Scholarships for "Special" People

Saw this over at The Chem Blog. Couldn't help offering my own spin on it. Chem Blog needs some serious shoe-puking.

I recommend you read the original, then my version. It will be more fun that way.

Oh god that is so freaking depressing isn't it? Reminds me of a sad story from when I was in grad school. Seems there was a boy with good looking transcripts but about equivalent to those of a girl in the program so they gave a hearty fellowship to the boy because, as you may have guessed, he's got a Y chromosome and this advantage must be exacerbated with fellowships, grants and pats on the back at undeserving times. Guy goes on to be a decent researcher while girl is forced back into teaching, even though she's obviously the better chemist. When the girl begins to mutter to herself about sexism, people cluck their tongues and talk about how loony she is. While guys certainly deserve a place in science, the whole thing struck me as substantially unfair since 1) this guy chemist turned out to be no better than average and 2) they had no way of knowing that to begin with. What's really depressing is I've seen this happen a zillion times over the course of my career.

If we make the "special" applicants (those with a Y chromosomal disorder) take "special" tests (like the 'are you a sexist ass' test) then we've made these special people special in a decidedly interesting way. Whereas if we just give them money gratis then we've made them special in a very...special...way. Therefore, we either have to assume they're useful and just take that risk, which is a seemingly very nonacademic thing to do, or do the un-PC thing and just give them money 'cause they did well as an undergrad, despite the realities (and imaginaries) their gender provided them.

Now, that said, I'm all for enticing men to come into sciences by offering fellowships to qualified candidates, but not at the expense of someone else more qualified. Which presents a unique issue here... how do you get around this problem? How do you make men feel welcome, but not privileged, in science without offering cash rewards for being... men.

Of course, it's politics, which is academic in every unbelievably nuanced way, so I simply offer the most logical advice: in the end, peer review has been shown (in an article published in Nature) to be substantially influenced by the gender of the applicant. Ulimately, his successes and her failures will be magnified, even if it will come at a higher cost for the school. And when she fails, you can mock her relentlessly until she starts cutting herself or jumps off the library.

Goddamn moronic asshats. Here's my further commentary:

You see reverse discrimination, and thus a widespread indictment of affimative action, because one woman failed to live up to the early promise of a scholarship SHE PRESUMABLY EARNED on the basis of an outstanding record, which you admit to. If she earned the scholarship, it was not affirmative action. In any case, affirmative action is NOT the awarding of scholarships and jobs to unqualified candidates. Affirmative action is assuring that a diverse candidate pool exists from which to draw on, and that the evaluation and selection process is as free from bias as possible. It is NOT the handing out of perks on the basis of gender or race - unless you count the unfair advantage that white men have had for the last millenium as affirmative action, then, okay, I'm with you on that definition of affirmative action.

When white men are awarded scholarships, or win a job, and fail to live up to the early promise they had shown, no one cries out that the system is broken and unfair advantage was conferred and white men are benefiting from affirmative action at the expense of others - do they? No, they see each individual white man as a separete case, meaningful only for his own particular story, instructive of nothing in general. But every woman, every non-white, stands in for the entire gender and race, their every action is a possible indictment. Bleah. It's the oldest form of prejudice in the book. Give it up.

More like this

Chemblog's post was internally inconsistent as well. 2nd paragraph, the male and female have equivalent transcripts. 5th paragraph, the male was more qualified? When? That was a pretty sucky post all the way around.

By ctenotrish, FCD (not verified) on 27 Sep 2007 #permalink

Zuska, I hope you will revisit the original site today. We've got the 'strawman' argument, the 'life is tough for men too so suck it up' argument, the 'stop making white men pay for the sins of their fathers' argument... it's a real smorgabord out there for you. You might need a time machine to get there though.

By geezlouise (not verified) on 27 Sep 2007 #permalink

How about flipping the usual women are discriminated argument on its head for a while. Lets get constructive here. How would you fix the system? How would you change the funding system? How would you offer women the support they need with out causing a new gender imbalance in science? I really would be interested in hearing from you Zuska (because I suspect you have a few fantastic ideas ;-) ), and your readers.

