Thursday, May 29, 2008

Scientists in regular news papers

I wondered again yesterday why I didn’t study economics or finance or something else that the people who write in the ‘real’ journals and papers studied [if they did at all]. After all, it seems like the people who are most responsible for letting us know their opinion, affect and rule (very loosely term here) us are almost exclusive non-science people. I guess I should clarify, almost never ‘natural science’ or biology/chemistry/physics/math… but really, they seem to be either MSc in political science/finance/MBA or they are famous and/or politicians.

Why not (you might state)?! Why would they be [b/c/p/m] when we are talking about important stuff like education or general politics or economics or moral issues?

Well, I understand if we leave the scene and let the ‘experts within each subject battle it all out’ BUT that is not the case with what it going on. I read papers and articles about “how to change the school system to make it more equal”, “should we have a public service television”, “is it really discrimination this immigration problem we have” and lots of other things (“should we subsidize child care/family leave or not?”) but almost never are the people who argue for their stance ‘experts’ in the field. Or at least not what I would call experts (partly because we don’t run a country solely based on economical decisions but rather a choice of what to spend the money on and why, based on feelings etc.) . Who are they then, if not MSc in finance? Well, they are just regular people (ok, however regular people involved in the politics/journalism/business are) who are interested in the life around us**. You know, the thing we call society, and being part of the ‘public debate’?!

The only discrepancy I find is that when a scientist not from those fields expresses an opinion or writes an article about “why we should do this or that” the main argument against them is always “you are not of this field. Don’t hide behind your PhD in [obscure chemistry related subject] stuff and voice concerns about this since this is “social sciences.””

Funny enough, I agree on some level that it annoys me that some scientists/Profs/PhD-students use their title to somewhat say “look, since I have this degree I am clearly smarter than you and therefore I can say things about any subject with authority even if we both know this isn’t my real subject”. [This stand point could need a discussion relating to it, since I am on the fence about this, to my own chagrin.] On the other hand, I do think that society, and especially the debate about what kind of society we live in and want to live in, should be the responsibility of everyone and you should feel obliged to be a part of that discussion.

Maybe if more chemists/biologist/math/physicists would voice their opinion and show that we too are regular people and not just quirky researchers in a lab with white coats torturing animals or staring at diagrams of electrons and their move through vacuum, the rest of us could be looked upon as proper people with a valid right to speak our mind?!

I wonder if this concern is really true or if I am over sensitive but surely it seems like most scientists stay within their field and only really are found in the papers to debate “the funding issue” or maybe something directly related to their science like the Climate change if you are a biologist….

**for the Swedish readers, I need to mention that Dr Rothstein do voice his mind in every aspect and no – I don’t agree with him using his professor’s title to make a heavier stand point. But just imagine, wouldn’t it be interesting if there was anyone else apart from Rothstein and some of the other Dr in ‘nationalekonomi’ who could state opinions and the news papers would actually publish their stances?

***I might be a tad bit over reactive about the subject today since I didn’t manage to do things I set out for myself prior the weekend… just in case my post is unclear that is (and yes, I’m like an elephant “I never forget!” ;) )

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I am trying to work, I promise. It's just that my head is bored trying to figure out how on earth the data dots should be combined in order to make a nice graph - or at least something that makes sense for people who hasn't studied the raw data in detail for the last.... Let's say three months to make things easy.

I was actually trying to find an old Arne Anka ("Sometimes one wonders if one lives in a country or in a joke") but I stumbled upon this picture in my archive. I really should have put down where I found it. My guess would be somewhere in an EU report about women in science…

I am still thinking about the future by the way. Go figure. Tomorrow I will see what both sides say when (if if if) I get a hold of them on the phone. Wonder if it will make things more clear? Let’s hope so.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tonight’s the night….

Let’s hope that we are talking about an end tonight. Stars vs Red Wings. I want it to end with a win for Red Wings in Dallas so this scary semi-final thingy can be over and done with.

I realize that I have to confess.

Yes, I have succumbed. I have strayed from the path… the path of the teams from Canada and the beautiful Maple Leafs… To the only other team one can root for as a Scandinavian expat, namely the Red Wings (no, that very short infatuation with a certain hockey team from the south last year doesn’t really count). The Wings has like 7 Swedes… the Mule being the one who are missed dearly at the moment. Come back tonight!! Play with the guys!! And WIN FGS!

I am ashamed for switching allegiance, don’t get me wrong. This is not something I am too proud over… and I have lost sleep and I did blush when that Red Wings shirt was found on my body that other day. However, my teams (the dear Leafs and Canucks) are not in the final rounds so… I am not really betraying them. I do acknowledge that it might be considered cheating… but just a bit… like a stolen glance on the side… or a little innocent flirt ending with a kiss on the cheek… or – ok since you twitch my arm about it – behaving maybe a tad little bit like a hussy* but I mean, what is a poor hockey fanatic to do when there is a final to be played and a team to pick?! And the favorites are missing out since they didn’t qualify and therefore leave me totally alone?!?!?

