Wednesday, August 17, 2011

We, Robot

Dear Female Science Professor,

In your blog, you describe many of your bad experiences during grad school and through the tenure track. I have noticed that while you convey why some of those periods of time were very difficult, you do not write much about how you felt and what you thought about yourself. Do you choose not to write about these things for a particular reason, or do you think you sufficiently do?

It's very encouraging to read your blog entries, as they provide many of us with a sense of solidarity. However, do you experience emotion?

If you were back in graduate school/post-doc/early-track right now going through a difficult time, read a blog like yours, and commented on some of the entries, could you have sounded as angsty and lost as some of the women who leave comments, desperate to receive some form of cyber-comfort? The amount of composure in your entries is suspicious.


11:10 18/08/2011

To our valued reader,

We here at FSP would like to thank you for your comment. We are processing your text to identify key words. You will soon receive an automatically generated reply that best suits your needs. If you have any questions, please refer to our FAQ page. If you do not find the information you need, please contact one of our customer service representatives.



13:23 18/08/2011

To our valued reader,

The FSP team has diagnosed your problem and suggests that you consider upgrading to the FSP With Emotions Blog (FSP-WEB). Access to FSP-WEB is provided for a limited time only at $29.99/month.

FSP-WEB provides the full suite of emotions that are lacking from the Classic FSP version of the blog. Features of FSP-WEB include all of the creative obscenities and symbolic screaming that you will find on many other blogs.

FSP-WEB is written by a team of people who try to appear younger than those who compose the no-cost Classic FSP. We realize that many people cannot handle the mature content of Classic FSP, which is apparently written from the point of view of a middle-aged woman who is decades past her early-career experiences and therefore no longer in touch with her feelings. We are pleased to provide you with a more suitable option that better meets your needs.

** WARNING: FSP-WEB contains occasional mention -- and graphic images -- of cats. There is no feline-free version of FSP. **

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error message 17.404
FSP 5.2 cannot process text. End of logic encountered. No response to keywords {amount of composure, suspicious}
auto-reply enabled: "Please try again later. Have a nice day. :)"


cvj said...

Brilliant! :)


Ph.D. diet said...

I agree with cvj.. Loved this post.. :)

Pooja said...

Very creative...totally impressed :)

Anonymous said...

You know while reading your blog I always think that if I had a mom like you, it would have been so awesome. Not that I don't love my mom...I love her a lot...she is an amazing woman but may be since she is not from academics so many of my professional life problems she can't relate to. While reading your blog it feels as if you know exactly how it is and I love the ways you have survived this all. Hats off!!!

KarinL said...

You just made my day! Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou!

Anonymous said...

Awesome! I wonder if I'd ever have thought up such responses, even if they were not to be actually sent.

Anonymous said...

Good one.

I hadn't realized it was a problem when someone on the internet was not hysterical.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, FSP?

I think the original question was a good one and not meant as a joke. It's strangely snarky of you (and slightly "cold," though I'd never thought of your writing that way before) to mock it. That said, if the response truly wells from the depths of a thoroughly equilibrated and amnesiac researcher, I guess there isn't much choice.

To the original questioner: I've wondered along the same lines. If I get tenure, I'm sure I'll someday write about my emotional trajectory as a researcher. Not everyone starts with or consistently maintains the gumption or breezy self-confidence implied here. The alternative isn't navel-gazing or neurotic drivel; it's simply recognizing that people experience research in different ways. Those who aren't always smitten by their own work and abilities shouldn't assume they'll contribute less than people who show more self-confidence. That's my inference, anyway.

Anonymous said...

An email that asks someone if they feel emotion totally deserves any reply the apparently emotionless person feels like sending back. And if the original emailer feels bad, oh well, maybe they shouldn't be so emotional.

Anonymous said...

I think there should be more cats. :)

Anonymous said...

The letter is a bit much, I must say. Not to mention that it is extremely rude!

I am a long-time reader of FSP's blog and FSP has displayed evidence of much emotion in many of her posts. If you don't remember, go read her posts related to her two-body job search.