About to head out from mom's house for the airport, so here's a short reply: Check out anything that any of the NSF ADVANCE programs are doing. is a nice place to start. There are some excellent models for how to create lasting institutional transformation. It really burns my shorts when people think that moves towards gender equity are going to cause an "imbalance" for the poor downtrodden men. It's gender EQUITY, not "women will take over and dominate men".

The chemblog post is beyond dumb. The fellowship was awarded based on the equivalence of their transcripts and other qualifications. The writer admits that the fellowship committee had no way of knowing that the student who got the award would be unproductive while the student who lost the award would be a rock star. So, this proves what? That past performance is no guarantee of future results? That committees have imperfect information?

It's unfortunate for the productive student, but somehow I imagine a few unproductive male fellowship recipients are out there clogging up the pipeline too.

I read your version before reading the chemblog version, and when I read yours I thought "huh, this sounds like business as usual." Poor chemblog dude! It must suck to have the privilege you're so accustomed to put at risk like that!


So one promising female student gets a fellowship, but doesn't meet expectations. Thus, all fellowships for underrepresented parties constitute an "undeserved" pat on the back.

Don't they see that this is an egregious leap?

Apparently no. Another PhD student I told me that the lone woman in his group was being fired because she didn't meet expectations. Fair enough. But he also commented: "She was Professor [So-and-So]'s first female grad student. I doubt he'll hire another."


What this article shows is that when a guy screws up its because he screwed up, but when a women screws up its because women screw up. Very pukeworthy.

So I've read both posts as well as the comments on both. It is interesting to me that those who more or less agree with Kyle post there while those who find his opinion repulsive post here. Seems like a case of only exposing to information that furthers one's own pre-existing view. If you feel so strongly that Kyle is wrong, why don't you engage him in a dialogue?

As an example, my take on Kyle's post was that discrimination on the basis of gender/race/etc. *regardless of who benefits* us discrimination and is wrong. I certainly agree with that idea. Zuska mentions gender equity - a noble goal - but it seems some people need to refresh their understanding of the concepts of equality and equity. That is, by definition it is *just as wrong* to discriminate in favor of women as it is to discriminate against them.

Full disclosure, I am a male physical sciences graduate student and have witnessed gender discrimination against women in the field. I found it despicable and know that is still persists in the field though it is substantially less prevalent than in previous years. It is a problem, but further discrimination is not the answer.

By Social Science… (not verified) on 28 Sep 2007 #permalink

The reason I post here instead of a more noxious post like Chemblog's is that I can only handle so much insanity. Zuska, you and the other commenters already said it all, and well. I just hope the privilegeshare-aphobic come to their senses some day.

Yes, if you think Kyle is misguided and his opinions repulsive, you should definitely come over to The Chemblog and post there. I can almost guarantee that Kyle will not delete your comments and it'll be good to have the negative opinions over there. You might get derided and put down, but I think the negative opinion matters and it's good to make grad students (readers of The Chemblog) aware of it for the next time this type of issue comes up. Kyle may very well be wrong on this one, but ultimately this particular quarrel doesn't touch him since it's based in California and doesn't concern him personally.

I can almost guarantee (again) that saying bad things over there will not reinforce a negative view of 'equality for the genders' among male grad students, but will probably make others think about common situations that they may not have noticed in the future; that's what makes 'Thus Spake Zuska' so good. I'll also probably defend Kyle from the ridiculous insults though... as always.

By uncle sam (not verified) on 28 Sep 2007 #permalink

Thank you for writing what I was thinking... he could have been the flake just as easily. The "bolded" sentence in the original contradicts the first paragraph, which says they were about equal. How did she become less qualified by the second paragraph.

Cripes -- the illogical way these things are thought about makes me nuts.

