the more unhappy I became. It just didn’t fulfill me.

    I say that you should go down the path and see how it feels. If you are happier, you made the right choice. If not, then maybe you need to make your way back.

  32. #32 Jim Thomerson
    June 30, 2010

    Interesting comments about bad courses. I had course once that was so bad I got up and walked out several times. I had to make a C because it was a required course, and did so. Some years later, a full professor, I found my class notes in the back of a file drawer. Even from my poor and incomplete notes, I could see that the course was brilliant. In this particular case, I think the badness of that course was a result of my level of intellectual development at the time. It was a large section, maybe 150 students, so there was no possibility of the professor tailoring the course for people at my stage of intellectual development. Perhaps if it had been a small class, the professor could have helped me develop and appreciate the course. Well, I survived anyway.

  33. #33 Comrade PhysioProf
    June 30, 2010

    That “where do you see yourself in 5/10 years” question was made up, I think, by people who perceive themselves as having a great deal of control over their own destiny, and who are eager to teach others to believe in and desire that worldview.

    I agree, and I think that the question is totally boring and useless, unless it is used as a lead in to “well, I’ll bet you fifty gazillion dollars that (1) that’s not where you’re gonna be and (2) that you’ll wonder why you ever thought that’s where you wanted to be”.

  34. #34 becca
    June 30, 2010

    I think a much better question is “what would you do with fifty gazillion dollars?”

  35. #35 GMP
    June 30, 2010

    CPP at 5 pretty much said it…
    For me, science is a constant source of intellectual challenge. Plus, I cannot stand having a boss, so being an academic was the only thing for me really… I feel very lucky that it worked out.

    Like with anything in life, you can embrace STEM out of love or out of pragamtism: if there is nothing you love better, you might as well stay with STEM for the very good pay that such jobs offer.

  36. #36 Jim Thomerson
    July 1, 2010

    I think it is good to understand oneself and know what one wants to accomplish. It gives one a, perhaps very small, rudder for use in sailing the turbulent seas of life. Looking back, I got diverted three times, by situations too good to pass up. When I turned 50, and had my mid life crisis, I considered the option of moving down one of the well paying alternatives, and retiring early. Fortunately, I decided to get back on track, stay with the university, and pursue my main research goals. I served a term as chair, but managed it such that it did not divert me from my chosen path.

  37. #37 Dr Jekyll & Mrs Hyde
    July 1, 2010

    I’m responding to this part:

    The shit just builds up thicker from this point on,

    Yesss….but find a career trajectory in which that’s NOT true. Corporations, even non-profits, usually require a significant amount of dues-paying. The crap like reference formatting isn’t really about being an English major, as you note–it’s about demonstrating that you are willing to do some crappy stuff in order to bypass the people who are not willing to do that stuff. Replace “reference formatting” with “photocopying” or “dish cleaning” or whatever, there’s something like that in a hella lot of jobs.

    I wanted to be a veterinarian, until I discovered that the vets I teched for were either (a) people I didn’t want to become, or (b) bored out of their minds with doing yet another cat spay. I wanted every day to be different, and I loved biology research questions, so academic research in STEM is where I ended up. But I’d try to separate out the threads of “involves useless bullshit” and “why STEM”–your (skeptifem’s) post sounds like that distinction isn’t drawn clearly enough.

  38. #38 Sharon Astyk
    July 3, 2010

    My training was not in STEM, but I admit, I had much the same crisis moment that Skeptifem had in my own field, and I think Zuska’s right – she not wrong. Every set of choices comes with a price, often a big one, and frankly, I think most of us don’t necessarily know what prices we’re signing up to pay when we make our choices. Discovering that you picked something, unknowing, where the price was too high is not necessarily a bad thing – that’s a useful thing to know about yourself.

    I started to go into academia because I wanted to be like some of the people I admired most, and because I wanted to do things that mattered. Along the way, I found better ways to do what mattered, and I eventually never finished the Ph.d and stepped away from academia altogether. I have some regrets about that – but fundamentally I think the process was the discovery of what the trade offs, the institutional bullshit, the gender divisions actually were. I think few of us realize when we are younger that we are picking a lifestyle, not a career – we have some flexibility within that, but “high powered career” is a lifestyle. Academia is a lifestyle – both these things frame every part of your life, from where you will live to how you will spend your time and what you will prioritize. Other choices are also lifestyle choices.