However, the main concern for me at the moment is “Where will I be able to watch this very important game tonight at 8 ET?” And maybe more important for the discussion above, “What am I willing to pay in order to see the game?” (No, I don’t have the only TV channel that shows it and the few people I know with the channel are – you guessed it – men…. )

Pah, I’ll wait and see if something shows up from the bottom of a good hearted person before I even contemplate the other options.

*(as someone said in another fora…)

ps. I feel the need to clarify that I would never ever leave my bacteria for something else, some other microbes like fungi or the field of immunology or likes like that. Never! I am faithful to the G+... and have only used the G- to produce smaller data dots and constructs so there is no need for you to worry about my real commitment. It’s just that the Red Wings has a good line up and they do really win… and the logo type isn’t too bad either.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why men would benefit from having increased gender equality

I did end my former post about feminism and career choices by pointing out that in order to try and change our non-equal society, maybe it is not enough to adjust how we raise and educate girls ‘to take up more space and time and think about themselves’ but maybe we need to think about how we raise boys as being more considerate of others [you know, those traditional ‘female’ skills…].

It did occur to me as recent as a month ago when two male post docs in my department became dads for the first time. Let’s call them A and D for short. They looked upon their future roles as fathers from slightly different perspectives. A was a work the next day after his baby was delivered and has been in lab since… D looked at me with a little bit of nervousness when we talked about ‘what was going to happen after the baby arrived’ but said that he was going to take 2 weeks off [maximum to have here] and be at home. He further went on talking about how he would like to be there and raise his child and be an active part of the baby’s life. The same thing was what another friend post doc V did last year when he got a baby. His PI however was surprised and said [in a sniggering voice] “well, I wasn’t skipping work just because I had a new baby in the house”. I’m not sure how I would have responded to that so I am happy I didn’t stand in from of that PI…

Let’s just say that I think this illustrates one main problem men might have when trying to break the circle of being “a typical male”.

I furthermore attended a lecture a while back given by one of the Big professors in the field, he is now ‘semi’ retired but still haves a lab. He was asked what he would have done differently if he were to start his life all over again. His reply? (Well, it wasn’t all “I would have cleaned the house and made more washes of laundry” but still in the spirit of such…) “If it was something I would have liked to see my children grow up a little more. It was a stressful time, I had just gotten my PhD and started my tenure track research position and I just didn’t think about being home and being involved in the family. I guess my wife took a hefty load of it all as well as being one of my research techs in the lab – I am not really sure on how she made it; taking care of children, me and my lab”.

I don’t either. But I was happy to continue listening to his talk about the need to have a good life outside of lab “not because you don’t want to work but because you need to flex your brain. The best ideas can come while watching/listening to that opera, or playing with your kids, or explaining school homework to them. You never know what cross-links in your brain”.

Conclusion? Take home message? That if men would consider how much of the gender stereotypic behavior hinders them in their choices, how much of a box they are in, maybe they would be more inclined to see that working towards more gender equality would actually provide them with more choices and benefits. There are, after all, a number of areas where men are looked at with disdain and “well you can’t do that since you are a man” and at least I would be thrilled to not be judged like that based on the fact that I have XX or XY chromosomes.

I do think there it is important to remembering that we all – male or female – have things to benefit from not being recognized only as a “representative of our gender” but rather as an individual person with different goals and dreams.

(“The truth will set you free” – I just had to say it.)

[Disclaimer: Of course there are individuals that stand to loose power when adapting to this mind set. Namely the alpha males who thrive in our society today, the ones who aren’t involved in family life, more than maybe bringing home the cash, and rely on others to follow suit. The ones who would like to have this system very much left in place. I guess there is that thing though, you can’t please everybody but seriously – I do believe that the vast majority would benefit from being freer in our choices and a little less molded into whatever the gender role is. The issue and implications of class/socioeconomic status on this argument will have to wait for another post later on.]

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

It been brought to my attention…

..that a recent blog post of mine was considered to be ”uncomprehensible”. I therefore will retort to my old way of writing (and I am quite sure that my old teacher will cringe in his home…) – namely bullet points.

So, in short the points I was trying to make, although I am the first to acknowledge that I was a tad bit upset when writing, which never makes my writing clear.

Regarding the issue of being a woman and furthermore being in science or maybe we can call it “why some careers are more obvious for women than men and vice versa”.

* XX and XY might not be biological exactly similar, that particular feminist theory might be a too large assumption to make.

