Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Nobody'd take me seriously anyway

The title of this post is also from song lyrics; in fact, by the same artistes who provided the title of yesterday's post. Their lyrics are a treasure-trove of wisdom about life, and very applicable in many cases to academic life. It is quite incredible, actually.

I was thinking about this as I walked across campus recently: how many of this obscure band's lyrics can I use as post titles without getting too bizarre? Realizing I am not a good judge of that, I nevertheless think I could get quite far, but that doesn't mean I should or will. Instead, I will scatter some lyrics-references at various places in this one post.

Anyway, what I was wondering was whether you

have ever decided against doing something in your professional life because you were fairly certain that you wouldn't be taken seriously.

And if so, was this self-doubt or reality-based cynicism?

If self-doubt, it is likely related to the notorious "imposter syndrome" (also sensitively illuminated by this brilliant band, which was my favorite for at least a weekend circa early 1980's: "Step in my shoes, you'll see that I don't fit.").

If reality-based cynicism, there were probably incidents in which you weren't taken seriously, and then you wondered "Why put myself out there again just to be eaten by sharks?" (as addressed in the song "Shark Attack" by the lyrics, "Please don't mess around with me, I'm a shark fatality, in the sea, I'm the one with the bleeding heart.")

The "something" vaguely referred to in the question above doesn't have to be something major; it could be something as simple as making a decision about whether to speak up in a particular setting (such as a meeting, or even in a conversation). Or it could be something big like making a decision about applying (or not) for a certain position or volunteering (or not) for a leadership role.

Ideally, such decisions, whatever the motivation, will not be setbacks but instead overall constructive moves. For example, you might decide not to waste your time and energy on one thing, but devote yourself to something else that is a better use of your time and talents. Although it's too bad if you turn down a good opportunity owing to misplaced lack of confidence, you don't have to hurl yourself at every opportunity.

Or, if that optimistic scenario doesn't apply, maybe a decision based on a prediction of being disrespected is a feature of one stage in your life/career, but not of later stages (but, again ideally, not too much later).

I was also reminded of the general issue of being brave (in your career) by some of President Obama's words in a recent graduation speech at Barnard College. Speaking to the women of Barnard, he said, "Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table."

Do you find that inspiring, exhausting, or both? (I am ignoring the option of 'none of the above'.)

I say: OK, let's do that, but while we are doing that, let's keep in mind that there are many ways to "fight" for what is fair and right. The fight is a complex one, involving some guerrilla warfare, some tactical retreats, some heavy artillery, some diplomacy, and every once in a while an assist from the cavalry. I think it is also important to keep in mind that the "fight" is not a solitary one, as implied by the quotation in its most simple interpretation.

I think what Obama was really trying to say was that you shouldn't just accept oppression and wallow in defeatist self-pity, as eloquently expressed by the ex-band with the tragically awful name of Split Enz,

If war broke out I'd be the last one to know
If there was a fire they'd just leave me to burn
I got just as much to say as any [wo]man
But I never seem to get my turn.

Instead, be aware, leave the burning house, speak up when you want to, and take your turn.


Optixmom said...

You need to be your best advocate, because the reality is that no one is going to do that for you (especially when you become an adult).

There are many upper level positions that you cannot "fight" for in business, etc. One has to market themselves to the powers that be in a way that you get put on their short list whenever they are considering a slate of candidates, appointed positions, career advancements, etc. Whether that marketing is publishing on your research, participating in meetings and on technical committees, etc.

President Obama can say all of the encouraging words he wishes to our desired voting block, but his reality is that whenever there is a need for a serious review committee (ex. the debt ceiling) he doesn't go out of his way to choose women. He does what is easy and picks men. When women point out this all too common practice, we are cast as "whiny" or "crazy" or "petty".

My best advice for young women is to network early in their careers and get your name recognized for excellence. Market yourself to those whom you admire, who you wish to collaborate with, or who may be able to expand your network. For women in high career ranks, nominate other women for positions of authority. Share your secrets to success so that other women can follow your path.

If you have to fight every time you wish to get a seat at the table [of men] you may find that they have relegated your seat to the back corner, on a rickety stool, next to the guy who smells, and will only let your presence be made public when the press is there. Being invited to the table is a much preferred option.

Anonymous said...

Agree and disagree with Optixmom. I have had some very important advocates in my career, at times because no one was taking me seriously but did take seriously the opinion of respected senior colleagues. Once you get a bit of assist from the "cavalry" (maybe that's what you mean by being invited to the table), then you need to step up and use your own voice. Some people don't get this help and have to fight more to be seen, heard, and respected.

Anonymous said...

And let's not forget these immortal lyrics:

I walk home
the wrong way
hoping I'll
go astray

I feel that way sometimes, especially when "the fight" starts to get to me.

Anonymous said...

"Step in my shoes, you'll see that I don't fit."
This is brilliant.

In reply to the question, yes, I sometimes do not speak up in conferences for fear of not taken seriously and for fear of being perceived as too aggressive, but this is actually the same thing.

If I as a female postdoc say something slightly aggressive in a conference, I get these looks and reactions, as if I was just wanting to be mean and if it was not about the topic at hand. I have observed the same reaction to other women being a little aggressive. If a man says exactly the same thing, however, people like it and even laugh.

I cannot describe how much this annoys me, since I myself like it if people ask me provokative question or if there is a lively discussion.

I try as often as possible to speak up anyway, also if it has negative consequences in the short term. If we women are just quiet and nice as they apparently want us to be, things will never change.

Anonymous said...

Among my fave Enz lyrics:

The worried look that’s on your face makes you older.
You realize that things have never been better.

Anonymous said...

I know that President O meant well with his "fight" statement, but it didn't inspire me. I can agree with the general statement that everyone (men, women) need to work hard, fight for what they believe in, take on challenges etc., but "fight against institutional discrimination" is more depressing than hearing something like "I promise you that my administration will work tirelessly to ensure that women have equal opportunities..".

Comrade Physioprof said...

obscure band

WHATTT!? The band in question is far from obscure, and played a pivotal role in the evolution of modern rock-and-roll.

Female Science Professor said...

I agree, of course, but it is shocking how few people are aware of them and their influence. Wikipedia mentions their success in NZ, Australia, Canada, but beyond that, they apparently only "built a cult following elsewhere".

Anonymous said...

I found president's speech very inspiring, actually. Don't settle for participating -- *lead*. Wonderfully inspiring.

Anonymous said...

Just pointing out, Split Enz morphed into the even better named group Crowded House.

Well loved and famous in NZ!

Ms. Scientist, Ph.D. said...

I agree with Anonymous: ""fight against institutional discrimination" is more depressing than hearing something like "I promise you that my administration will work tirelessly to ensure that women have equal opportunities.."", because the quote makes me feel tired (and I'm just starting a career!). Change in attitudes can come from the inside...but it would be really nice to have support from the 'outside'.
PS I realize my pseudonym is similar to yours, I hope it's taken as a sign of flattery! I really enjoy reading!

Anonymous said...

Hey, we got you; that's all that we want....ok, it's a paraphrase. I love the Finns.

Female Science Professor said...

Thanks for the comment. I won't forget - that's a whole lot.