Sunday, January 13, 2008

Women can't argue.

(This post was inspired by the book Women Don't Ask, among other things.)

Lately I find myself forced to attend seminars where I disagree with the speaker... and most of the people asking questions.

Once upon a time, I might have tried to 'ask' a 'question' in such a format as to argue with the overriding opinion of the Group. You know, a criticism cloaked as a pseudo-question.

Lately, for a variety of reasons but mainly because I'm Tired, I don't ask anything.

I don't want to argue.

Somewhere along the line I decided that maybe because of my personality, and at least partly because I'm female, it doesn't usually help my case or my mood to bring up alternative viewpoints. At least, not unless I have at least one other person in the room to back me up.

Sure, I might reach one or two not-yet-biased students in the room, who might be curious enough to ask about it afterwards or even go back to their lab and look it up.

But it that enough to make it worthwhile? Usually not.

I realize that Scientific Discourse is supposed to include Discussion Of Alternatives, and the other day I got a strange look from somebody whom I think was expecting me to pipe up about something when I chose to say nothing at all.

Of course maybe I was imagining that, but I'm wondering if this man has any concept of why someone like me might choose to keep her mouth shut in certain situations.

I hate that some people only respect you when you're constantly arguing with them. I find that bizarre.

I also hate that when I'm going to argue for something Different, I'm forced to be extraordinarily articulate... or else written off as Crazy/Stupid.

Maybe I'm just out of practice, but I just don't enjoy the part of communication where I have to spell out the most basic of concepts in order to make a point about something a bit bigger. I really don't enjoy having to condescend to people who choose to be deliberately obtuse.

Or maybe they're really that stupid? I can't say for sure.

Maybe worst of all, I really hate that I'm supposed to care what they think, or worse- try to change their minds when I know I can't (at least not from the vantage point of asking a pseudo-question at someone else's seminar).

It's these kinds of things that really make me question whether I would enjoy academia in the long run, or any kind of research much longer.

That, and talking to an incredibly successful friend who is up for tenure and telling me not to apply for jobs because I'd just be signing up for more of the same stuff I hate now.

I realize that he's upset right now because he got screwed by one of these typical funding snafus (got scored in the 8th percentile with a high priority, they funded down to 14th percentile, but they didn't fund him and said he should resubmit next time around).

But this is also one of the people who told me not to go to grad school. And boy do I wish I had been listening to him then.

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At 4:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I wish I never went to grad school, too. I'm a physicist, not a bio-whatever-you-are, but going to grad school was one of the worst decisions I ever made. Little did I know that I was signing up for 6 years of bullying, subtle and overt harassment, debasement, other people being given credit for my work and ideas, and loads of other demoralizing crap. And the evil old white men who made my life hell think that I should be happy about the whole thing, and refuse to speak to me if I hint that I didn't love it. I hate them. I hate grad school. I hate my PhD. I have a fantastic job now (postdoc at a fancy school, nice coworkers, fun projects), but was it worth it? NOOOOO! I wish that I had had the good sense to get a reasonable job doing something useful in a less hostile environment a long time ago.

At 5:42 PM, Anonymous JR said...

I guess you have been type casted as the "argumentative one"?

Do you ever feel like the square peg trying to fit into the round hole?

You are really at a cross-roads now. Your gut is telling you a lot. Your friends are telling you more. Don't be afraid to take a new risk. There really isn't that much to lose. Good luck!

At 10:27 AM, Anonymous Mrs Whatsit said...

We were just discussing this sort of thing in my lab the other day. We had been to a seminar and it seemed as though the speaker (despite the fact that several people brought it up) was hell-bent on not acknowledging any alternatives to his conclusions. This from a job candidate!

At 7:40 AM, Anonymous bsci said...

Faculty or not, if you want to stick in any field relating to science, technology, business, etc. arguing is key. When isn't it important to have people willing to criticize your ideas and willing to be criticized?
Perhaps you're just sick of arguing about your microcosm of the scientific world? (Especially if the people you are arguing with don't care what you are saying)

Questions are also not always perceived the same ways from both sides. For my current postdoc, I gave a 60 minute talk which took 90 minute due to questions that picked apart every assumption in my research. I left excited that I might work with people who were so knowledgeable and interested in the details and accuracy. When I started at the job, one questioner came up to me and apologized for being so hard on me!

At 5:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

off topic but i thought of you when i saw this paper. turns out discrimination is still everywhere. bleh

At 10:02 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


Thanks, that was enlightening for a variety of reasons.

I did not know that the average time to wait for a coffee is, what did they say 99 seconds? But for women it is on average 20 seconds longer.

I like the way they postulate possible reasons for this:
1) the male employees want to flirt with the female customers
2) women don't tip as well as men do, especially for small-ticket items like coffee
3) it's actually discrimination.

And that coffee shops where all the employees are female are actually faster for women customers. Whew! Who knew?

Of course I don't generally drink Fancy Coffee, but from now on I will make more of a point to ask Mr.PhD to get coffee for both of us. After all, I can't afford to waste my time, and he doesn't have to!

At 1:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the coffee wait, it could be that male baristas are more intimidated by other men and thus don't want to get yelled at for taking too long to make their coffee. Also could be the male baristas are spending more time flirting (or trying to flirt with) the female customers.

At 7:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read the coffee shop study and am not convinced. I don't think the variables were isolated. For instance, gender differences in communication styles. My girlfriend goes to the coffee shop everyday and is very happy that the employees know her by name and know her drink. She enjoys engaging the baristas in conversation. That is part of the satisfaction of the experience for her. I, on the other hand just want my coffee and want it fast. My body language conveys: "no talk, just coffee". Who knows, but I think it is worth a little more study. If it is true, you ladies need to go to coffee shops where women work and let your market share change the way coffee shops work. I could sure use my coffee faster so I am on board!

At 8:13 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

re: flirting, yes they mention that in the paper.

re: communication style/preference/body language, that is a great point, and they don't mention it, so it could certainly be a factor.

We scary/quiet ladies might get our coffee faster than the chitty-chatty ladies, who knows.

I hate the word ladies, btw. It's right up there with 'gals' and 'dolls'.

At 1:21 PM, Blogger butterflywings said...

And this hits a nerve.
I am always told at work I don't disagree with people enough.
And yes with the 'only respect you if you argue a lot' thing. My boss is like that.
I don't respect people who argue for the sake of it.
If someone is actually making sense and right, then disagreeing with them is the intelligent thing to do.
And I do the phrasing disagreement as a question thing, but it goes over people's heads and they think I just don't understand.
Or they argue back and are more articulate, so I end up backing down.


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