Keeping your mouth shut to advance your social standing

The thing in the title?

Yeah, doing that makes me miserable.

As you know, I initially wrote a post that references things some people in my department had said. I had already waited a couple of days to write the post, figuring I should give myself time to think about it instead of reacting emotionally. I later removed it because a colleague said it could be perceived as burning bridges within my department. Maybe I needed more time to think. After talking with more people within my department, within academia, and outside of academia, I decided it should go back up with some edits. I think the topic of how we view evolution acceptance and education is profoundly important. How shitty my NSF fellowship draft was not the main point of that article (though thanks to those of you who gave constructive criticism).

I know not everyone agrees with me on my decision to restore the post, so I want to try to explain.

When I was younger, I was shy. Cripplingly shy. I never spoke up because it seemed every time I did, someone would make fun of me or judge me for what I said. I was that nerdy awkward kid with no friends on the bottom of the social totem pole. When I was switching schools, I knew I’d be meeting new people and had a chance to start anew. I resolved myself to not caring about what other people thought about me. I would speak my mind and share my thoughts, and screw anyone who had a problem with it. If they thought I was abrasive or weird or offensive, did I really want to be friends with them anyway?

Doing this changed my life immensely. I was finally happy with myself. There were certainly times where my plan hurt. Like many girls, I had been socialized to be soft spoken and modest and to want everyone to like me. I still feel twinges of panic when I know someone thinks negatively of me. But overall, I find myself much happier – and surrounded by much better friends – because I embrace honesty.

And frankly, I don’t think the social dynamics of the real world – be it business or academia – are all that different from a high school cafeteria. I know that by speaking my mind, I will probably accidentally burn some bridges. There will be people out there who see me as a rabble-rouser and a trouble maker that they don’t want to be associated with. Most people expect you to Play the Game, or to at least Play the Game long enough that you can subvert it from the inside forty years later.

I refuse to play that game.

Is this going to totally ruin my potential career as a scientist? Honestly, probably not. Because for every person who sees me as a liability, there are people who respect a willingness to speak up when it’s risky. I’ve had numerous biology professors and biologists in industry across the country – almost all of them strangers – say how impressed they were that I was doing what I was doing. I’ve even had some try to recruit me to work in their lab. Being an outspoken blogger is going to be seen as a positive by some people. Do I really want to be working with the people who think otherwise?

But a fairly well-known skeptic told me recently that he hoped I was looking into alternative careers, because he thought I was screwed. No one was going to hire me. You have to wait until you have tenure to be so outspoken!

What if he’s right? What if after four more years of grad school, I find out I’m totally wrong? If I realize I can’t get a job anywhere in academia, because people have blacklisted me?

Then I’d be happy to leave academia.

I don’t want to be somewhere where I’m miserable. And being forced to play that game – the game I realize the vast majority of people have to play – is not what I want in life. I rather live my life to the fullest instead of constantly being fearful that anything I do may ruin my Grand Plan. To steal sage advice from Greta – I rather be hated for what I am than loved for what I’m not. If that leaves me trying to get by on freelance writing and blog earnings, or doing who knows what, then so be it. For all I know, it could also leave me as the next celebrated popular science writer. Who knows.

But what I do know is that I will be surrounded by people who like and respect the real me, not someone who is too fearful to speak out, or too busy kissing ass. I’m sure some of you will think I’m a naive idealist, and that I should just hunker down and play the game like everyone else. But the virtues of being honest and outspoken are more important to me than climbing the social ladder or making a couple more dollars on my paycheck.


  1. Elaine says

    I think you are living your ethics, and doing it with pride. As women we are socialized away from this. You have thought through the issues, weighed the potential outcomes, and made a decision that is right for you. I applaud you and will bookmark this post to come back to when I’m weighing similar issues. Thank you!

  2. Terilynn Shull says

    I for one am very glad you decided to post THIS. One of the most terrifying things I have ever done was leave an extraordinarily well-paying job over “principle.” Keeping my mouth shut over something I felt was wrong, or immoral, or even just nasty in an effort to be a “team player” finally became impossible for me to do.

    Surprisingly, I found out that there were many people who supported me and have been great since my departure.

    I may not work in academia, but I believe you have struck a chord when you said that there is a lot of social phenomena in the work-place, ANY work-place, that carries high-school norms.

    I am FAR happier now that I have shed that unhealthy, and in my opinion, immature environment.

    Competition brings out the worst and sometimes the best in people; and sometimes the best means rejecting that which could bring you financial comfort.

    Don’t lose your idealism. It’s a powerful weapon against the tide of negativity we all face.

    I wish you all the best.

  3. Georgia Sam says

    Thanks for that post, Jen. It resonates with many of my experiences and feelings in childhood and adolescsnce, as I’m sure it does with many others. I eventually arrived at the same place you did: “I refuse to play that game.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought precisely that, and I’ve also said it out loud a few times. My life is better since I started doing that.

  4. Ray Moscow says

    There’s a lot to be said for being forthright and honest — and working hard to become good at one’s job.

    Some people won’t like some aspects of that. Too bad for them.

    Other people will value those qualities.

  5. Pepijn says

    Congratulations. You made the right decision! Sounds like you did some real soul searching and learned something about yourself. This may be a pivotal moment in your career.

  6. Jen says

    I think your decision to edit and re-post was a fabulous one. And even more imporatantly was this little life manifesto that you have posted today. I too have gone through the worries of people liking me at work (acadmia)for my non-mainstream ideas and have just recently come to exactly the same conclusions as you. Therefore I put on my Atheist A coming out shirt proudly this morning! So nice to have come to this conclusion and then been uplifted by your words this morning!

  7. Lauren Ipsum says

    YES, exactly. Life is too short to live a lie, in any capacity. Trying to be someone you aren’t to make other people happy is pointless. The stress of constantly acting, of reminding yourself to be inauthentic, is destructive beyond measure. And why? What does the approval of others give you if you have to pretend in order to earn it?

    To thine own self be true.

