Reponse to comments saying "It's Not Sexism" and "Street Smarts Aren't Learned" (among other things)
Anon 8:02 wrote:
The only thing I disagree completely with is your assumption that men are specifically trained by other men to have "street smarts".
Okay, I apparently wrote this wrong, or you haven't read much of my thoughts on mentoring.
I think most mentoring is passive. Many mentors don't realize they're giving it, unless they're specifically taught to, and mentees don't realize they've gotten mentored until later.
Therefore, I would agree that men don't always specifically train other men. But that's not what I meant (although it might have been what I wrote, it was 3 AM after all!).
What I mean is, men tend to have more sharing interactions, even if they're not deliberately nurturing.
You know how this works. You go out for beers with the guys, and share war stories, don't you?
You might even play tennis with your advisor, or your wife's advisor. Inevitably during the chit-chat you talk about how your papers are coming along, etc. THAT'S MENTORING.
And those little decisions about where to send your paper? That's at least as much street smarts as it is science.
So, think on that a little and write back to tell us if you still disagree.
You're right. Being known is good. In my case, blogging pseudononymously as I do (and controversially!), I don't think I want this being known to cross over to that being known. But you're right, that is good advice to all who are not doing it already.
Like people who have attained First Name Only status. There was a guy where I went to school, let's call him Bob. Everybody knew Bob. They knew where to find him, and they knew when he would be able to solve their problem with a particularly hairy thingamajig. Bob was well known.
However, Bob did not get a job. Bob was known, but he lacked street smarts. So I'm not sure if that's necessarily the same thing.
I think it's easier to be known for scientific skill than it is to convert that currency into political power. Don't you think that's the trick? Not just being known, but knowing how to leverage it?
For example, I have no idea how the YFS brand could help me get a job. But I wonder sometimes if there were a way that it could.
Dr. J&H wrote:
Some departments have a few successful female faculty, which helps promote general equality of treatment; and some departments are good about selecting faculty (both M and F) who will try to mentor trainees effectively (again, both M and F).
These discussions make me wish I could easily insert ye olde symbols in place of M and F, but we'll use it until someone tells me how to do that in HTML without it being too much of a PITA.
I gotta say, where I went to school we had women but they SUCKED at mentoring. SUCKED. They were the pull-the-ladder-up-behind-you types.
Re: departments good at selecting faculty who will mentor both genders... these must be departments with more turnover than the ones I've been working in.
Mine are mostly all dominated by older folks who aren't leaving until they're cold and dead, and they have no intention of factoring that kind of criteria into their faculty candidate decisions.
But it's nice to think there might be departments that do (can I work there??? Got any openings??).
I also agree with your notion of street smarts but not so much that there is a gender bias towards males.
Well, that was sort of the point of the post. It's a hypothesis.
I think it's well established that historically, this kind of life skill was taught to boys by their families as they were growing up. And maybe girls who had brothers (did you?) got more of this than girls who didn't (I didn't).
Based on my reading, I'm sure this is partly generational and partly a cultural issue. In my family, none of the women ever worked more than briefly outside the home, so there wasn't any precedent for teaching daughters about the ways of the working world (but it was traditional for sons).
So I've had to figure everything out for myself. I couldn't rely on my parents to advise me after I got out of traditional go-to-class school.
In this analogy, academia has to function like a family to teach the academia-specific street smarts skills (say that five times fast!).
But I think the tradition holds that, because for a long time it was all men, it was traditional to treat men as if it was a foregone conclusion that they would be going on to have full-time jobs (let's call them Careers, shall we?).
But even now, there is still quite a lot of heated discussion about what to do with all these women who want to have children. A scarily high number of PIs still think that hiring women for postdoc positions is inherently risky, "because you never know if they're going to get pregnant." And then they complain about how day care is insufficient, but they aren't going to do anything about it.
Their solution is to hire more men instead.
My point being that many PIs (even women) are more invested in the careers of their male postdocs, because they assume (based on their observations) that it's less risky than mentoring women.
I've had both male and female PIs tell me they're angry with women in their labs for having children, because they think it means they aren't serious about their careers.
I wasted all that time and energy on her, they say.
So while I might not have evidence that men are mentored more or more effectively, I propose that all the signs are there.
