Response to comments on previous post re: Americans as a minority in American Science
Tried to respond previously, but blogger ate my comment and I didn't have time to start over. I figured this way at least I can save incrementally...
Got a lot of comments on this one, many of them valid, equally many reactionary and non-constructive. And some of which addressed points I want to re-emphasize.
I find that there are fewer American female post docs (at least where I am) than male, even compared to the foreign ratio. In that you might be correct to assume that as a female American postdoc you have to compete with the foreign male post docs, as well as the few female foreigners on top of the male Americans.
Which made me feel a little bit justified in writing the original post.
But then Chall said:
I don't think this makes it "another factor working against you" - if nothing else because the key ingredient of getting that faculty job is networking/knowing the field/being known in the US and as a US born,bred and science thaught[sic] with an american [sic] mentor you have a huge advantage against at least the average foreign post docs.
Which raises a point I want to address.
1. Just because I have an American advisor does NOT give me, as an American female postdoc, a default advantage.
All of my peers are foreign postdocs who have the same advisor.
It's more important that our advisor LIKES us, which means that we have to meet certain expectations. So far as I can tell, the expectations for Americans are different than those for foreign postdocs.
In fact, American PIs seem to expect less from foreign postdocs in terms of writing skills and speaking skills, which is generally fair (especially if you haven't been in the country that long).
However, this can also be used indefinitely as a manipulation tool, and an all-purpose backup excuse. Just this week I heard about different instances at two different universities where a superdoc (in one case) and a PI (in the other) who have both been in the US for over 10 years used the "Oh, my English is so bad I must have misunderstood" as their excuse for majorly unethical behavior.
Give me a break. It only works as an excuse for so long, people. You can't have it both ways. If you want to stay in the country and have a job here as a scientist, it seems unfair that we grant you a permanent get-out-of-jail-free card!
Anon at 4:13 pm wrote:
the pale male stale humans think hiring furriners is DIVERSITY.
This is an interesting point. Is it really diversity?
I guess culturally you could say so, but what about the differences in how women are treated? I'm thinking in particular of certain cultures where it's quite common for the man to come to the US as a postdoc, with unemployed (and work visa-less) wife in tow (and stuck at home).
These men often bring with them, into the lab, some really nasty biases against women working at all, much less being peers in the scientific workplace (or, god forbid, authority figures).
And then these guys become PIs, and soon enough they're on search committees. That is the inevitable conclusion of bringing more men in and promoting them into positions of authority (over women).
Perhaps if we wised up about the role of expectations and cultural diversity in science, this would be less a source of future discrimination and more of an advantage for scientific progress?
Seems like right now it's a trade-off where American women are signing up for workplace abuse, not just from their sexist American advisors, but also from co-workers who may or may not realize how offensive they're being.
Here's an example: a while back I had to do some heavy lifting as a normal part of my job. Normally nobody is there to watch me.
This particular time, one of my (male, foreign) co-workers said to me, "Wow, you're pretty strong for a girl." He's one of the ones with a stay-at-home wife.
And I don't need that kind of crap at work. A more appropriate phrasing might have been something like "Wow, good job! Thanks for doing that!"
Am I supposed to grant him a pass because his English isn't so good?
Amusingly enough, one of the foreign female postdocs actually said the same thing to me a while later.
Am I really that strong "for a girl"? I don't think so. But she had been using the excuse that she was female as a way to get out of doing this particular lab chore.
Anon 6:09 pm wrote:
I think many American students avoid PhD sciences precisely in part for this unspoken reason.
Really? Are students aware of this? I wasn't.
In fact, it never occurred to me that it would bother me at all. From the very first lab I worked in, I relished the exposure to other cultures.
It has only been very recently that I've begun to notice an accumulation of some major drawbacks.
Sure, I had some problems in grad school with men of the "women can't do that" variety, but they were avoidable. There was the one postdoc in a rotation (didn't join that lab), and the other postdoc in a potential collaboration (didn't do the collaboration).
But more recently it has been a more general problem, extending beyond the sexism-from-men to sexism from the other foreign women postdocs who seem to think I'm somehow defective because I don't want to have children. Or the kinds of assumptions like the one Chall mentioned, that just because I'm American and my PI is American that gives me some kind of secret handshake to the in-club (it doesn't).
Unbalanced Reaction wrote:
Americans are by far the norm at small liberal arts colleges
Which brings up another interesting point.
Perhaps it's related to the way Americans are totally clueless about what science and research really are. We're too far removed from the rest of society, so they don't really care. We're part of the dreaded intellectual elite, and say what you will about the US, but even with Obama as President, we're still generally against intellectualism in this country (myself not included, thank you very much).
My point being, maybe we think foreigners shouldn't be teaching our kids (this was certainly true where I grew up). So we want Americans as teachers.