  8. says

    Honestly, I keep hearing about how firing off your mouth can hurt you career-wise, but it’s been my experience that it’s actually helped advance mine. Obviously you can’t just be mouthing off or the sake of mouthing off, you actually have to be saying stuff of substance, which it sounds like you have been doing. I’m glad you put your post back up. Keep doing what you’re doing, and hopefully, there will be a point, where you’ll be happy & comfortable, and we can hear more about what you’re getting up to when you’re not blogging. If nothing else, you can always post kitty pictures. That’s what the internet runs on, after all. ;)

  9. says

    Good for you. It took me until I was about thirty to realise that being a doormat made me miserable, and actually, fewer people respected me that way.

    I’m still in favour of trying to be diplomatic when I say my piece – for one thing people are more likely to hear what you’re saying – but my days of shutting up and getting ulcers are over.

  10. maverick.librarian says

    This resonated with me quite a bit as it presents issues I struggle with as a blogger, and a librarian (our profession really cherishes a “neutrality” illusion). Thanks for writing it and giving me a thing or two to think about.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  11. lobotomy says

    Great job! I think you will find many more true friends and allies than enemies over this issue.

    Stay true to yourself!

  12. nanoboy says

    I’m a post-doc working in academia. While I’m no political or social activist, I really do not think that having an activist or opinionated bent will harm your career, even if you were to choose academia. Seriously, there may some institutions that would reject you on the grounds of your outspokenness or activism, but there are likely some that will see that as an asset. Most will be fairly apathetic to it. If you speak up in any context, just keep in mind that people will respond, and even if they think you’re wrong about something, that doesn’t mean that they think that you’re being especially unprofessional.

  13. Nick says

    Refusal to “hunker down and play the game like everyone else” is what led most of us to skepticism in the first place, I think. Or perhaps our inherent skepticism makes the idea of doing so unpalatable. Either way, good on you for sticking to your guns. Even if things end up being harder or more contentious, you’ll feel better about them.

  14. says

    Good for you. If standing by principles can be reconciled with team playing (obviously, I don’t mean “team playing” in the pejorative sense), it won’t happen by suppressing the principles.

  15. says

    The tech world has a lot of people from !CS and !engineering. My major (back before the invention of fire) was in Computer Science, but loads of people I work with have degrees in Physics, Biology, Chemistry and other disciplines. Everything from a BS to one or more PhDs. And you get to tackle hard scientific problems – it’s amazing how many applications for genetic algorithms there are.

    Write lots of Python, get comfy with Linux, stop using Windows and go visit when you graduate.

  16. says

    You are an inspiration.

    And for the record: I didn’t make up that line about it being better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you’re not. I stole it from JT, who stole it from Winston Churchill. (But then, just the other day JT credited me with a line I stole from Molly Ivins, who stole it from Joe Rauh. So I guess it all comes around.)

  17. Lukas says

    I’m very surprised that no one’s linked to this xkcd yet:

    Seriously, Jen, good for you for being true to what you stand for. Far too many people choose conformity over honesty.

  18. DSimon says

    The tech world has a lot of people from !CS and !engineering.

    To those confused by the exclamation marks in kevinlyda’s post: in programming, “!” typically means “not” or “excluding”. So you could read the above sentence as:

    The tech world has a lot of people from fields other than CS and engineering

  19. says

    I don’t think you’re being naive.

    The thing about going against the grain that turns people off and makes one unemployable isn’t the fact that they’re disagreeing or not kissing ass, I think it’s that a lot of these people are trying to further their own agendas in narcissistic ways that screw others or cast aside others’ ideas in a dismissive, haughty way. Their agendas take precedence over all else. I don’t think you’re doing that.

    I think it’s highly admirable to go with your well-intentioned, well-pondered gut feelings. You aren’t trying to harm others and you’re not guided by an agenda that’s evil or self-involved. You seek truth and honesty and you genuinely care about these things. I think that’s why you’re allowed to rock the boat.

  20. bamoyers says

    I have to say, I’m aligned with your view of things. I’m getting a PhD, but I have absolutely no fear of leaving academia. If “The Game” conflicts with my ethics or goals and ruins my ability to get a job, I’ll go elsewhere. There are enough niches in the world that I (or you) will find one to fill.

    And not least among those niches is in the American Public School Systems teaching evolution and critical thinking.

  21. Katalina says

    I think that the field of science, in particular, has a duty to accommodate and/or embrace those who question and who seek truth. That’s kind of the point of science. If you can’t advocate for evidence-based truths over theories with no evidence whatsoever, how are you supposed to be a scientist? And why is that okay with scientists as a community?

    I totally know what Jen means about being pressured to shut up, play the game, and at best, subvert from inside after 40 years. Like all the others who have commented here, I think it’s more important to be true to yourself. I don’t really see any wildly successful people out there who just sat down, shut up, and played the game. It’s those who refuse to do that who become truly successful. I say congrats to you!!

  22. says

    I’ve always had a lot of respect for you, Jen. And posting this only enhances that respect.

    Potentially sabotaging yourself by publishing something which you believe is something which I haven’t had the courage to do. I’ve got at least one pseudonym to keep some of my more controversial writings private.

  23. actinomyces says

    When I first started graduate school in ecology at a university in the western US well known for its excellent program in such, there was a PhD student in my office who was just finishing up. We had a short conversation about where he was looking for an assistant professorship, and he mentioned looking at a university in Utah. I shivered and said, “Utah is a beautiful state, but it’s filled with Mormons, would you really want to work in an environment like that?” Pause. “But I admire them really, they just make shit up and believe it.” You can see where this is going, I’m sure.

    He was a Mormon.

    At the time, I could not conceive of a person who gets a PhD in science and is a Mormon AT THE SAME TIME. I could not understand how you could think scientifically enough to get a PhD and not apply that same way of thinking to every bit of information that came across your brain. I came to understand the seemingly boundless ability of humans to rationalize beliefs and to compartmentalize information that pertains to all sorts of stupid nonsense away from rational scrutiny. I personally can’t do that very well, or the cognitive dissonance will make my ears bleed, but I’ve found it not uncommon (in fact, I’d say it was the norm)–even among scientists. Not all scientists are skeptics.

    Even knowing that though, I would still be very pissed at the unprofessional comments you got–if you can’t trust scientists to uphold science based on evidence then why the hell are they scientists to begin with? It would make me question the integrity of the science they were conducting. Not just that they as scientists hold non scientific beliefs–no problem there– but that they thought it was appropriate to express them in what is supposed to be a scientific undertaking. Baffling. People like that should be laughed out of academia. I’m quite sure people writing about gravity don’t have this problem.

