Minorities in hard sciences

I am always interested in hearing about minorities in the sciences, so I was happy to discover that there was an article on astro-ph on this topic. It is described for example here.

However, this article really shocked me.

It gives 6 survival strategies for minorities in the hard sciences (like women or African-Americans). All of them seem totally ridiculous to me. Here are the “strategies” and my comment to them.

1. Obliviousness. Some people,  for example people with Asperger’s syndrome, will simply not notice sexism or racism, which may help them to stay happy.

What??? I am sure it is possible that people with Asperger’s will not notice some forms of subtle discrimination, but of course they will notice if the subtle discrimination turns into something more nasty, and I think they are actually at a disadvantage if they do not pick up early indications of who might turn against them. In addition, having Asperger’s can cause problem in forming alliances with other people.

2. Strong Familial Support. 

How is that a survival strategy? Either you have it, or you don’t. I would assume most people who are minorities in their field actually do not have it. But maybe I am wrong.

3. Strong Departmental Support. 

I am not sure if that would be so helpful. In the end, it is about your entire field, and your department only has a limited amount of power.

4. Divine Inspiration

Here they suggest that being religious might help. But again. Either you have that inspiration, or you don’t. Surely they do not think I need to convert to christianity in order to get a PhD in physics?

5. Disconnect 

Here they suggest to tell yourself that everything will be better later.

6. Therapy and Medication.

Are you saying, as a minority I need to take medication to survive in my job? Why the heck would I want a job that I can only survive being drugged?

I think these strategies are all totally worthless.

I would instead suggest those strategies (not that I am able to apply all of them too well, but that is another story):

1. Form alliances with people you trust. Really work to keep those alliances alive. Visit your friends at other institutes, write e-mails to catch up, try to find projects that you can work on together. If a senior person treats you well, stay in contact with the person, also if it requires effort.

2. React to subtle and non-subtle hints of racism and sexism. If it is clear enough, get angry and take a stand (also if it is against other people or minorities than yourself). If you once go over the top, this is no big deal. People will be more careful after that. If you only have a suspicion that people are sexist and/or racist (a gut feeling that you cannot really explain), stay away from them as far as you can and continue observing. Trust your feeling.

3. Enjoy your work. That is the most important thing. The Universe belongs to all of us and we all have the right to study it.

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2 Responses to Minorities in hard sciences

  1. skyride says:

    Most of these are what we’d call victim-blaming. They remove the fault of racism/sexism/etc. from where it belongs: the perpetrator(s). #1– ignorance is bliss? I didn’t realize anyone bought that!

    All of these “tips” only perpetuate the system by encouraging people to keep their heads down and comply. I can see why you were shocked!

    Food for thought– thank you for sharing!

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