October 14, 2013

Credentials, respect, and STEM fields diversity: How I relate to DNLee

I just read about what happened to DNLee, a blogger for Scientific American. Have you not heard what happened to her?  Well you can read about it here on her blog.  There's also a decent rundown of the incident on Buzzfeed.  The short of it is that a gentleman for a not so well known science blog asked DNLee to write pro-bono for his website.  She politely declined and the response attacked her profession, background and gender all in one horrible sentence: Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?

Quick list of how ridiculous this response is:

1) It's super personal for someone who never met this person
2) It's racist and sexist in one fell swoop
3) It's certainly not professional
4) It ruins any chance of potentially changing a potential blogger's mind in the future

DNLee actually did a pretty good response about not only why she declined the proposal sent to her and how she felt about the response to her:

I am sure there are plenty of people who can relate to the feelings expressed in the video. The idea that one should feel "lucky" to share their expertise they've worked hard for and should just share their talents for free.  It can happen because you're a minority, or a woman, or even because you're education is considered "below par" for your field despite many proven accomplishments.  Or sometimes you just deal with someone who's being a complete jerk.

DNLee makes some good points.  Don't settle because someone decides you should.  Figure out what your baselines are for your work.  Stick to them.

But she shares a struggle that happens all the time for people in many science fields, and again in minority groups.  Although we may like to believe there is, in America there is not a lot of varied representation of people in STEM careers.  Most of them are white, most of them are men, and there is a lot of overlap with those two groups.  On top of that there is a lot of the public who will freak out if it turns out that it isn't the atypical person who's actually knowledgeable, let alone interested, in anything scientific or mathematical.  Does anyone else remember when the internet exploded because it found out the person who runs the I Fucking Love Science page on Facebook is a woman?  I do mean people freaked out.  Was it the combo of her being a woman who didn't mind cursing on the internet who also really fucking loves science?  I don't know but I remember being ashamed not only that people were reacting poorly to it, but that I was surprised a woman ran the site.  What the hell was wrong with my head that I assumed that Facebook page was run by a man?

It's a societal thing, and it's a societal thing that is due to get in the way of a better future.  We need to have people invest in science, be interested in every scientific field, to help make the future fantastic.  We can't be discouraging anyone from the field.  For every DNLee who knows her worth, there are a ton more people who've been wrongfully turned away from a field because someone thought they didn't "fit the profile".

Did I ever mention to you guys that ever since junior high, when a teach in eight grade told me I never needed math again, I sabotage myself in my math skill all through college?  Those little things make a difference throughout life.  I'm not going to make excuses, and I am glad there was a a professor at college that pointed out how ridiculous that whole premise was and did his best to smack me out of it.  P.S., random shout out to Robert Rebelein, who despite his not very well updated website was possibly one of the best professors I had the pleasure of working with in my undergraduate career.  He treated me like an adult before I realized that's how I should be treated. He let me know if I wanted to be an economist, I could be despite getting a C in my first economics class.  I wish I had more people earlier in my life (outside my awesome parents) that told me I could do whatever the hell I wanted with hard work.  That I could do math--it wasn't just a guy skill or "not relevant" to the rest of my life.  You'd be surprised how those little influences change you.

Getting back to my point, if we just convince ourselves that only a small group of people are able to do science, let alone be respected in the field for it, we are doing future science a disservice.  For those of you who do have STEM talents, take it from DNLee: people are lucky to have your expertise around, not you being lucky to share it.  We need you around and you are valued.  We don't care what you look like, where you came from, or even who you love.  Just keep being awesome.  We need your STEM goodness!

One last thing: Everyone should be encouraging the next generation to take up science fields.  Not forcing, mind you.  But nudging.  It's really the only way we can secure a better, brighter future for ourselves.

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