  24. anon atheist says

    You really believe you can burn any more bridges? Have you recently googled your name?

    But seriously, one should not piss people of by privately asking them for their opinion and then publicly complain about it. What you did regarding that was just inside the bounds so I would not worry to much about it.

  25. Lindsay says

    I think it’s great that you’re being true to yourself, and that is really the only way to be happy. Happiness matters a lot.

    One of the things you will have to think about is giving time to prove yourself within science. It’s great to write about it and spread the ideas and be passionate about it, but you’re a grad student. In the mind of a scientist, you may have great potential, but you haven’t proven yourself to be a scientist yet. At some point, you will have to do crazy amounts of work (and I know you’re busy doing that now), publish it, and go up through the social hierarchy of science student-postdoc-etc. Just because you are famous for expressing your views will not win you much respect as a scientist, and it doesn’t excuse you from the social ladder than EVERYONE has to climb in science.

    Part of that ladder is keeping your opinions to yourself sometimes. Is it fair? Shit, no! Will it change? Sure! As you gain more social standing, you’ll be able to express yourself more freely (like PZ). I look at it more as a temporary condition to deal with, and you can learn a lot about the pro’s and con’s of being expressive by watching other people.

    You’re in a bit of an awkward place because you are high-up in one realm (atheist/skeptic societies) and at the bottom in another (science, as a grad student). You still have to work up in science, so that may mean bending yourself a little more than you’re comfortable with, but if you enjoy research and are good at it, it’s a compromise that you’ll have to figure out and live with.

    Anyway, there does have to be a happy medium somewhere which grows into speaking your mind as you progress through the social structure. I do think it is a huge mistake to be too open and ‘burn bridges’ with more powerful scientists by saying you will be happy to leave academics if people don’t accept what you have to say. You’re obviously talented at research, you enjoy it, and I think that it would be awful to lose you over such a thing. But definitely don’t downplay the possibility of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person and it destroying your chances. I’ve seen it happen before, and it is depressing.

  26. penn says

    Jen, I had a great deal of respect for you before this whole incident, and I still do. But, I think the whole thing has been oversimplified. Being a grown-up often involves making short-term sacrifices for the sake of long-term goals, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We all do that.

    I fully support the idea of being true to oneself, but that clearly doesn’t mean indulging every whim. We all play the game. And I mean all. Every single socially well-adjusted person plays the game.

    For example, it might give me great emotional release to call so-and-so a dickhead. It might be completely true that so-and-so is a dickhead. But, that doesn’t make it the right, good, or courageous thing to do. I’m not saying this is necessarily analogous to your current situation. It’s just meant to highlight the complexities involved in these sorts of decisions.

    Being true to oneself is a give-and-take with significant grey areas. In the end, it’s about prioritization. Is activity X worth the risk of potential consequence Y?

  27. aurophobia says

    It’s better to be an naive idealist than a jaded realist. You can’t accomplish real change with out being crazy enough to think it might actually work.

  28. julian says

    Is activity X worth the risk of potential consequence Y?

    I believe Ms. McCreight has already answered your question.

  29. physioprof says

    While there may be areas in which remaining silent can be strategically useful in academia, stating in an application essay for an NSF fellowship that people who don’t recognize and accept the overwhelming evidence of the fact of biological evolution are flat-out wrong–either delusional or ignorant–is not one of them. Reviewers of NSF fellowship applications in the biosciences aren’t going to look down on an applicant for being insufficiently “sensitive” to fucking morons.

    Frankly, I find this whole thing mind-boggling, because there absolutely will be times when you will be told to shut up about things you find untenable in academia: sexual harrassment, gross failures of mentorship, misallocation of resources, etc. Calling out non-academics who fail to accept the basic foundational principle that underlies all of the biological and biomedical seems unexceptional, and suggests to me that the people who have expressed “concerns” about this are fuckeing clueless themselves.

  30. julian says

    It’s funny how those who expect you to go with the flow and not make waves care so little about your feelings and wants. All that matters is that you stay quiet so that you can join the underground resistance or something.

    The whole attitude sounds to wrapped in martyrdom to be healthy. You have to deny yourself so that you might help tip some unseen scale and provide immeasurable gains for future generations. No one ever mentions a coherent strategy or points to how this approach has improved the situation or how it even can. You’re just supposed to accept it as right and mature and go along with it if you want to be considered an adult.

  31. Eidolon says


    There is a concept, ‘Emotional Intelligence’. There are many ways to state it but you have to learn how to play well with other children. You would not be the first very intelligent person who doesn’t get far because they have not mastered this essential skill.

    All organizations involve dealing with people. It does not do you, or your research, much good to alienate others. In brief, it is often a good plan the STFU.

    A very good piece of advice I got from a friend – “If it would feel really good to say – don’t.” You can burn bridges in academic settings as much as in business because all organizations are in the end, political.

  32. physioprof says

    All organizations involve dealing with people. It does not do you, or your research, much good to alienate others. In brief, it is often a good plan the STFU.

    While this may arguably be true at time–and I think it is–not being sufficiently sensitive to ignorant foolish people on an NSF fellowship application is absolutely 100% not one of those times. The people advising Jen to “tone down” her NSF application essay are clearly clueless about how NSF applications are reviewed.

  33. Katalina says

    I agree that it’s simplistic to suggest that either you always play the game or you always call BS on it. But I do think it’s fair for Jen to draw the line for herself, and that this particular issue is a pretty reasonable place to say, “No, I’m not going to pretend it’s ok.” There’s nothing controversial about evolution in and of itself, any more than there is anything controversial about gravity or the fact that there is a universe full of stars and planets and stuff out there in the sky instead of “heaven.”

    And I also agree that being strategic is important in any career if you want to get anywhere, but I don’t think it’s fair to imply that she’s being childish about it (at least that’s what I get out of your comment about what being an adult entails – although I admit I’m predisposed to sensitivity in this category!). She thought it through pretty carefully before choosing to put it out there again. She’s not making personal attacks against anyone. I think her whole attitude about it has been mature.

  34. Pragmatic Libertarian says


    I just wanted to de-lurk to congratulate you on sticking to your principles.

    (And having only seen the retraction post previously, I am glad I got to read the post under discussion.)

