Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Women and research

This post says it all: "Like we didn't know this." Links there to the NPR story on bias that's been making the rounds and the PNAS story that confirms once again that if you put a woman's name on something it's automatically less competent regardless of contents. Old news, old news.

On the one hand, I don't want to talk about it. On the other hand, I would urge men who care about unconscious sexism and racism manifesting in mathematics to read the story on stereotype threat and consider it. It rings true now that I am observing my own interactions with other mathematicians, male and female, and it's brought home very strongly now that it's NSF proposal time. I can't quite believe that I have anything valuable to say and I very strongly feel the need to be absolutely correct about every statement because I feel any incorrect statement is a reason to dismiss everything I might say. These contribute to difficulty writing the thing and a stress burden that is unnecessary -- unnecessary because there's not a damn thing I can do about it and that stress only hurts me. My stomach in particular.

A saving grace is that I saw a collaborator's proposal and saw some of my ideas in print in that proposal, describing our collaboration. They sounded so valuable and interesting coming from someone else! Cognitive dissonance. A kick in the ass. Get writing.

As an early-career mathematician, it's my first NSF. I've written most of it now. It brought up another point quite strongly, which I can't disentangle from this gender stuff: I don't feel like I've ever believed I could be a research mathematician. From another angle, it feels like something I am not allowed to do. Allowed? Sure, the prohibition is some mythical nonsense other that doesn't exist, but I carry the feeling. When I go to seminars and conferences I feel like a guest with a limited-time pass that will expire, and then I will be kicked out of the club. Mathematics is a paradise I cannot stay in. I'm gonna eat that apple and that's going to be it. I keep making plans for the eventuality, in fact.

Mostly written. I feel slightly ill and slightly thrilled.

Does anyone else feel like being a research mathematician is a transgression?

1 comment:

  1. Hi! I'm a math undergrad who happened to stumble upon your blog (so glad). This is a topic I have a lot of questions about. Is there any way of contacting you? Email id, perhaps? Thank you!