Thursday, May 1, 2008


Yesterday evening I was chatting in the hallway with two guys from my program. The architecture of our building is such that I don't usually cross paths with grad students from other labs so I don't talk to these guys much outside of classes. Anyways, we were talking about our different research plans for this summer, the job market, food prices, and complaining about various things (these two guys like to complain a lot in a jovial sort of way). They asked about my plans for this summer and I regaled them with tales of the various hoops I'm jumping through, blah blah blah. Then one said, "So why are you going to Nyota instead of Neotropical Field Site where Herb works? Wouldn't that be easier?"

Regular readers will recall that I did a long post about this in January when I was trying to figure out where to go. But this post isn't really about my reasons- it's about how I replied to that question and why my response is bugging me.

The first thing I thought to say to the question was that I have a better opportunity to make a name for myself at Nyota. There are many people working with critters in the Neotropics, but there's only a handful of people working with them in Africa. I said I'd be more able to establish myself as an expert in the field. Then I also mentioned that I also really wanted to go for reasons I couldn't quite explain, and I told them about my conversation with Leo when he said, "You really shouldn't underestimate the value of your heart in making a decision like this." Plus Nyota's a great place to study what I want to study, Sam thinks my project is a great one, yada yada scientific reasons.

Afterwards, I thought, Why was the first thing I mentioned that I wanted to "make a name for myself"? I must sound too ambitious, and that's not the main reason anyways. Now I'm totally hung up on the idea that I think I might have sounded "too ambitious" to my (male) peers, and even moreso I'm contemplating why I'm still thinking about this conversation that they've probably forgotten. Considering that my goal is to teach at a small liberal arts college where I'll be doing more teaching than research, it doesn't make sense that my first response would be related to prestige in research. On the other hand, maybe I subconsciously felt like I had to say something like that for them to respect my justification. Still further, if one of my goals is to become a respected expert in my field, why should I be ashamed to articulate that? Even before the conversation changed focus yesterday, I thought, I should also explain to them that teaching is important to me too so that I don't look like a fame-seeker. This is totally whack, since I really shouldn't feel the need to backpedal or justify ambitious research plans.

Somehow, this antiquated idea that women shouldn't be "too ambitious" is still down there somewhere inside me, and I want to get it out.

1 comment:

Paulina said...

well I feel that in your field, unlike for example mine (molecular biology)it is part of receiving your PhD to stand out. I feel that your ambition is not so much a reflection of a fame seeking nature but a necessity in your field. In fact your clear and introspective thinking is what makes you, in my opinion, such a successful PhD candidate.