  35. The Ys says

    Jen – I have a great deal of respect for anyone who’s outspoken and calls people out when they spout ridiculous things. Thanks for sharing what you’re going through. We’re cheering you on. :)

  36. penn says

    I think you fundamentally missed the point of my post, and the question posed. The answer to the question will vary from person-to-person based on what X and Y are, as well as the probability of Y given X. But, you are correct that for this specific situation Jen thought that X (publishing her thoughts on the comments to her NSF essay) was worth the risk of Y (being seen as some sort of provocateur by future employers or colleagues).

  37. penn says

    Firstly, I’d like to just make it clear that I have no problem with the way that Jen handled this situation. I certainly did not mean to imply that she acted immaturely, but I can see how a reasonable person could infer that from what I wrote.

    Secondly, I was more responding to the general feel of the post and the comments and perhaps specifically to the phrase “I refuse to play that game.” I took “play that game” to mean “not speak my mind to avoid negative consequences”. And, never playing that game just isn’t an option for well adjusted adults. We all bite our tongues, and that’s not a terrible thing.

    It is important to weigh the utility of speaking a truth against the potential negative consequences of doing so. That was the real point I was trying to make, since the general feel of the post and comments seemed to ignore it.

  38. Katalina says

    Ah, yes. I agree with you there. I think I projected my own issues onto your comment! We all have to choose our battles, it’s surely just a part of life.

  39. Rayketh says

    You go girl :)

    I’m a 20 year old Biology student at a small, very conservative religious school in the Midwest. Most people don’t know I’m an atheist, but I do try and speak up about evolution whenever I hear people spreading misconceptions about it (I’m a tutor for the intro Bio course, so I hear my fair share of them).

    I feel like I don’t have any faculty on my side here. Last year (freshman year) in that same intro bio course, our professor who I had liked and admired up to that point, invited the school chaplain to come talk to the class.

    This was right before the unit about evolution, so the chaplain basically talked about how “there’s a lot of ways to view the same story” reading from Genesis and all that.
    Near the end of it, my professor said something along the lines of “There’s some questions science just can’t answer.” I was crestfallen. I thought I had found an ally, because he seemed so smart and interested in biology and everything before that.

    I don’t know what my point is in writing this, I just need to get it off my chest I suppose. I really do want to try and follow your example about being more outspoken about my beliefs and everything. I admire you a lot.

  40. MicaelaJ says

    I’m a long time lurker, first time commenter, and I had to jump in to this thread to thank you for being such a BAMF.

    As a fellow shy person trying to overcome some self esteem/socialized meekness issues, it’s awesome to see someone overcoming it in such a confident and awesome manner.

    You’re my hero!

  41. ben says

    i have been told quite a number of times that i need to change my attitude or no-one will employ me. (im very blunt and insist on technical correctness)

    These managers from early on in my career are still in the same place, doing the same job, not making a difference to anything or anyone (except maybe stiffling a new batch of up-and-comers)

    I have moved from job to job every 2 years or so (i learn what i can then move on) – before starying my own business 6 years ago – and have 4 employees and enough work to keep us all going constantly – and no sign of it slowing down. About 5% of our clients dont like the bluntness, the rest love it.

    While some of you may take the above the wrong way – my point is that “playing the game” or doing “the right thing” for the sake of career is bullshit – presented by people that are going no-where, have no get up and go and no ability to actually think for themselves – and want you to be stuck in the quagmire that they are stuck in.

    While im sure your not, dont worry about it jen… sure, some people wont like you along the way… big deal… in 20 years time you’ll be up there with dawkins and hitchens and the troglodytes will still be in the same job, crying that other people have to gaul to have thoughts and opinions that offend them

  42. Azkyroth says

    There’s another important consideration:

    Empirically speaking, it doesn’t work.

    All the apologists and accomodationists for institutionalized conformity – for in-groups, for tribalism, for hierarchies – for bully culture, in short – continually assure you that the problem is you, that the system is fine and that you just need to adapt yourself to it, that if you just do a, b, and c and don’t do d or e, that you’ll be accepted and everything will be fine. And just ignore the fact that you see people who are already accepted doing d and e and occasionally a, but rarely b and never c. That’s just your lying eyes. Who are you gonna believe?

    But then you swear off d and e, and do a and b, and manage to do c nearly all the time, and it has no effect whatsoever. Sometimes the apologists reiterate that you need to do a and b, and ignore you when you point out that you ARE. Or they come up with new things – oh, you need to do f, and g, too, thought that was obvious. And h? Really, do you even need to be told that’s not okay?

    And eventually you’ve run out of letters and you still aren’t actually accepted. Even if you’re treated as acceptable, most of the time, if you ever make the sort of mistakes that people who are Accepted make routinely, everything you’ve done, all the effort you’ve put into it, that all goes out the window. They jam you right back in square one and pretend it’s all your fault.

    But it’s not about you. It’s not about a, or b, or c, or d through h. It never was.

    The world is full of broken people. And broken people make broken systems. And broken people aren’t satisfied unless everyone else is either broken or miserable enough to wish they were. And they hide behind the fact that they’re good enough at it to make broken prevalent enough to be “normal.”

  43. T.S. Lewis says

    First off, *well done* Miss McCreight.

    With the exception of differing in sex, your childhood story is mine – just add red hair.

    IMO, what you have done is chosen your integrity. This choice, and the path down which it leads, will allow you untold moments of satisfaction, strength, and inner peace. It is a fearful journey nearer its beginning, but as you have already begun to realise, many whom you’ll meet along the way – down that proverbial road less taken – many will be *keepers*.

    At 48 I can tell you that it is the only path I know that provides such clarity of being and purpose. It, alas, does not shield you from embarrassment, or fear, or doubt. But when you have made it to the other side of these temporary obstructions, you’ll still be better off.

    It also doesn’t mean that you never compromise – just that you never compromise what I will term your *core*. You’ll be building that core as you go. It will, dare I say, *evolve*. Mine certainly still is – evolving that is.

    And welcome to the Evergreen State. There are, as you’ve assuredly discovered, places that are safer to be yourself. The Puget Sound area is thankfully one of them.

    Bravo. Be well. Carry on.