Another good example was a recent news piece I heard on the dearth of nurses in this country. There was a proposal to bring in foreign nurses to help fill all the empty jobs and get the work done, but it was massively rejected.
So while there are some areas where we look the other way, other areas are seen as "too important" to outsource. The thinking is that we don't want grandma and grandpa being looked after by foreigners, do we?
The other thing that amused me about that story was the reason why we don't have enough nurses. They said nursing instructors are paid less, and working nurses are paid more. So nobody wants to be a nursing instructor.
Maybe we should take a page from that model as a way to get rid of all these lazy-ass PIs who make tons of money off their postdocs?
I'm just sayin'.
an immigrant said:
I do feel that in general, foreigners are more willing to endure hardship than Americans.
And this is exactly the point I was making.
There is a bias to believe that:
a. Foreigners work harder in general, because Americans are lazy/pampered
b. Foreigners are willing to work for cheap
c. Foreigners have no other options, so they'll do anything to get a job and keep it
If this is what everyone believes, then I think my hypothesis must be correct. Surely any logical person would rather hire the helpless, hardworking, non-demanding employee/colleague than a spoiled, lazy, whiny American?
And they can assume all this from the comfort of... never having even met me. Just because I'm American.
Just like many of you apparently do (based on some of the comments I've received over the years of writing this blog).
Professor in Training wrote:
Native English speakers have a natural advantage when interviewing for faculty positions (of course, this doesn't give you an advantage over native English speaking foreigners).
2. Just because I have spoken English all my life, does NOT give me an advantage in interviews.
First of all, I can't even GET any interviews.
But assuming that I could, here's a good example. I have now had several of these informal sneak-attack "pre-interviews" where PIs casually ask me about my personal life or my PI.
And here's the thing you're perhaps not getting. As a Native English speaker, I am expected to understand and utilize all kinds of innuendo and nuance that maybe foreign postdocs never experience, because it's not expected.
If I make even the slightest faux-pas- intended or otherwise, I'm screwed.
Whether you intend to take advantage of it or not, if English is not your first language, the expectations are slightly relaxed.
I love this example, where a foreign postdoc - whose English was nearly perfect, so far as I could tell - said that the data in his figures had been "manipulated."
And nobody blinked.
But as a Native speaker, to me using that word implies "falsified" or "adjusted to promote a certain outcome."
But he can say things like that. If for some reason I used a word- maybe even without knowing it or meaning to- I would be out of the running for a job.
The expectations are just different.
How about the extreme case: would it be a bad thing if science done in the US was done by immigrants that intend to stay here?
Isn't that the case now? That was sort of my point.
I'm sure you don't want to have science full of women just for the statistics...
And that's true. I would not want science to be done only by women.
Lately I'm more and more in favor of trying to aim for parity...
But we're not there yet.
Anon @7:33 wrote:
Despite all of your complaints about men, I have to say my blog post would be aptly titled "As an American male I'm a minority in my profession". I'm a postdoc at a high level American institution, biomed sciences. The VAST majority of postdocs in our department are not Americans, and I'd say more than 60% are female. That's why I have so much trouble understanding your rants against men;Don't get me wrong, I can see that there's discrimination against women based on your blog and the responses from other women. I just don't see it as much in my day to day life. Its hard to imagine that the male minority here is actually controlling the female majority.
Anyhow, I think you may see a shift in the demographics of science in the next several years. If the majority of postdocs and grad students are women, then soon the majority of PI's should be as well. Men just aren't into the biomed sciences these days, and its understandable. You can't make a very good living on a postdoc salary, and unless you have some family money or your spouse makes a lot of money, its really not worth the pain and effort.
Sigh. I'm going to try to take the good parts of this comment as agreeing with me, and correct the rest.
So as an American, you say you also feel you're in the minority.
60% female is barely a majority, but okay.
But when you say, It's hard to imagine that the male minority here is actually controlling the female majority, you're missing a really important point.
That's actually how the ENTIRE WORLD WORKS. There are MORE women than men IN THE WORLD. And yet, men are in charge of almost everything.
So maybe if you look at it that way, it's not that surprising that men dominate science?
Then you wrote, If the majority of postdocs and grad students are women, then soon the majority of PI's should be as well.
WRONG AGAIN. As you might have noticed in one of my recent posts, women have been the majority of undergraduate and grad students for a while now. And yet, they're still not the majority of postdocs or PIs.
So your "majority input leads to majority output" theory has a major hole in it.
And your comment about men not being into the biomed sciences... first of all, I don't really think that's true. But second, I think what you meant to say is that actually the graduate student applications in general were declining (before the economy crashed, that is). That would be both men and women. It's just that men can blame the lack of salary, while women have been blaming the hostile culture for decades. We just put up with the crappy salary because we were happy to be allowed to work outside the home at all!
Thanks to (almost) everyone who commented. This turned out to be a very interesting and enlightening discussion.