Ass umptions in science
August 8, 2013
BikeMonkey Guest-PostI’m attending a small-ish scientific meeting that includes quite a number of scientists that I do not know very well. So take this with a grain of salt… I would hesitate to blame the person making the screwup for anything beyond that.
As with many meetings this one includes a very overt and obvious attempt to both include a more diverse population that might otherwise be included and to engage the trainees. The former goal is evidenced in part by the specific mention of several travel awards that were designed to diversify the place. The latter goal is evidenced by overt pleas from the organizers for senior faculty to chat up the youngsters and the instructions to the session chairs to prioritize the questions and comments from trainees.
The representation of women in the podium presentations and session chair slots is good, so I’ll assume some behind the scenes concern with such factors.
So far, so good.
Admittedly, the attempt to take questions and comments from trainees first during the discussion period after each and every talk is a bit awkward, to say the least. But it comes from a good place and is addressing a worthy goal.
Then a session chair make a small mistake. He identified someone in the audience as a trainee and handed the mike over for the first questions.
The scientist in question was not a trainee.
Mistakes happen, right?
Except this is the only one I’ve seen happen so far* and there are certainly a number of youthful-ish looking faculty here. Perhaps they are all well known to the session chairs and this particular commenter is not.
It will not surprise you one bit to learn that this person misidentified as a trainee was a woman.
It will not surprise most of you to learn that this person dresses in a rather put-together and more fashionable than average manner.
She also happens to be rather attractive….some might say rather significantly so.
but she’s also not by any stretch of the imagination young. In fact this person is at least a scientific generation above me, although I do not know for sure what her age is. Admittedly, and in the session chair’s defense, this person looks quite a bit younger than she probably is, particularly on quick glance.
But still. It boggles my mind that anyone would immediately think “trainee” rather than “faculty”.
This person is, as it happens, of a very recognizable ethnicity that is underrepresented in science. Of an appearance that might be readily assumed to be the subject of the aforementioned travel awards designed to enhance diversity, not just at this meeting but at numerous others ones.
It’s kind of a thing to see a bunch of underrepresented trainees at scientific meetings.
As I said, I don’t know everyone here well and I do not know the session chair in question at all.
What I do know is that it looks very bad when some old guy assumes that an underrepresented minority and female member of the audience is a trainee when she is very clearly of an age in which the proportion of trainees is low and the proportion of faculty is high.
*this is most of why I haven’t stopped fuming about this.