  44. elizabeth says

    For what it’s worth, I’m glad you made the decision you did. People who play the political games are invariably miserable. If you end up in an academic department that is full of politics and backstabbing instead of honesty, you’ll be far more miserable than if you were unemployed. And on top of that, the economy just sucks. So whether or not pursuing a PhD lands you a gig in the end (my PhD was bloody useless, despite being in a stem field) you have no way of knowing if that’s because you offended someone or because there just aren’t jobs anyway. Second guessing yourself will just make you miserable in the meantime.

  45. Mr. David M. Beyer says

    Huzzah for you, Jen, and right on, TS. I did the same thing. I make a lot less money and EVERY DAY IS WORTH IT. I’m much happier now, more satisfied in my profession, was open to a relationship that I would not have been otherwise, and though there were hard times, I never regretted it. Think carefully about your decision, and when you’re committed to it, go for it despite the obstacles.

  46. says

    Jen, you outstanding human being! I shall consider this a lesson for myself as well. My articulated mind freezes when people around me doesn’t get what I am saying and ridicule the thing they think I think (sorry about that). I find it a lot easier to express my mind clearly in writing. Also, I find it frustrating to rarely be able to be as clear when speaking. Even if you are extremely articulate in writing, did you find that blogging helped you become more articulate in speech too? Am I wasting my time trying to explain myself to people who’d rather seize an occasion to ridicule someone instead of making an effort to understand what that person is really saying? (This one kind of answers itself doesn’t it…)

  47. says

    I made a similar choice sometime in the past. I always wonder whether it has been part of the reason for me struggling financially during the last couple of years. But, I have been much happier living openly and honestly. And being an out atheist, polyamorous, skeptic is not always easy in this world.

    I wish the best for you in the future.


  48. MCJB says

    Hmm I may have to try that out for myself and see how it works out for me. Good luck in your future endeavors.

  49. says

    I’m sorry that you felt the need to censor yourself and happy that you found the courage to change your mind. I’m also shocked, shocked that academics are pandering to religious beliefs this way.

  50. rwahrens says


    Nice post, and I agree with your decision. Games are for children, as you’re discovering, and adults that still play them aren’t grown up yet. Some never do.

    The best advice I could give you comes from Steve Jobs:

    “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of someone else’s thinking.” (Steve Jobs, at Stanford University, June, 2005)

    Further, I don’t have the exact wrote available, but he said also that you should ignore what other people expect you to do. Be Yourself, never ask “What would ______ do?” Do what YOU want to do and to hell with the rest.

    There will be plenty of people out there who will respect you for that and be willing to hire you for your integrity.

    Those are the folks that you should want to work for anyway.

    Live long, and prosper…

  51. Katie says

    I haven’t read all the comment on this post or the last so please forgive me if I’m being redundant.

    First, I think you made the right decision in reinstating your previous post. I admire you for sticking to your principles and doing what you feel is right.

    Second I like your last post because you not only described the situation and how you felt about it but you also let the readers see the material that was under discussion, allowing people to form their own opinions about what you had written.

    And now for the however. However I do feel your reviewers had a point about the ‘dogmatic’ tone in those paragraphs. I’m assuming they are reviewing it in order to give you the best shot at actually getting the grant and that if there is something in your paper that might harm your chances, they are obligated to point this out. I’m not saying they approached it in the most sensitive, but they saw a potential problem and let you know about it.

    Now that you know how others may perceive your words you can choose to edit or not as you see fit. In my opinion you can still convey the same idea, the same wonder you see around you and how science and evolution feed directly into that while avoiding some of the vocabulary that may set people off and dry up your funding (and I know other readers have suggested edits). Perhaps this is ‘playing the game’ or perhaps it’s the ends justifying the means. Either way smart articulate individuals will always be in demand…some just might have more grant money than others :)

  52. Rieux says

    You rock, Jen. The risks you are being warned about will never subside if everyone in your position decides to knuckle under.

    I know nothing about the NSF grant-application process, so for all I know, the commenters (and apparently colleagues) who are warning you about the dangers of perceived “dogmatism” might well be correct that your tone in the application will do you harm. But even if they are correct about that, the far more important issue (which I think was the point of your previous post) is that it’s fucking evil, not to mention patently illegal, that that supposedly “dogmatic” tone will hurt you in the NSF process.

    That evil, that outrageous injustice, absolutely has to be called out and denounced even if you decide (which would be understandable) that you need to self-censor in that situation. Knuckling under to religious privilege and anti-atheist prejudice might be the least-bad option in a given situation—but anyone advocating it damn well better recognize, and forthrightly so, that it is a bad option nonetheless.

  53. Stan Brooks says

    I agree with all the folks who have applauded and congratulated you for the courage of standing up for your beliefs and principles. Perhaps if more people were to follow your lead it would become socially unacceptable to do otherwise. Let’s hope that becomes the case.

  54. says

    Jen your post this April, “let’s hope this is a non-issue”, seems prophetic. You quoted the new UW president Michael Young:

    “In order to understand genuinely the world and all the things that we learn from secular sources, we should start the inquiry first from the perspective of the gospel and its basic truths.”

    That statement is downright scary. Let’s evaluate evolution and molecular biology from the world view and perspective of bronze age christian zealots? It’s impossible, but it is fashionable to admit that science and religion can co-exist. I’m confident you’ll handle this extremely well accompanied by many mumbled (or not) obscenities. Good Luck.

  55. says

    Jen, in short, you rock!

    In long, I have great admiration for your stance on this issue. Not that me having great admiration for your stance amounts to much, but I wanted to say it anyway.

  56. says

    I have nothing but admiration for your attitude. If only I were brave enough to do the same – all I have to lose, were I to lose my job on account of being “gobby”, would be my house and possibly my wife, neither of which I care greatly about.

    I can always get a job doing something menial, and if the intellectual pressure were off, I’d be able to write that novel. If everyone were as brave, the world revolution would not be far off.

    (Found this site from a browsing trail after seeing a discussion about deleting a page about you on Wikipedia, which seems to be evolving in a negative way – deletionists have far too much power and it’s getting worse.)

  57. spdoyle17 says

    Adding my “props” to the long list seen above. Six years in the military, and having to shut up and color is something that I’ve had to grow used to over time, and it never becomes easy, so to say the least while I respect you even more, I’m terribly jealous of you right now!

