As a lady scientist of color, I have felt like the impostor in the room many many times. Here are two specific things that made me want to switch out of the hard sciences when I was in college. I want to mention them because I suspect they play a part in the lack-of-women-and-minorities-in-STEM-fields issue:
#1 - Being met with incredulity when I said I didn’t know something in a science class. Nothing made me doubt my own abilities more than this. I was so shocked by this behavior when I first started taking math and science courses in college that I straight-up stopped asking questions for about two years. Ask me how much that set me back.
#2 - Asking someone about their class or their research, and they explained it in jargon that was obviously not part of my lexicon. This always made me feel like I just didn’t have the brains or background necessary to pursue the higher-level science classes that I wanted to. Also, it’s a dick move. Also also, there is no slicker way to bore someone, so just don’t do it. My advisor at Stanford, who was totally brilliant, always argued that it takes a really really smart scientist to communicate science in a way that is understandable to nonscientists. That guy publishes like it’s his job (disclaimer: it is), so take heed friends!
The real point here is that most girls are less likely to do the
- “what, you don’t know…?!?”
thing, or the
- “I’m just researching the implications for three dimensional homology jargon and filtration of jargon jargon, it’s pretty simple”
act. So when I first heard people talking like this about classes I was interested in, it was new and scary and made me feel like I was not cut out for science or math.
It wasn’t until many years later that it hit me that everyone has to learn something for the first time at some point, and asking ridiculous questions usually aids and abets this learning process.
However, I’m not one to rant about a problem without proffering a possible solution, so here is my recommendation:
Gentlemen (and ladies too!) in STEM fields, please, check your rhetorical behaviors, before you wreck the excitement and eagerness of women entering the field. Additionally, people will like talking to you better if you dispense with the jargon. I like you better already!
(also shout-out to jtotheizzoe for posting this comic. Love yr blog dude.)