Problems with women…I mean Tim Hunt

When the news of Nobel laureate Tim Hunt’s remarks at a convention of female scientist and science journalist broke out this week, my first thought was,

Oops.

Oops, because I am a culprit of crying in front of male advisers, once during graduate school and another during postdoc.  I had perpetuated a stereotype held by the prominent scientist.

Fortunately or unfortunately, but most conveniently, I am a type who does not remember unpleasant events.  So I do not in detail remember why I cried in either of the instances (one was ~15 years ago, the other was ~6-7 years ago).  Most likely I was criticized — of my work ethic, apparent lack of ingenuity in science inquiry, or something else.

Before I reveal further, I should mention that I never cried.  I considered myself strong, independent, mature, and emotionally stable.  Crying in public, let alone in professional settings, was unthinkable.  I was rather stern and cold actually; I saw others cry (men or women) and a part of me wondered why they could not be tougher.

So for me to cry, it had to be something grave (or just I was not as tough as I thought).  In either case, my advisers did not seem to be unsettled by my crying.  They kept stabbing me with criticisms and accusations even after my tears were flowing.  I defended myself, rebuffing and disagreeing with their claims as struggling to control my tear ducts, running nose, and breathing.  I was mostly angry at myself for having brought out such distressing discussion upon myself.  My advisers were not the type to harass or bully, so what they were saying about me must have been true, and it was terrible.  At least the discussion brought to light how they were viewing me. I was shocked and felt the need to correct it with all my might.

Training and mentoring someone do not have to (or should not) include tears.  Yet in my case perhaps it was needed.  Maybe I really was a bad graduate student and postdoc who was not achieving potential and my advisers ran out of patience and options.  Maybe I needed to be humbled and inspired, and it was what it took.  Maybe they wanted to test me because I seemed so cold and emotionally flat [ha].  Maybe my advisers and I had real human relationships where we could freely express ourselves upon built trust. [In fact both advisers and I got along really well besides those instances. I respect them both as a scientist and person.]  I give my advisers far more credit than Tim Hunt who must be really uncomfortable with seeing someone expressing emotions.

Perhaps Tim Hunt’s real problem is not with women; it is with humans, humans who express emotions and fall in love.  Are emotions that bad for science?  Is it not diversity, collisions, conflicts, and distractions of ideas that produce the best results?


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