The enthusiasm for mentoring men is perhaps without detraction, whereas the enthusiasm for mentoring women is often shaky. And often for reasons that have nothing to do with reality (Are you seriously telling me you might not mentor me effectively because you're afraid I might decide to have kids someday? Seriously?).
The best analogy I can think of is parents who could afford to get their kids braces, which help prevent future dental problems of all kinds. But they rationalize not doing it, because they say, this kid is never going to be an actress. She doesn't need it.
What? That's not logical. It's a choice rationalized after the fact, and it makes no sense.
In academia, many PIs choose, however passively, not to mentor their women "trainees." And then they rationalize after the fact via the Just-World Fallacy that they didn't do anything wrong because she didn't deserve it anyway.
LOL. There are still secret bathroom meetings in some departments!
a physicist wrote:
As a male PI -- any suggestions for how to improve this with my own lab group? Other than just being aware that this is a general problem?
I'm touched that you'd even ask.
Well, let's start by working with the assumption that street smarts CAN be learned (the rest of you who wrote otherwise- hush up and read your vegetables!).
Here's what I think has helped me get this far:
1. Don't shelter your trainees from the realities of academia.
I know, I know, you have to swear to shelter them when you get your faculty position, but bear with me and consider breaking this rule. Frequently and with aplomb.
A lot of street smarts in academia is just knowing how things work. Departmental structure. Power structure. Points of order - who has to sign off on what, and how to deal with that person. How much things cost. How you make decisions about what to buy and what not to buy. How you choose who to hire.
This is of benefit to you, too. You'll often find that the younger folks around you have useful information on what to buy and who to hire. Especially if they've rotated in other people's labs before joining yours!
2. Go to meetings with your trainees, introduce everyone to everyone else, and include your trainees in discussions with other PIs.
One of the major problems, especially for women, is being shut out of these casual information-sharing sessions. This often happens purely for safety reasons that men rarely consider.
Put yourself in my sensible shoes. I'm not, as a woman, comfortable going drinking with a bunch of guys I don't know in an unfamiliar city. Or hanging out in some guy's hotel room. Yeesh.
See what I mean? It would just be a stupid thing to do. But I might do it if I were a guy, because it would be a completely different ballgame (so to speak).
As a woman, I feel much safer if I know at least one other person, preferably someone whose judgment I can trust. And as a junior person, I feel much more comfortable if I'm with someone who can bridge the distance and at least partly knows the other people in the group when we all go out for dinner, etc.
ALL of my advisors have been terrible about this.
Advisor #1 was too poor to both attend and send one of us, so we had to go by ourselves to meetings if we went at all. This was scary and useful, but not nearly as useful as it would have been with a knowledgeable chaperone to tell us (instead of making us discover it for ourselves), street-smart things like why you don't attend every single talk at a huge meeting, and where the influential people hang out when they're skipping talks in a giant convention center. Okay, so being poor is pretty common nowadays, but it would have been better for us all as grad students to attend 1 meeting together with the PI than to each attend two meetings alone. See what I mean? More bang for your mentoring bucks.
Advisor #2 was pathologically antisocial and did not attend meetings and/or did not socialize at all even when forced, for example, to chair a session.
For example, one really good way to avoid spending time with your mentees is to bring your kids to meetings and treat it as a family vacation.
And so on. My current advisor is scheduled so high and wide for speaking at meetings that there is no hope of overlap unless it's booked ~2 years in advance. So I'm not going to get any help there unless it's by accident. Fortunately I've reached the point where I'd like to think I don't need it so much as I used to.
3. Coach your students and postdocs on what to expect in both formal and informal (sneak-attack) interviews.
You might, if you're a good mentor, already do practice talks when any of your mentees are going to give a seminar or a paper at a meeting. Right? A lot of labs do this. And it's great practice!
So why don't we do career coaching the same way? Publicly, and with a fair amount of humiliation.
Better to do it in your own lab than out there! Right?
For example, I've been blindsided by what I call trick questions while "casually" socializing at meetings, where I've been invited out for dinner or lunch with faculty I've never met before the meeting started.
Here's the surprise: they don't just ask what you're working on or what you're planning to do. This is usually all we've practiced saying out loud in front of anyone. Right?