* XX and XY might not either be completely biological different, like other feminist theories state.

* The over all variance within each group of XX and XY in regards to brain capacity, nurturing feelings and other ‘behavioural” aspects is greater than the difference between the groups.

Why do I think this?
* To avoid thinking that men and women are unaffected by the society we grow up in is naïve. We are all affected by the families we grow up in, the role models we see every day, the music we listen to, the books we read, the history we all share – and let’s face it, to state that there isn’t a large societal baggage that is present in our everyday is spitting all previous instances and years in the face. (As usual, try to exchange the word ‘woman’ for ‘race’ or ‘class’ and the argument might be a little clearer?)

* Therefore to assume that we all are “free to make the choices we make solely based on the fact that we have XX or XY chromosomes” is non correct.

* To draw conclusions that women want to be veterinarians based on the argument that “they are nursing and gentle in their nature” proves two things to me.
First of all, the person doesn’t know what a veterinarian does since it has little to do with being “nurturing” and if you look where vets are employed today you’d find a vast number within the food industry checking our cows, pigs and lams before they go to slaughter. Not all vets cuddle cute little dogs and kittens….
Second of all, not many years ago there weren’t too many women working as vets so clearly something has changed, either in the work itself or in the educational system (or women have changed). To make the argument that nowadays women choose being vets because the want to nurture (like nurses?!) rather than becoming physicians is somewhat odd.

* Based on general grades from high school (from my Scandinavian country anyway) teenage girls have significantly higher grades and therefore they have access to the education of vets – boys do not. (The same ratio is now starting to present itself in medical school and there the solution has been to increase the ratio accepted into Med School based on interviews rather than solely on high school grades.)

* And the given reason girls have higher grades in high school? Because they are smarter of course! (Not that they are more prone to study harder because of the pressure? And that teenagers, especially girls, are still more eager to please [their parents among others] and be top A student. Or some other _sociological_ reason….)

* The [vet] discussion [in the article] is uninteresting since it simplifies the complexity of the issue if you look at “which areas do women choose” only from one angle and nothing else. (I could say that my scientific training has taught me not to hastily draw conclusions based on things that seem to be correlating but rather really investigate if there is a real deductive argument (based on causality) or if it is “a false hypothesis based on false premises” to use the words of my old philosophy professor.

It all reminds me of a discussion back in the day when I was a “horse girl” (no, not drugs – actual horses). Everyone talked about the vast number of girls existing in stables and taking care of horses and riding and being involved. That it was such a “girly thing to be”. Then we looked at the top riders, jumpers and steeple chasers in the world. Any takers? Yes, there are mainly men. One could wonder how that happened since usually you would have to look with a prying eye and really swift through massive amounts of teenagers to find the boys in the stable

Heck if I know. But I do have a theory. And yes, it is based on the same “mix between biological and sociological” that I have mentioned before.

Maybe we teach boys (men, XY) to be more egoistic – self centred – and thinking about their own goals and wants, whereas we teach girls (women, XX) to think more about their ‘social’ bands like family and relationships than their own goals primarily. Maybe women in general are more willing to consider, consciously or unconsciously, compromises rather than pursuing their own dream no matter the cost?

I mean, even if we have come a long way on the road for equality the fact is there, whether or not I like it, that in today’s society the primary caretaker for children is considered to be the mother. I agree, there are men who want and do take care of their children but if you look at communications from the government, the kindergarten teacher’s calling home to ask about the children, not to mention the “work situation”; the main statement is still “mother is the most important person in a child’s life and therefore women will stay home with sick children and we can understand that”.

(I have more than three men in my close vicinity who have told me about their bosses [nasty/non-understanding/negative] reaction when they wanted to be home with their children and take responsibility like they thought was obvious since they were fathers and a part of the family…. No such thing when my female friends said they needed to pick up from kindergarten, staying home with a sick child etc. The bosses thinks it is annoying to have one less worker but they “understand” since they are women…)

And this leads me to my last paragraph; that women are usually considering the needs of others when making a decision – and this fact is most likely not based on biology as much as social ties and convention. Maybe it will all be better in the future if not only women try to become more “historically male-like” in their behaviour but if men (“we raise boys”) to be more “historically female-like”.

Feel free to exchange the words male-like to “think about you and your wants” and female-like to “think more about social ties and others around you”.

Hopefully this post was clearer?!