By philosopherP (not verified) on 28 Sep 2007 #permalink

Kyle's blog is well-known in chemistry circles, so it's worth posting over there as well.

You notice that Kyle tried to have it both ways... first he posts something really offensive, with personal jabs at both the supposed woman offender as well as women in general. Then he backtracks later to say that actually he's just being the devil's advocate and that he's apparently supportive of minority scholarships. Also, he insults the woman's character, then says later in the comments that it's irrelevant to the discussion. His original post also put a heavy implication that he was criticizing a larger issue and he expanded to general commentary about "how do we keep women in science without paying them cash to be there" etc. Later in the comments he reverses to say that the post was only ever about a particular decision, which he also later admits was not even technically unfair since the female candidate was equal on paper and better suited the qualifications for the scholarship.

All in all, it sounds like a rant gone wrong. A discussion can't play that many conflicting points simultaneously. He claims later on that he just wants to get people talking, as though the tone and the diatribe was intentional simply to provoke as a means of discussion, but I'm not quite buying it. I think at least part or all was meant as intended.

By morestuff (not verified) on 28 Sep 2007 #permalink

I posted a series of questions, not really expecting anyone to read or reply:

Aren't boys rewarded with cash all the time? You know, getting fellowships, scholarships, and good jobs? And aren't there any boys who showed promise but never fulfilled it? A girl shouldn't be given a fellowship because her promise appears to be merely equivalent to a boy's? How was the committee supposed to know that she wouldn't fulfill her promising start? If the boy was such a "rock star," why didn't other opportunities open up? Has there been only one plum fellowship ever awarded in chemistry?

Chemblog"s post is the kind that just makes a girl feel like giving up. When you see this kind of stuff (disomy X disorder? could he be more condescending?), it just reminds you how many dudes out there are willing to write off all women as emotional messes capable of rational thought. And when he writes Zuska off as a "professional victim" he undermines any rational discussion of what is actually wrong with what he has to say.

And I think the fact that his post is internally inconsistent is quite telling. The boy and girl have equivalent transcripts at the beginning of the post. But later he says the guy was more qualified... I think he's just assuming that all things being otherwise equal, a guy will always be more qualified.

Ugh. Is science hopeless? Sometimes it feels like we're running as hard as we can just to stay in one place...

If it's any consolation, remember that Einstein, Bohr, Fermi, Dalton, Newton and all the others were affirmative action admits. It dims their luster a fair bit. One wonders how far they would have gotten on a level playing field.

Reading that chemblog entry, but especially reading his puerile replies to people who disagree with him, would have depressed me, if I weren't already depressed.

Who knew that Zuska was training us all to become victims?!?! And there I thought I felt empowered and inspired by her! But he's a man, and I'm just a hysterical woman whose graduate career was financed by a fellowship for special people, so what do I know?!?!

It's worthwhile to note that Kyle has now posted an appology:
Granted that when he hears about a woman getting funding and later failing, the first thing that comes to his mind is reverse discrimination, but the appology does address many of the other critiques towards him.

bsci, you notice he prefaces it by saying it's on "Ala Ozzys Blog"? it's a reference to the comments section on the original post where he says Zuska looks like Ozzy Osbourne. so yeah, when you preface an apology by calling a woman ugly to try to undermine her, it takes a little of the luster off.

It was clearly not the most heartfelt apology, but he did very publically concede multiple errors from his original post and that was relevant to the discussion on this blog.

You do have to admit, that picture does bear more than a passing resemblance to Ozzy Osbourne... which, is probably fine for a woman, and a bit weird for a guy. (I agree that Kyle's original comment was meant as an insult)

@bsci: I know, and I'm glad he admitted being wrong.. although he seems to be making an effort to erode the apology in the comments section. Zuska seemed to spur on some very reactionary vitriol. The irony is that they accuse her of being too humorless to appreciate Kyle's sarcasm, meanwhile, they can't seem to figure out that someone who bills herself the "attack engineer" just might be using aggresive hyperbole to get a reaction... kinda like Kyle himself.