Thursday, March 13, 2008

Who am I?

I thought long and hard about the pros and cons of blogging, and about just how much personal information I would divulge when I did decide to blog. I have chosen to remain anonymous, though I have absolutely no doubt that if anyone who knows me well in real life would probably be able to recognize my voice on this blog. That’s how I want it to be – I’m full of myself enough to think that I have something interesting to say. I’m not saying anything on here that I wouldn't say in real life, given the right audience, so I’m not using anonymity to give me some kind of license to have a go when in real life I’m a “yes girl”. I choose to be anonymous because I know full well that I may be Googled by potential employers or collaborators, and some people don’t really like the idea of a loudmouthed feminist woman of color until they have gotten to know me a bit. I like to check people out and give them a chance to warm up to me before I let loose. Plus, while I don't mind people calling me “fucking cheeky” in cyber-space, I don’t really need to deal with that from strangers in real-life. I've got work to do.

Now, I could have limited myself to blogging on science only, no personal opinions, but it takes a lot of work to get that right, and I don't think that the things that make me unique would have much of an effect on my commentaries on peer-reviewed literature. Once I start commenting on the conditions on the ground for women and minorities, I might again get into trouble, since not all of the Old Guard is on board with trying to mitigate the biases that hold certain groups back. So, again, anonymity. Might as well talk about what I want to talk about, anyway.

But, it's proving difficult to walk the line. I am in a very small graduate program, and my work is in a small, but fast growing field. So that means that I don't know if it's a good idea to talk about my field or my work in any detail at all. As Dr. Free-Ride points out, as a double minority, if I give any details that identify to you my university and program, you’d be able to figure out immediately who I am. While that could be motivated by the friendly curiosity of a fan, it could just as easily be someone mean-spirited who would stalk me. I'd rather not take the risk.

Besides, I don't think it matters if my readers actually know my name. But you should know “who I am” in the sense that it colors the experiences that I share and how I feel about them. So here goes:

  • I am a Black woman, according to the conventional definition. I am, however, the child of an interracial marriage (Black mother, white father), so my cultural experiences were extremely varied growing up. Both my parents were the first in their families to earn a college degree. They worked their asses off to make sure their children received a good education and had as many enriching experiences as possible – extracurricular activities, museums, science kits, materials for satisfying intellectual curiosity and making thing. My mother, was a stay-at-home mom, but before that had been an elementary school teacher, so she made damn sure her kids would not be judged on first impressions – we were expected to speak like educated folk, and dress appropriately at all times. As a result of this, and my fairly light colored skin and “good hair”, many people claim not to realize that I am Black when they first meet me. That just means that I don’t conform to most people’s image of what a Black woman is. But it does not change fact that I did not have many of the privileges that white people take for granted. For instance, I will be the first from my mother’s family to earn an advanced degree, and none of them seem to even understand why I might want to do so. There are almost no opportunities for networking within my family, so at every step of my career in science, I’m going to have a lot more legwork to do than most of my white colleagues. I didn't realize that when I started out, nor did I understand how important networking could be.

  • I am a woman with children. And, no, I didn't get knocked up in high school. I started my career in science on the late side, after having done something else that I loved for a while. When I made the decision to go back to school, I knew that I’d be waiting a while if I wanted to establish my career before having kids, so my husband and I chose to have kids first. I don’t think women should have to choose between having a fulfilling career and having children. Men don't have to make that choice. One of the things I love about my husband is that he doesn't expect me to, either.

  • I went to a public university for my science undergrad. I worked my butt off, did lab work at that school and at another, higher ranked university, and was in the MARC and MBRS programs. I am now working toward my PhD at an Ivy League school. That makes me a bit of a legend at my alma mater. It also allows me to see how different it is to study and do research in the two different settings.

  • I am in a graduate program and field of science that is heavily dominated by men. I have never experienced any overt sexism (or racism, for that matter). But there are certain aspects of the structure of life in this setting that are hard to reconcile with my role as a wife and mother. Group meetings and lectures are often held in the evenings. I have missed out on these valuable opportunities for learning and networking because I am needed at home. When I was still taking classes, study sections would also often be held in the evenings. There were times when it was difficult to convince people that it might be a good idea to offer alternate times because not all students are available 24/7, and that this does not reflect on the commitment of the student in question.

So, that’s who I am. In case anyone was wondering.


Boyd said...
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Jenny F. Scientist said...

My parents were likewise the first in the family to go to college.

In the program at Snooty U, there was exactly one person of color in my entering class of about 80. Out of over 300 science faculty, exactly one is black, and also is from England. Dr. S and I talk about it a lot because he grew up very poor, which is another nice way to not enjoy many privileges that our colleagues take for granted.

Since I'm fairly easy to identify as well- in fact, one of my readers did just so because it turns out he's a colleague- I transposed everything into a fictional bricklaying and architecture framework. Sometimes it's quite an exercise to come up with an explanation involving bricks...

flickamawa said...

I agree with Jenny that the connections and post-graduate education knowledge are more class things. I personally am lucky to have a great family connection, but it is with a distant relative that I have never met, only heard the occasional story about. I never even entertained the notion of going to graduate school until I learned that in the sciences I could get a fellowship. As an undergrad at an Ivy league university, I have always been amazed by the number of connections and opportunities that most of the people around me have, but the other middle or lower class peers also seem to be missing out on.

I am in a male dominated field, but at least in my own department, it's middle of the road as far as the percentage of women. Still, we have very, very few students of color in both the undergraduate and graduate classes in the department.

Drugmonkey said...

as a matter of fact, the "who you are" came across just fine in your posts to date. but what does your identity have to do with anything? the power is in what you write, not who is doing the writing.

Abel Pharmboy said...

I concur with my colleague DM that your writing alone has already established your growing audience since we enjoy reading.

But thank you for the more explicit "who you are." The value in this post is that it allows trainees of diverse backgrounds of age, race, ethnicity, gender, etc. to identify with you, share your voice, and know they are not alone. Moreover, blogs like yours help mentors like me better understand the experience of our students and how to help them, even if the comments aren't coming directly from our own students.

Keep it up as much as you can with all of your other responsibilities - you have a hooked reader here.

PhysioProf said...

Yeah. You kick fucking ass, acmegirl!