I am having a Bad Computer Weekend. It goes something like this:
Got up (Saturday morning), worked on Laptop.
Went to lab (Saturday afternoon), worked on Desktop.
Would have strangled Desktop if Desktop were a person.
Came home, looked through some old posts on Blogger until Blogger crashed (no kidding).
Decided to write this post off-line and post it afterwards (afterwords).
I had a revelation this morning about how one of the students I've been working with is like a computer. He has lots of smarts and ability, but he needs really explicit instructions, and has no common sense. It has been a real challenge for me to spell things out sufficiently for him to understand what I mean.
I was thinking about how this is one of the best and hardest parts of my job: communicating with computers (and students who could be mistaken for computers).
I like this part of my job because it is constantly challenging. I have to figure out what my natural intuition is saying to me and then translate it into something a computer (or student) can understand. This is one of the few areas of my job where I really have to think.
Perhaps even more challenging is the added confusion of having to switch gears and talk to people who do NOT think like computers, i.e. who are sometimes illogical, and stubbornly fixated on past assumptions despite evidence to the contrary. Who try to rationalize away obvious exceptions that prove the rule is wrong, instead of admitting that exceptions by definition disprove the rule.
In many ways, talking to a computer is easier. For instance, there are rarely any assumptions being made. There is no information in there unless you put it there. Usually, there are rules, and they are applied consistently. Exceptions are noted, often loudly.
And yet, the hard part for me is figuring out which rules are relevant, and which will make things harder; what information to put in, and how to tell the computer to ignore the irrelevant parts.
And these are the same things I find difficult in my career. Which rules to break; what information to share; how to get people to look past their own biases and see my work for the awesome hotness that it is.
In the middle of wanting-to-strangle-the-Desktop, I had another revelation relating to my use of computers. I read recently in the AWIS magazine that apparently it is even harder for women in "interdisciplinary areas".
When I read that, I thought, "Huh. I wonder what 'interdisciplinary' means."
In the middle of my computer conundrum today, I realized that what I've been doing is exactly what that means.
And that yes, this is probably part of why I've had such a hard time trying to do Science While Female.
Stupid me, I thought I was just doing Science.
It never once crossed my mind that I was doing Interdisciplinary Science While Female- the most difficult of all!
According to the current AWIS President, I should have planned ahead when I decided that was what I wanted to do.
I thought about this all week and it made me really mad the more I thought about it. Because no matter how much we think we have Planned Ahead, e.g. for our Careers, planning ahead is only of limited utility for Science.
Those of you working at the bench know what I mean. Things don't always work as planned. Or at all. We often have to change direction; find collaborators to help us; try new methods that have never been tried. This is often not included in The Plan (aka the Funded Version of the Grant).
Projects don't always go where we think they'll go. And there are always forks in the road. Sometimes the two roads that diverge in the wood are BOTH covered with thorny, hairy plants that will eat you alive. But you have to pick one, or get airlifted the hell outta there.
Without real mentoring, let me tell you that you can't really hitchike a helicopter out of the middle of the data jungle. I've tried.
On the other hand, I'm not convinced that such a rescue force really exists. I really do think that there are people who can give you advice on your career; and people who can give you advice on your science; and rarely the twain shall meet, much less be the same person.
So I've been thinking about this a lot, partly because I read this article and saw more of the usual "blame the victims who are already stuck" party line.
In other words, it's not the fault of the fucked-up "System" of doing Science that things are tough on the front lines. Instead, as usual it must be the postdoc's fault for not thinking ahead.
Because let's be honest, nobody sees these things coming. Most researchers will tell you all their projects turned out to be harder than they thought when they started, NOT easier. If we all worried too much about how hard things would be, we'd never get started on anything. Instead, we try to make it all as easy as we possibly can, at least insofar as we can see what's coming.
So while the article concludes that yes, women might be particularly suited to interdisciplinary work, apparently our careers are at even greater risk when we try to do it.
I guess in that sense I am too much like a computer myself. Nobody input this information ahead of time. I could only go on the information I was given.