    Some doors may close, but as you mentioned, others will open even wider, and those will be the doorways you’ll be best suited and happier to walk through anyway. Congrats on those steps!!!

  58. says

    I haven’t been very active on the comment boards, but I had to break the silence. This post nearly brought me to tears because it hit home so hard for me. I’m not in academia, but I have a similar view on political game playing and compromising one’s own principles to get ahead. Reading your words, I could feel the strength of your personal convictions, Jen, and that you are devoted to them so completely is just another of the thousand reasons why you rock! Keep fighting the good fight.

  59. Eidolon says


    I am crushed that you want nothing to do with me. Crushed I tell you.

    Now – just how do you think academic departments work or for that matter any organization? If you think they are free of alliances and gathering support for ideas; that there is no competition for resources, choice assignments, and professional advancement you are very much mistaken.

    If, like one person posting here did, you start your own enterprise then good on you. If, however, you are in a working situation where you actually have other workers, bosses, and subordinates then to be effective in your role you will need the support of others. It does not matter how smart you are or how brilliant your ideas are. If you do not have the support of the leadership, if you say what you ‘know’ is right even if it costs you essential support of others in the group, your brilliant idea is going no where.

    If you really care about your idea then you have to do what is necessary to get it implemented. To call it a game is to trivialize the very real role of interpersonal relationships in organizations.

    And for leaving your wife – here’s your chance. Just up and tell her you’re leaving, pack your bags, and split the sheets. You say you don’t care so put up. Then you can join the legions of starving artists and writers who will not compromise their principles, but have written/painted/created art that basically nobody cares about.

  60. says

    I’d rather be hated for what I am than loved for what I’m not.

    I liked that quote enough to do a Google search for it, and every hit I found attributes it to Kurt Cobain.

    Greta, I think you’ve given us so many powerful quotes that we tend to think any great one must be from you!

  61. physioprof says

    I know nothing about the NSF grant-application process, so for all I know, the commenters (and apparently colleagues) who are warning you about the dangers of perceived “dogmatism” might well be correct that your tone in the application will do you harm.

    I do, and they are incorrect. Those paragraphs would be completely unremarkable in an NSF graduate fellowship application, and do nothing more than effectively depict the applicant’s enthusiasm for science and for reaching out to people who are ignorant of science and teaching them about it. Given the mandate of NSF–as opposed to NIH–to engage in public outreach and teaching of science, this is a very good way to start the personal essay component of an NSF graduate fellowship application.

  62. Palaverer says

    I’ve had to make some tough choices to keep my integrity. Some times it turns out badly for me, but I still wouldn’t go back. I totally support your decision.

  63. ctcss says

    While personally I am in favor or sticking to one’s guns and going with one’s principles, the problem I see is that most people here are from the “choir” and have felt similarly “put down” and “hurt” by a larger “group” who thinks differently than they do. Thus they are largely on your “side” and are cheering you on. However, this illustrates the basic political nature of the problem being encountered. If side A is in charge and asserts its power, side B feels disenfranchised and hurt. If side B somehow gains power and asserts it, then side A feels disenfranchised and hurt. It always ends up with one group winning, thus the other group must lose.

    Jen, you are obviously free to pursue whatever path you wish. But from my way of thinking, one can go through life caring little for the fallout one causes or encounters as one passes through it, or one can decide that perhaps a better way might be to try to bring healing to troubling situations.

    You very much love science and are a strong proponent of the ToE as an example of the outcome of that scientific process. This is all to the good. I personally would never want to see anything but the best science taught in the classroom at any level of education. (Creation theory and intelligent design obviously do not qualify.) And being a scientist, it is your duty to follow scientific procedures, follow the data wherever it may lead, and to do your best to draw the most informed conclusions you can. Similarly, your peers would also need to do their level best to either verify or disprove your results using the very same tools and methodologies.

    But having useful data arrived at by hard work and careful thinking is not the same thing as being granted a license to use it in any way that you personally feel fit. You have arrived at your conclusions because of the convincing data you have personally encountered. In other words, you wanted to go after something and you found it. You were in charge. No one forced you at gunpoint to do anything. No bullying was involved. In fact, it rather sounds like you had a lot of very strong and encouraging support along the way. It was a joyous journey that you undertook under your own volition. You felt good about it.

    You may want to consider whether,in your effort to promote science to others, you are giving them the same kind of encouragement, understanding, support, and enfranchisement that you felt and experienced. They need to feel OK about the process, not just about the conclusions. They may actually need your patience, understanding and compassion, not just cold facts, however “right” those facts may seem to be. I can’t imagine that too many people would prefer to have a doctor or a nurse who express no compassion attending to their needs. Bedside manner is very much a part of the healing process. The needs of patients often go far beyond the “facts”.

    The world is often a very troubling place and the current strife over science education is very much an example of that kind of problem. We see political conflict and fear all around us with people choosing sides and trying somehow to have their side “win”. Healing, rather than further wounding and bloodshed seems to be a crying need in this environment. However, doctors and nurses aren’t in medical practice to promote winners and losers. They don’t see friends and enemies or side A and side B. They are there to encourage and promote healing.

    Trying to obtain a NSF grant might seem to be rather far removed from the political (group to group) problems that humans encounter, but as you have noticed, those problems are everywhere because people (and thus groups and group problems) are everywhere.

    Bringing healing to a situation does not involve politics or sucking up. And it is obviously not about choosing sides and drawing up battle lines. It does, however, involve having genuine love and compassion for those who find themselves caught in a troubling place no matter what side of the problem they may seem to be on.

    IMO, healing is very important, even if one’s current goals aren’t in medicine or healthcare.

    Just my thoughts.

  64. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    I also left a job because of principle. I had an argument with the boss because I thought he was pushing a policy which would have disastrous results. When I lost the argument I resigned and let everyone (including the press) know why I was leaving.

    As it happens, this was a government job and the job I got was corporate. I ended up being paid more money and had less responsibility. I also had the satisfaction, years later, of telling my ex-boss “I told you so” and getting his acknowledgement that I was right.

  65. Rieux says

    Lurkers please note physioprof‘s correction (downthread @60) of the statements in my second paragraph above.

  66. RandomReason says

    Confirmation bias is one of the most dangerous human attributes a scientist needs to constantly monitor and adjust for.