    So the question is a variation of DC’s question – what do you want to do with your life (ideally screamed in the Twisted Sister video-style ;-))? What kind of life do you want (and this covers whole chunks of things including class, location, family structure, gender roles, institutional bullshit you may have to deal with…)? What is compatible with you having that life – or what compromises are you willing to make? This does not presume that you have the power to make all the choices, or that you are wholly free – but it does begin to get you to see where you do have choices, and what the compromises are that go wtih different kinds of lives.

    Sharon

  39. #39 B
    July 4, 2010

    CPP’s reasons work for me (TT prof in Engineering) — except for the wearing what you want thing. As a woman, I have found that’s not true. There is still something of a uniform in my discipline, and stepping outside it is apparently frowned upon. Apparently being a woman is enough of a shock to the STEM system where I work without me having the nerve (shock! horror!) to wear a dress or skirt. And being a minority on top of that? I was essentially told that I stand out like a sore thumb and will have a hard enough time as it is, and perhaps I shouldn’t add to that by not adhering to the uber-casual gender neutral dress code. I think the ‘wear whatever you want’ thing only applies to those who wish to dress down and are preferably male.

    That said (sorry for venting), the job has a lot going for it, and CPP summed up the best parts. It blows my mind that I get paid to think.

  40. #40 nobody
    July 5, 2010

    Interesting post. I am troubled that none of the commenters are really picking up on the class thing. Here’s the thing, I’m very much into STEM. Went to school, jumped through the hoops, got all the degrees. I’m absolutely brilliant. And humble. I’d be a huge asset to any company. But I can’t figure out how to find out about jobs. Even before the economy started to suck, I couldn’t figure out how to find out about jobs. It’s a class-based secret that is carefully guarded by the upper echelons of society. Someone who is this frustrated by the training process is probably is even further behind me on the class learning curve. Which makes pursuing a STEM degree, or any degree for that matter, a complete waste of time. You won’t be let into the club, so you might as well just take your low paying blue collar job. It beats the heck out of being over qualified for any job you can find out about.

  41. #41 Chris
    July 5, 2010

    If you are a woman then avoid STEM like the plague. And if that advice comes too late, then leave it while you still have some semblance of health and sanity. There is this strange theory that we should be encouraging girls into STEM as only by doing this will things get better for women. But I think this is unconscionable. This is not going to change what happens to them once they are in it: it is leading precious lambs to a bloody slaughter. If you are a woman, you will be patronised by peers, administrative staff and students alike. You will be isolated, excluded, have your ideas stolen, your hard-earned resources freely distributed amongst the department, and your confidence pummelled day in and day out by little incidents that taken in isolation don’t count for much but day after day after day wear you down… Initially, until your early thirties or so, you will be in complete denial and you will tragically contribute to the status quo, cringing if anyone points out that there might be a problem for women and doing your best to be a bloke and a good sport and ‘one of the guys’ and defend the status quo. But the day will come when you simply cannot remain in denial any more: now its not just your male peers but also guys substantively more junior than you who are getting tenure, when you’re still waiting for it; who are invited to be editors, speakers, collaborators on projects, committee leaders, etc etc and if you dare to voice discontent you will be told not to make comparisons, or accused of being ‘high maintenance’ or ‘hysterical’ to your face and god knows what behind your back. But it is what goes on behind your back that really screws you: I know alot of women who should have been enjoying the fruits of 10 years post PhD labours and who could have been despite the isolation and exclusion if they had actually been left alone to do their science. But the funny thing about the isolation and exclusion that you have to face is that behind the scenes, if you are any good at your job, you are not left alone. These women have left science and they did not do so willingly, they were bullied out. I have never heard this given as a reason as to why there are no senior women in STEM but this is the overwhelming reason I have seen women who were set to become senior scientists leave STEM. Sadly if you are a woman and you are a top notch scientist, then while it is not guaranteed, this is more than likely to be your fate. And it is a fate that risks your health and sanity. And no job is worth that.
    Somewhat off track but how the hell did Larry Summers get awarded a senior post in the Obama administration? If that has not gone by unremarked then I would be grateful if someone could point me to the commentary on this.