(And I who had plans to write about Red wings and being an unfaithful supporter as well as my views on “How you can avoid making a bad decision as a mentor” – well I can say that in short; when someone in your lab is giving a talk – don’t plan to sleep in because that will look strange to everyone…. And give the post doc less enthusiasm about the whole thing.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Thank you

It occurred to me last night when reading a bunch of blog posts from other people that I missed my own anniversary . Or, maybe not mine per se but this blog’s…. it has now been more than a year, almost two years since I wrote my first post and I have to say that I am eternally grateful for this blog or rather the comments that have been posted every now and then! It is great to have a vent, and even if I thought I would have posted more research related – as in real data and discussions about research findings – I do find that my main concern and thoughts have been of research and the impact on my mind, my life and my emotions. All things I guess one could call research related, although not as I had initially thought.

I guess it reminds me more than ever about my comments after defending my PhD thesis. “It wasn’t the actual lab work that was the hard part. It was getting along with my supervisor, having a healthy life outside of lab and actually making all those management deciscions.”

I think it has been the same with my post doc so far. The actual research has gone quite well- apart from maybe those blasted transformations but I have somewhat made them a smaller part of my brain capacity (that means I am making a modified transformation and use new primers every now and then and sooner or later the thing will work…. I hope).

Anyway, I just wanted to express my gratitude to all you readers and comments that have been placed here in response to my (often emotional) posts. It has made my post doc so much more enjoyable and given me plenty of thoughts!

I have also realized that I needed to update my link list of the blogs that I frequently read and muse about.

Back to making data analysis and preparing for bed. I really need to make myself go to that thing earlier since I tend to stay awake for too long…

Friday, May 02, 2008

Wow, I thought I was tired

Wow, I thought I was tired. I was when I finished reading this: Why can’t a woman be more like a man?

All I have to say at the moment (apart from “I am SO tired of this senseless debate of biological sexes being the answer to every #$#$#$# thing”) is that it would be so nice to just read once – only once – in an article like this that “even if there is a big difference in who enrolls where” and "even if there are biological differences between the sexes” why on earth wouldn’t the “upbringing and sociology pressure (what would be called ‘group behaviour’ and ‘peer pressure’) play a role in these choices that we all make"?

Not to be the one who argues that it is wrong to claim that [more] women in general would be described as ‘nurturing’ than men, but seriously, when was it considered to be a good thing for a man to be nurturing? Isn’t it a fact, that it would be a little like a circle argument to try and really distinguish between why women are like this and why men are like that since no one of us are really free from peer pressure and society laws and traditions?

And, like I think I have said a million times, “as one asks one receives answers”. (I am sure this expression is not like that in English, since I just translated it so but still, “make the hypothesis based on the answer you want it to say”?!?!)

Maybe, just maybe, women and men are more similar than not? Maybe the differences between us are smaller than the differences within each group?!?! (I am so tempted to just say ‘look at all the queer people around you and try and fit them into a stupid “boys do this and girls do that” reasoning.’)

I mean, the article states that one of the reasons so many women are vets are because “veterinary medicine would be a dream job for the scientifically gifted but empathy-driven female. This challenging and exciting field appeals to the feminine pro­pensity to protect and nurture—and the desire to work with living things.” Sure. I guess that is why there aren’t an abundance of female MDs? Because they are not working in an emotional environment? But surely women are prone to be nurses…. (sarcasm anyone?) Geezzz. And yes, I know that the MDs’ specialties where you find most females are pediatrics and geriatrics. The male stuff; surgeons and pathologists. Of course I think that has nothing to do with the machismo attitude found in the surgeons’ quarters or the slight strangeness altogether about pathology?!? (Yes, sarcasm is here and it is going to stay.)

I am going to make a bold statement, and especially since I don’t like writing things as hard statements but still – I have thought about this for a while.

What if the main reason for certain subjects, say math and physics, are so heavily male dominated (or even saying that the top notch 4 in almost any specialty field) is because there is/was an attitude that it is ok for a man to be egocentric and focused on one thing and one thing only, whereas women are more likely to be taught to take care of others and by jolly God not put their [own and personal] needs in first place. Always have a focus on youself as a team player (“What does that implicate for others, dear?”) rather than looking at oneself and ones happiness and wants (“You can do this and don’t care what others think they are just jealous”)?!

Something to do with that power thing that has been a key player in most of the decisions/laws/traditions since for ever in history?! That it is nice to keep it all structured and good and let women stay home and not be educated since then there is a likelihood that [certain] men can feel threatened by them. (Why on earth would it otherwise have been ok for women in the upper classes to read and write as long as they never pretended they did?!?!? Or voiced an opinion. Of course they didn’t want to… Sure…)

Anyone with half a brain will understand the use of men and women in the second to last paragraph.

And I really didn’t want to write this today since I have too much to be worried about anyway. Like I read at PropterDoc “'Lifting a Ton of Feathers".

I am going home now. The feathers will have to wait until tomorrow. I am sure they will feel as heavy then. If they haven’t blown away by the gusty winds that are bound to happen tonight, that is.