Mercury poisoning is directly responsible

March 11, 2009

…for some fantastic blogging.
If you are anything like me you have kept looking sadly at the updating-blogroll widgets of your favorite academic bloggers lately. Watching as the time-since-last-post for one of your favorite blogs keeps ticking upwards, verging finally into the several months territory and you have been …wondering.
Is the blog dead? Is it ever coming back? Did the blogger turn out the lights, sneak over to the next abandoned building and IM everybody but you?
It was with great relief that I noticed that the Mad Hatter is back and the tea party is rollicking!

A recent post serves up extra Madness as the Hatter notes just how good it is to be a foreign academic when trying to get a job in the US.

The professors who interviewed me for grad school were so enthralled by my exotic accent they didn’t even notice my 2.0 GPA and pathetic GRE scores. And what about the time I destroyed the ultracentrifuge in grad school and told my advisor I just didn’t understand what the postdoc had said about balancing my samples? Not only did I not get in trouble, that postdoc got yelled at for not taking a poor foreign student under her wing.
Then when I was a postdoc, my PI was so predisposed to think of immigrants as hard workers that I had him completely convinced I was working 24/7 just by making sure he saw me in lab when he arrived in the morning and again when he left at the end of the day. And my promotion to faculty? Man, you should’ve seen the unshed tears gleaming in my PI’s eyes when I told him about the sacrifices my parents had made so I could come to the US and build a new and better life for myself here.

Oh man, when you want to call bullshit on someone, you go all out doncha Mad?
Welcome back, you’ve been missed.
Now, regarding the substantive issues in MsPhD’s post that Mad Hatter was reacting to,

In other words, most of our science faculty in the US are not from the US.

I think of something other than the stats proving whether the assertion is correct or not (it is not).
It speaks more to a certain narrowness of perspective about what “science” is or even what “biomedical science” or hell, what plain ol’ biology, neuroscience, physiology, etc are. Because it may very well be the case that particular sub-areas of science, particular technique domains, etc have disproportional representation from certain groups of scientists. Once your viewpoint is narrowed down to, say, exactly what you do, it is more likely that you will see an overrepresentation and then do the usual perceptual gymnastics of concluding that your field is “all” one type of scientist.
This is a big honking problem for people seeking careers and hoping to make the transition to independence. It means you are not thinking flexibly about getting a job and a career launch first but are rather unduly obsessed about the exact kind of science you do right now. Let’s just credit the assertion that being a foreigner in one sub-area is a distinct plus. It isn’t for all. Just take a freaking walk around your local University’s buildings! Do the peeps congregating for the Envioronmental Biology and Ecology seminars look like the bench jockeys? Do the neuroscience wetlab drones look like the psych and cognitive science departments? Do the chem building residents look like the pharmacology ones?
The point is to find the overlap. Find the departments and disciplines that you are exactly in but that would wet themselves with excitement to see you and your skillset come over to play.
This process requires that you be able to see a little more broadly across the reaches of science.
post script: I was reading a blog entry recently, which I can’t dredge up right how.[This one at Pieces of Me, thanks Stephanie Z!] The blogger was a grad school applicant who was very disturbed that the grad students he/she met on an interview trip were mind-dead drones. There was a worry expressed that one would have to live with these people for the next many years with a slight concern about the personal and professional relationships. My advice to n00b grad students is to go WAY out of your way to develop personal relationships outside of your primary domains of interest. Way outside. Beyond the improved dating pool, this feeds back eventually into your professional perspectives. One of the stumbling blocks to our ongoing (yep, all the way up to retirement) ability to think broadly about interesting scientific problems and solutions is a disdain for other types of science, combined in most cases with an ignorance about them. It is very hard to escape developing an understanding and appreciation for the science that is so damn important to people you like. People you like because you have first developed relationships on the sporting pitch or in your shared enthusiasm for art, music, beer or whatnot.

No Responses Yet to “Mercury poisoning is directly responsible”

  1. Stephanie Z Says:

    I think you’re thinking of JLK’s post.


  2. Eskimo Says:

    When I was working as an undergrad in a biochemistry lab, the grad students working in that lab said: “Go straight to grad school – once you get a real life, you won’t want to go back to school.”


  3. JLK Says:

    Thanks for pointing me to this post, DM.
    @Eskimo – I was the opposite. As soon as I had a real life, I LONGED to go back to school. And now that I face the prospect of being forced back into just real life instead of grad school, I’m ready to do anything just to avoid it.


  4. Mad Hatter Says:

    Just so you know, the husband claims he can actually see my head swelling as I read this post! Thanks, dude…it’s good to be back.


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