  42. #42 Silver Fox
    July 6, 2010

    I’m so glad I wasn’t filled with that (last) horse puckey when I was growing up. I have essentially gone, done what I wanted to do, albeit w/ some BS here and there (as a geologist in industry). I know it hasn’t worked out for everyone, in fact, it hasn’t always worked out for me, but I’m glad of the choice, wouldn’t change it for the world. Any world. (Maybe some other galaxy?)

    @nobody Finding jobs seems to be different in different fields. Profs should help. They *really should* (which isn’t to say that they always do).

  43. #43 Jim Thomerson
    July 6, 2010

    Was chatting with one of my female grad students. Female undergrad who had worked for me came in and said, “I need a job”. I gave her phone # and said ask for Lana (ex student). Female grad student was surprised, and commented, “You run a job placement bureau?” Of course, the whole point of being a Professor is to educate students and get them out in responsible positions where they can hire me as a consultant. :-) Seriously, one’s students are likely the most important part of one’s academic legacy.

  44. #44 skeptifem
    July 6, 2010

    nobody- it seems to be about who ya know. I don’t know anybody, either.

    chris- yeah, I think that is the boat I am in. Young dudes at small fry hospital labs getting ahead over more experienced women pisses me off endlessly, at least they aren’t being promoted over qualified women as a measure of their intellectual worth. I can’t imagine how terrible it must be to have it be about work you really care about.

  45. #45 Zuska
    July 7, 2010

    It seems to be about who you know, and what’s hanging off you. My ex and I finished our PhDs at exactly the same time – me at fancy private u, him at state u, both of us in engineering disciplines. His PI set him up in a nice postdoc situation with a well known researcher in a world famous research lab. Made all the calls, arranged the interview, showed him how to craft his c.v. for the particular job site, gave him specific interview tips. I asked my PI for help in finding jobs – because he clearly wasn’t coming to me with offers to set me up in fabbo postdocs in world famous locations. He said, “Most times, in these situations, it’s best to let the husband get his postdoc straightened out first, and then see what’s available in the area for the wife.”

    My PI. Touchingly concerned about my husband’s job arrangements taking first place. And then, he never did lift a finger to help me find a postdoc after that.

  46. #46 Jim Thomerson
    July 7, 2010

    Zuska, if I had been your PI in that time frame, I might have told you the same thing. However, being a state univ. type of professor, I would have made a couple of phone calls and fixed you up with the best deal available under the circumstances. Hopefully, in later life, you would mention to colleagues at meetings that you were my student. I bet you don’t do that for your PI.

  47. #47 Chris
    July 7, 2010

    Dear Zuska as fucked as it all is, it is a comfort to learn that one is not alone in the fuckedupedness, which is yet another reason I love your site. 15 years ago when I got my PhD and asked my PI if he had suggestions for where I could find a postdoc he said he was going to help the other (male) students in the group and not me as my husband would take care of me. Now divorced and unemployed I wonder if I should try asking him again.
    JT it really makes no difference whether your ex-students say nice things about you or not- if they later end up being successful you can still claim all the credit for that, and you wont have to try very hard at all to do this if you are a male and the ex-student is female. The ex-student likely won’t say anything bad about you anyway for fear of burning bridges: the insidious single-blind peer review system that journals and funding agencies insist on guarantees that it is in fact in their best interests to pro-actively laud you at all times and as loudly as possible.
    If you have a penis who you know is quite important. If you don’t it really doesn’t matter one way or another.