But that being said, FSP has also been extremely calm and balanced and has maintained a wonderful sense of humor. This is one of the reasons why I like her blog so much, over so many other anonymous academic blogs.

Anonymous said...

8:16 Anon here. I agree that the "Do you experience emotion?" and last line are extreme--though I didn't read them as offensive--but I find this response to them quite off-key.

It's an interesting mindset to conflate emotional expression with hysterics.

I see FSP's occasional frustration with academic culture in certain posts, but this blog reflects a distinct emotional spectrum that often seems worlds away from what I read, hear about, and experience elsewhere. I think the writer's question, if ill-posed, is genuine.

MM said...

Totally loved your reply, FSP! :D

Anonymous said...

One's person "calm and balanced" is another person's "cold"; one's "in touch with own emotions" is another person's "hysterical". One rule of blogging etiquette is that it is bad form to the tell the blogger "you SHOULD do this or that..." (write or not write about topics, sound one way or another, etc.)

FSP's post is brilliantly funny and is poking pretty gentle fun at the reader who suggested she write more about her early career angst and accusing her of having no emotions. FSP owes it to no one to show or not show emotion, or describe her experiences in any way other that what she sees fit.

I know several blogs where the author of the email reader would be torn to shreds, mercilessly ridiculed, together with having their name exposed.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, the phenomenal success of this blog is *because* the issues are presented based on facts, minimizing emotions. If this were an emotional blog, then naysayers could simply dismiss everything as being due to the writer's hysterics (and do note the etymology of that word!). The issues presented in this blog are fascinating and the discussion and questions raised about even banal-seeming trivia are thought-provoking. Isn't that what being intellectual is about?

But for those wanting to see FSP be emotional, please see her recent rant about campus tours -- she SCREAMED IN CAPS! Substitute something related to WOMEN IN SCIENCE and she would *totally* have been accused of being hysterical.

Personally, I find the readers' emotional responses less interesting than the thoughtful, anecdotal, and analytical responses. I want to know what people think more than what they feel -- not to the exclusion of the latter, but I'm not reading the discussion to poll feelings.

John Vidale said...

I think the questioner asks a legitimate question in the first two paragraphs. I doubt she is crushed by FSP's response, although neither would she assuaged that the blog is everything she wishes it would be. Some writers would and do inject more emotion in a blog of this type - nevertheless, FSP is a valuable and unique resource for developing scientists and teachers, as the writer states.

Unfortunately, the last paragraph doesn't make sense - maybe it was incompletely edited by FSP. "Suspicious" of what? Sounds on the verge of incoherent rambling.

Female Science Professor said...

I did not edit the original letter.

Klaas said...

That's very funny

John Vidale said...

Being charitable to the writer, I guess she is asking whether FSP really had those difficult times, or if her path was much easier, and she's faking the her own difficult history, but can't relay the emotions because she wasn't there herself.

Or maybe her meaning is opaque to me. I apologize in advance for trying to parse a question that many other commentators may be more able to identify with.

Anonymous said...

@John Vidale: I don't think the question "Do you feel emotions?" is a legitimate question. It is a rhetorical question that is sarcastic and therefore triggered FSP's response in kind.

Anonymous said...

This place (academia) is a kick in the pants: Me Robot, too.

John Vidale said...


I don't think the question "Do you feel emotions?" is a legitimate question.

It could have been phrased more clearly and much more diplomatically. You may well be right FSP took the tactless nature to warrant her indirect response playacting an automaton.

Still, I think, charitably interpreted, it might be trying to raise a legitimate issue for discussion.

Anonymous said...

LOVE this post.
PS - this comment is also not feline-free.

Dezzie said...