    Is there *anything* in this incident, any of the choices you have made and the words you have published, that you think suggests *any* error in judgment on your part, at any point? Is there anything on which you might actually be wrong, or made unsupported assertions?

    Frankly, your communication does not instill confidence that you apply, with any regularity, skepticism and critical thinking to your own thinking. The relative # of words you expend on self-justification versus substantive response to critique is not indicative of a skeptical mind.

    Speaking only for myself, I would prefer not to have my tax dollars spent on a grant supporting someone with your attitudes and approach to criticism – even though I agree with virtually all your philosophical convictions, as well as your courage as an openly atheist student

  67. echidna says

    Jen, I’m an outspoken female in a masculine environment too. The price of being outspoken outside normative boundaries is that you must be correct and precise – unless you really do want to destroy your career.

    Your draft from the previous blog was not precise, and so you copped some flak. It doesn’t hurt to be quiet until you are really sure that what comes out of your mouth (or your pen) is what you intended to say. Then say it. No need to keep your mouth shut to advance social standing, no compromise required.

    But you can’t just speak without thinking, and expect people who restrain themselves for whatever reason to admire your stance.

  68. RandomReason says

    Very well stated.

    I would only revise to say that everyone engaged in inquiry, regardless of privilege, should take great care to be correct and precise – particularly natural scientists.

    For that matter, accuracy and precision would do us all good in all our communications. You set a good example of clarity I strive, and usually fail, to meet.

  69. T.S Lewis says

    At the risk of sounding pompous, as I’ve been at this nearly all of my 48 years, it occurred to me to perhaps offer what one hopes are practical tools to prepare yourself for the coming journey. They are in no specific order.

    You’ll need a safe haven. Best if it is your own residence (rather than a friend’s, or your parent’s). In a vein that will be familiar from GC’s (et al) ‘Better to be …” standard: better that you be too snug and alone in a closet, than sharing a mansion with those whom will tear you down.

    Realise the power of not allowing your your self worth to be at the mercy of others. A number of like minded friends and I call it “a healthy dose of ‘I don’t give a shit'”. However those whom you choose to love will still of course have this power over you.

    Though it seems to go hand-in-hand with the whole philosophy of which we speak, be very good at one or more valuable pursuits. Seek employment in those pursuits. Once employed *shine* in those pursuits – *repeatedly*. It is in this then that you can build a platform that allows you to be yourself in your employment. Expect false starts in this.

    Find someone to love and be open to someone finding you. But be careful. The strength of character you already demonstrate can be intoxicating to those whom may need more than they can ever give. At the risk of sounding callous (along with pompous), it is my lasting experience that retaining one’s integrity is a draining endeavor. One needs a safe haven and a safe balanced relationship to hold up through the storms. Your chosen need not necessarily be as strong as yourself, but should be fairly self reliant in their own right.

    Lastly, you’ll need to develop healthy foresight into the ways and means that will put you in positions or scenarios that will force integrity conflicts. I’m not suggesting you hide, but simply be aware. Continuously, purposely, seeking situations that will put your integrity in harm’s way is counterproductive. Rest assured plenty will present themselves without your assistance. And whenever possible, try to give yourself space and time when contemplating a challenge to your integrity. This then allows you to prepare.

    May I humbly offer myself up as proof that it can be done, in no specific order: married to the same spouse now over 21 years; I like – sometimes love – my work; we’ve a sensitive, bright, strong child of 18 beginning to make his way in the world; if my spouse and I get too much more successful we will no longer be part of the 99% (financially that is – rest assured we’ll *always* be part of it in conscience). All of this and I can still go to my grave with my integrity intact.

    Carry on.

  70. abb3w says

    …and if you ever get to where everyone on earth hates you, you’re a biologist; you can start cloning giant hyper-intelligent GenMod Ur-gerbils to conquer the planet while you scream “FOOLS! I’LL SHOW YOU ALL!!!

  71. Alukonis, metal ninja says

    Haven’t read comments

    Just wanted to say


  72. Beowulf says

    Ok, I was wrong. You really just want to be a part of that old boys club. Don’t worry, you’re doing fine. Papa bear PZ has already come out in your defence. I’m sure you’l become a praised academic and famous skeptic, at which point you’ll suck up all the attention for yourself every single opportunity. Your dad made a very wise comment here at some point. It went something like: It’s great that you’re standing for what you beleive, but it would be good if you had the courage to stand for those who are not as privileged as you are. I don’t think you do though…

  73. says

    Perhaps you should try this emotional intelligence trick yourself. Persuasion works better when you don’t come across as a patronizing, supercilious prig.

  74. H.D.Lynn says

    I’ve lurked in the background when you posted this, and when I read the responses to other bloggers on your post. I have a conversation I would like to share with you about my friend working on a rocketscience/robotics project. Basically, this friend (Joe), is working in a high profile lab that is in an international race to put the first commercial space craft on the moon. They’re doing well with the actual building of their design, and they’ve got some positive press. However, Joe says the PI has a problem with accrediting anything they’ve done being attributed to any person. Basically, Joe’s PI hates chest thumping, and I think there is an attitude in academia that any expressing of personal opinions detracts from the attention on the ideas and the science of what you’re doing. However, to raise money for their project (it cost a lot of money to send things into space, even when you’re well connected), Joe’s lab does need to do some chest thumping. Joe has told me the various spats people in his lab have had over publicizing their work. There is a designer on their team who also writers a blog for their project, and this designer has had altercations with their boss who wants very technical posts. However, the designer wants to make the work more personal by using blog-style writing. This is a constant issue in academia, and I think the issue comes down to trying to high-light science over any (no matter how right or well-intentioned) reference to the self, you, as a scientists. How do I feel about this? I don’t know, but I do know that the stoic attitude promoted by scientists can put a damper on activism. I’m not sure if you’re unemployable in academia, but when people are cautioning you, I think they’re coming from a place where stoicism and non-biased attitudes are prized because, then, your research cannot be accused of being biased. I, too, struggle with this issue because I believe we’re all biased to some extent, and trying to insist on perfect objectivity is a false goal. Also, I think what seems very clear to you (and me) is that, when it comes to certain topics (evolution) there is a right answer; both sides are not equal, but you are required to be non-biased, even when the other idea doesn’t deserve the same equal treatment.