They ask where you want to live. This inevitably leads them to ask about your personal life (and often in totally illegal ways). How do you handle that?
If you know what to expect, that's money in the bank. If you don't, you often miss important opportunities (see for example PiT's recent post).
Why not stage these kinds of conversations with your group, and see how they handle it with an audience? It's quite a bit different than if you're talking comfortably with them in the privacy of your office, where they know you and you know them.
Put on your interviewer hat, and see how they handle it.
re: the guy who won't take advice to email the famous scientist. I can kind of understand this. Once upon a time (and maybe still a little bit), I was very shy about calling strangers on the phone. It wasn't rational, it was like a phobia.
I sometimes still put it off until I know what I'm going to say.
My guess is that if you ask this guy why he doesn't want to do it, he'll admit he doesn't know what to say.
If he still says he'll do it and then just doesn't do it, tell him you'd be happy to read whatever he writes before he sends it off, and talk about it with him. Most shy people appreciate that kind of support, even if it's purely psychological (maybe you'll end up saying what he wrote is perfect, and it just ends up being a pep talk- but you have to get him to write something first!).
It's also possible he had a run-in with this person at a meeting once upon a time, or something, and it went badly. Or there's some other reason you couldn't possibly know about (he's heard this person is a something-ist and he happens to be something-or-other so it seems pointless to him to try to bond with this person?).
Anyway good luck, let us know if my advice ends up being helpful at all! And maybe others commenting (and lurking!) here might have more suggestions?
I love what you said. Very endearing. But kind of sad that you have to put up a front that you learned from watching men, don't you think?
Still, it says you're a good mimic!
I've learned a lot by watching, but I think I've sort of hit a plateau with that. And as I've blogged about extensively, I often get female-specific backlash for doing the exact same thing that men do all the time. They say I'm arrogant, or whatever, not confident.
It's crazy because I'm just like you, obviously, dealing with insecurity all the time while trying not to cry!
It isn't a scientific problem and it doesn't have a scientific solution.
I think it does have a systematic solution, though. See for example, can you imagine if everyone actually did what I suggested a physicist (above) could do?
Although what we have now isn't really a system, more of a collection of errors that happens to lurch along through time, I think we could systematically develop a system by getting rid of some of the most egregious errors. Don't you?
But I didn't say it was ONLY a feminist problem (did I? Did I mention I wrote that post at 3 AM?).
I do think the problem for feminists is that we haven't made more of an effort to identify this as a MAJOR problem for women and do something about it.
And one could argue that it should be possible to identify other logical thinkers and avoid being exploited that way... but only if one has enough street smarts to figure out where to find them!
Anon 8:31 pm wrote:
My understanding is that street smarts is not something that someone can tell you. All of the street-smart people I know got that way through a combination of hard experience, applied intellect, and basic intuition about how people and organizations work.
and Alienta wrote:
You get "street smarts" from the street. You dont get them "handed to you" by anyone.
You dont get them from reading a book. Those are facts.
Yeah, I disagree. I also don't like reading the writing of people who eschew apostrophes in conjunctions. What's up with that? Too much txting?
So I ask you all,
What's hard experience, if not learning?
What's applied intellect, if scientists don't have it in abundance?
What's basic intuition? Isn't that based on INFORMATION GATHERED ABOUT THE WORLD?
Nobody thinks street smarts is psychic ability, and it's not inherent or babies would be able to manipulate free rides on the city buses.
Therefore, I conclude that it's learned.
From that, it follows that it CAN be taught.
That fundamental belief, that what can be learned can be TAUGHT, is why I want to have a career in education.
I submit that people who don't believe that should question deeply whether they should ever be allowed to teach anything to anyone.
I also disagree with Alienta's statement That "luck favors the prepared mind" is a profoundly wrongheaded idea.
I've had a lot of scientific "luck", and it has worked exactly this way. I am not, by all definitions, a lucky person. But when the people around you are telling you that little blip is nothing, but you know it's not and you know why it's actually really important, that's having a prepared mind.
It's only called luck because of the Just-World Fallacy. People assume than when unknown scientists get good results it was dumb luck. Not hard work. It's just totally false and cuts both ways.
Where the street smarts really come in is when you have to convince other people why it's important and why they should help you follow up on it. That's also the essence of grantwriting.