Hi everyone, I was the one who wrote this email to FSP and I'd like to clarify my question and my intentions:

- I sincerely wanted to know if FSP has particular, purposeful reasons why she doesn't vent like other prof bloggers do. Yes, I have considered that it could just be her writing style, I do know she gets heated in a number of posts, and sure, people probably prefer to read a blog that isn't laden with whining and cursing. Maybe it's because she's overcome a lot of the things some of us are going through, and in hindsight, it wasn't all that bad to warrant venting about in the present. Maybe not. But her writing is still much more guarded when it comes to her self-schema.
- I also knew that once I played the sarcasm card in my email, I would be asking for it. But that's because the best FSP blog posts are the ones that are sarcastic themselves. And if I even got any sort of response from FSP, it would make my shriveling grad student heart quiver. She did, in a hilarious way, even if she didn't really answer my question. But she mentioned cats...
- Lastly, I think many of us would agree that the discussions that develop here are sometimes just as good as the posts. I don't mind if people think I was being rude or that I hijacked my own question--I wasn't trying to, but discussion would be nice.

Ms.PhD said...


I have often wondered the same thing. Did FSP ever get as upset as, say, I have? We know she has experienced some sexism, but how bad was it, really, in the earlier stages of her career? How did she get through those times? She doesn't really blog about that, probably because the past has long since grown cold, and dredging up painful things is hard.

[Also, trolls. Some of the comments on this blog are at least as bad, if not worse than, some of the ones I've gotten.]

But maybe this is the secret to her success: not dwelling on it? And maybe that's why we want to know - how does a person go about getting over some of the stuff that all women in science go through at some point? Does it matter when those setbacks occur? Does FSP have an opinion on that? At what point does one develop this slightly detached sense of humor, or is it easier to cultivate in writing? Did she have the benefit of better mentors? Who were those people and how did they help?

In the meantime, if you enjoy angst, you might like my blog! But I am not a successful SP, so I can't give you advice on how to get from where you are now to being like FSP. According to the trolls, it's all because I'm the sort of person who expresses frustrations. They would say someone like that can't be very smart or a good scientist.

Anonymous said...

I know that msphd has been reading this blog for a long time, based on her comments over the years, so this particular comment is really strange. How bad was it and how did she get through it? Have you forgotten some of the posts about fsp's grad and postdoc years? What exactly are you (and the others) looking for? I am really puzzled by this. I think all of this is well described and explained in posts over the years. It's interesting how different people have such different perceptions.

Anonymous said...

Dezzie and msphd, isn't it possible that FSP just generally has a very calm demeanor and positive attitude? So while she has encountered incidents of sexism that may faze other people, she herself just brushes them off or views them with a sense of humor, without letting them get to her too much. Perhaps this is one of the main reasons why she is so successful?

Anonymous said...

I have read FSP for the last four years (yes I am in my fourth year towards tenure). My own recent experiences make me feel compelled to respond.

This year I befriended and psychologist... a friend, I am not her client. Additionally this year has posed some epic struggles for me largely at an interpersonal level. My new friend occasionally probes me about these struggles and I readily regale her with all the facts and anecdotes. My delivery is much like teaching in the classroom; convey the information and try to maintain the listeners attention. Anyway, my friend is far too wise and often interrupts at the worst moments to ask, "how to you feel about that?"

And this stumps me.

Don't get me wrong, I have feelings. I talk about my feelings on occasion and use 'I' statements during conflict resolution. BUT, when relating facts (and stories about things that have happened to me are facts to the best of my biased perspective) my engineering trained brain does not pepper in feeling. No feeling in journal articles, no feeling in lectures, and it seems no feeling in relating personal experiences. I am a passionate and compassionate communicator, but this is not the same as discussing my feelings.

Does the scientific process compartmentalize facts from feelings in our brains? Is our communication so trained that we don't even realize the absence of feelings? I am trying to be more aware of this now.

Dezzie said...

Well...I am a doctoral student in psychology. Oops.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 10:10 -- Of course you know that scientists are trained to separate feelings from rational analysis and results. It's what makes science what it is. We are trained to break down all the parameters and analyze them dispassionately. And we should be in touch with our feelings to know when we are not being successful at this. Bad science happens when scientists get emotionally attached to results.