  75. Alteredstory says

    Remember what your rules were when you were younger, and live how your younger self would have wanted you to.

    It’s not a foolproof way by any stretch, but it’sa guideline.

    I admire you for sticking to what you know is right.

  76. Greisha says


    At the risk of sounding dissident and cynical I still have to remind that humans possess wonderful ability called “theory of mind” – use it.

    Whatever field you move, business, government, social service you will have to deal with people and all group of people are moving around balance of interests.

    I worked in academia for number of years – liked it. Moved to the business world (for reasons completely different from yours) – liked it as well. Still need to use “theory of mind”, among other reasons because business does not have tenure.

    After all jumps you will end up either being miserably depressed or trying change it from within, using existing rules as a framework – why lose time and energy on jumps, if science is your passion?

    BTW, it was funny to read about trusting one’s guts from supposedly skeptics.

  77. Pareidolius says

    While I think your recommending being aware of group social dynamics is very sound and laudable advice, using the term “Emotional Intelligence” probably won’t win over any science-minded converts. I say this as a recovered new ager and former marketing person for one of the founders of the aforementioned, mush-minded EI twaddle. Emotional intelligence is pretty much the pop psychology analog to intelligent design, and not just because we had to “space clear” our offices before the channeler arrived every month.

  78. Pareidolius says

    Ur-Gerbil = awesome. Your injection of levity dearly appreciated amidst all the earnest earnestness.

  79. Pareidolius says

    Though I’ve been dropping snarky replies down the comment thread, I find myself wondering what my thoughts are on the wisdom of your decision to republish your post and pen the marvelous piece above. I also find that as usual, the comments, while mostly thoughtful, speak volumes about the commenters, and precious little about you. But I digress . . . I,ve always found you to be an impressive, passionate writer, and imagine you will grow more impressive with time and experience. Now, I’m not going to bloviate on the wisdom of the course you’ve charted through the shoals of academia. I’m not a scientist. Not even close, I’m in advertising.

    That said, my bloviation shall begin with the observation that the politics of academia and advertising sound terrifyingly similar (except that one deals with seeming while the other with being). I guess that the point I want to make is that aside from your scientific education, you already have something valuable that most of your detractors don’t: a brand. Now, that may be sniffed at in the upper echelons of higher learning (Sagan certainly experienced it), but those days are long gone and in the real world, it’s of enormous value in communicating encouragement to the budding critical-thinker and the basics of science to the fence-sitters. Your stand on evolution-as-incontrovertible-fact is part of that brand. It’s also true.

    Skepticism is a growing force in our culture, especially among the educated young. Yes, It’s just a swell right now, but I see it growing across various demographics in the years to come. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be canny in your dealings with those above you on the institutional ladder, but neither should you forsake your convictions, upon which the strength of your brand relies.

    Life is not easy, and you’ll make plenty of mistakes, but in the end, you’re the only judge of how it all went, and something tells me you won’t let yourself down. The world needs more Jen McCreights . . .

  80. kohldamunga says

    “But the virtues of being honest and outspoken are more important to me than climbing the social ladder or making a couple more dollars on my paycheck.”

    Glad to see such an energetic woman around. Just a question: Following in the footsteps of people like Sam Harris and PZ Myers, do you also ‘jokingly’ call yourself a ‘scientist’ from time to time?

  81. Ren says

    I completely agree with you but often lack the strength to act accordingly. You have all my respect and admiration!

  82. kohldamunga says

    “Your post is unclear . . . what do you “jokingly” call yourself?”

    My post is unclear? I was talking about those people who project the image of ‘scientist’ to the world … and spend a tremendous amount of energy to maintain that image. But when you look deep into things, you discover that the most these people have contributed to science is nothing more than memorizing some scientific concepts, and then parroting these concepts in various ways.

    Some good examples, off the top of my head, are: Sam Harris, P Z Myers… I was wondering if the owner of this blog is in the same category.

  83. says

    Hello Jen,
    Thank you for this post. It really hit’s home with me.

    I’ve been struggling a lot at my job of two years, largely since I pointed out some comments and concerns with co-worker bias/rumors, mild racial comments, and I spoke up knowing I wasn’t alone within my work circle in these thoughts.
    My boss(and owner of the small business) didn’t like this. Asked me what my agenda was. Why I was trying to upset the big happy family. Rock the boat.
    I though having been there two years meant I was apart of the family. That being one of the best sales people meant I was entitled to input. Boy was I wrong.

    No it’s not my career, or identical to your situation, but in struggling with similar ‘burn bridges’ concepts in many aspects of my life: I feel the principal is the same.

    Thank you for your post. Power to you girl.
    Please don’t give up.


  84. Jacob V says

    “And frankly, I don’t think the social dynamics of the real world – be it business or academia – are all that different from a high school cafeteria”

    Hey Jen, if you’re saying that most humans hit their social stride around 15 and don’t change much except for some refinements in later years, then I’d have to say I totally agree. I didn’t read the unedited post but this one was great!

  85. Athywren says

    I’m pretty sure it was naive idealism to think that women could be allowed to vote… just sayin’.

    My brain looked at me funny before I clicked the submit comment button. “You know people will think you’re being sexist and shout you down for it, right?”

    Less subtle rephrasing: All social progress starts as naive idealism. Naive idealism will raise humanity to hights of social and ethical maturity above our wildest dreams… I hope.

  86. christierowe says

    While I agree with almost everything that’s been said here, I just wonder whether an NSF application is a relevant forum to get on this soapbox. It seems kind of off-topic and unnecessarily preachy. While physioprof is right and you are likely preaching to the choir, you and your argument will both fair better if you are calm, reasoned and specific rather than disdainful. Regardless, best of luck with your application! Reviewer selection is a non-reproducible lottery anyway.

  87. says

    I’m so glad to have seen this post. Just like you, I grew up being so shy and teased from classmates – basically feeling like a total loser. it took getting away at college and subsequent years that I finally was able to put all that past behind and gain some terrific confidence, especially in my abilities.

    Unfortunately, the rules of work are terribly upside down when it comes to speaking about the right thing to do. Often, doing great work really means nothing in comparison to playing office politics well – which I’m not good at. The assholes stay on top while the folks with integrity are put aside. It makes no sense and makes you terribly cynical about the work world.

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