  48. #48 Jim Thomerson
    July 7, 2010

    During my graduate student years, I met a lot of people in my area, (ichthyology) at meetings, on field trips, people visiting my institution, or me visiting other institutions for my own research. Actually my major professor did not do as much to place me as I would have liked. I found my own job, but he did support me with letters and phone calls when I asked him to. As it happened, I already knew the chair of the department where I found a position. People who were graduate students at various institutions about the same time I was a graduate student have been more helpful overall than my professors. I did not have a PhD program, but there are some 15 or 16 active PhD’s out there who have had my ichthyology course. I’ve continued professional association with several of them and consider them among my closest friends.

    I think it is really important to get to know people in your profession while you are a graduate student. People who know you are going to do more for you than people who don’t know you. (At least one would hope so.)

  49. #49 Benjamin
    July 16, 2010

    skeptifem brings up some very important criticisms about the way that many people view higher education, and I struggled with these criticisms for many years before deciding to get a college degree.

    My family had no means of helping me go to college, and knew very little about how it worked. I thought that if I were to go to college, I would have to literally save up my entire tuition costs before I started. I didn’t know that college debt was common. I dropped out of high school because I felt it was such an uncritical environment for learning, and felt like I could teach myself whatever I needed to learn. For many years, I thought college was out of reach, but I loved learning.

    For the next 8 years, from 16 years old to 24 years old, I taught myself a lot of things, through work and self-study: I read a ton of books; learned how to farm, how to build houses, how to play music, Spanish, and lots of other things. But when I was 24, I took some community college classes in chemistry to help with the plumbing work I was doing and while at the school, I realized that one thing I had never been around was a community of intellectuals—a community of people who liked to think about things deeply and to explore things critically for their own sake. I knew some smart people, but few people choose to dedicate their life to satisfying their intellectual curiosity.

    I decided to get a degree whether or not I could afford it, because life isn’t about money, and I knew how to deal with being poor already. I had nothing to lose, really. I’m completing my BA right now, and I can say that the most valuable thing about a university is the people and interactions you gain access to, not the obvious job prospects of one discipline or another. The things I’ve learned from conversation and references have far exceeded the value of things I could have taught myself on my own. Then there’s the lasting friendships with brilliant, amazing people.

    That said, I still find myself worrying over friction over class—especially the implicit cultural expectations of class. Most of my peers in school were and are middle class, and they act like it. I am really sensitive to it. I notice when they treat janitors like invisible people, or when they can go on vacation overseas like its no big deal, or when they start glorifying poor people. Nowadays, I am adapting to middle-class cultural values out of professional and social necessity. It’s ok, and not soulless at all. It means that I will awkwardly and grudgingly purchase fancy clothes to go to a party where I’ll meet lots of professionals. It means being honest and unapologetic when I don’t know anything about a wine or other European cities or fine art, but that I stay curious because calling something snooty is often the same as simply choosing to stay ignorant about the value of that ‘snooty’ practice.

    As for STEM, and an ethical and rewarding career, I think the emphasis on STEM careers over others is absurd. Universities are amazing resources for learning, and shouldn’t be treated as mere vocational schools. Liberal arts degrees and creative disciplines can lead to equally rewarding careers and offer many under-appreciated skills. But overall, this world needs more professionals who take responsibility for the larger social implications of their work, who are willing to stop at enough money, who are determined to be sensitive to others and find ways to benefit others, who really want to solve problems, who aren’t scared of money, and who are critical, skeptical, and creative. So if you hate the status quo, I think you have that much more obligation to acquire the skills and professional status to change it.

    Thanks. Good discussion.

  50. #50 skeptifem
    July 16, 2010

    I think I am going to do emergency medical training… I really dig the idea of being a street medic for protestors someday. I could use my knowledge to educate my community, too. It seems like this is stuff that everyone should know, but schools aren’t teaching it.

  51. #51 Cara
    July 17, 2010

    Skeptifem,that would be very cool.

  52. #52 Comrade Svilova
    July 17, 2010

    A close friend is an EMT and she does incredible work, seeing a lot of medically interesting cases, but also getting to provide really critical care and support for others. I don’t know if I’d have the strength to do what she does, but it is pretty freaking amazing, impressive, exciting (or so she says), and interesting (or so it sounds). Good luck, Skeptifem!