The shackles of academia

You may have noticed that I took down my previous post. Why? Because apparently it was being perceived as burning bridges with people in my department, which was not what I intended. I just thought it was a starting point for an important and relevant discussion about evolution education.

And if I had to name the number one thing that I hate about graduate school, it would have to be this. I feel like I can’t be as intellectually honest as I used to. I can’t talk about certain things. I can’t explain what cool projects I’m working on or I may be scooped by another researcher. I can’t criticize…well, anyone even remotely related to my field, especially not people in my department, because it would basically be the end of my career. Because academia is like pretty much everything else in this world – who you know is the most important thing. If people don’t like you, good luck ever getting a job anywhere.

So, you guys notice how I haven’t been blogging as much? It’s pretty much because of this. I have interesting things running through my mind all the time, but my tongue is tied. I’m not a tenured professor like PZ.


EDIT: After much deliberation, I have decided to restore the post with some edits here.


  1. Brian says

    On reflection I’m not surprised about the issue with the post. It’s tough when you’re still on the low end of the totem pole, and little things like that can have effects that last for years.

    And I’m tempted to comment on the original post anyway, but I can easily see how that would negate the whole point of you pulling it down, and I don’t want to do that and maybe put future Jen’s career path at risk. So … yeah.

    Next topic?

  2. Cuttlefish says

    This would be another good argument for anonymous blogging. Not that I would know anything about that.

  3. Cuttlefish says

    Dammit. Meant to say “glad I read it before you removed it. Wish it didn’t have to go.”

  4. Kalli says

    Sorry to hear you have been getting a nasty dose of reality. I can assure you, it gets better once you establish yourself, and I don’t just mean tenure.

    I had a friend years ago who was basically told that no matter what she did, she would never get her PhD. because she pissed off the wrong people.

    I spent 10 years as a working research chemist. I saw the back corridor arguments and fueds between researchers. I saw one researcher waste 18 months and god knows how much money desperately attempting to make a name for herself by discrediting a co-worker she disliked. I’ve seen the nasty phone calls becuase something you submitted for peer review flew in the face of some nobel laurete’s lastest pet idea. But once you have the letters after your name, you’re in the club and while the arguements can get heated, they can’t just take it away from you. Hang in, play the game and once you get where you need to go, rock the world baby!

  5. says

    (Wow, last time I’m ever trying to comment while connected with Google.)

    Dammit, that just sucks. Was lucky enough to catch it in my RSS reader, and it was an awesome post. I actually meant to link to it later today on my own blog.

    Oh, well. Humbug. I suppose following your dream career has its price, even if it’s a particularly prohibitive one.

  6. Michael Hoffman says

    Yes, it sucks. Especially the scoop problem. I think it’s harmful to science that we have a system that creates incentives to hoard data and ideas.

    I think this conclusion is correct: “academia is like pretty much everything else in this world.” For various reasons people expect academia to be different, but it’s not.

    As far as people having to like you, you can get ahead when people don’t like you or even hate you, but it’s a lot more difficult.

  7. Rex says

    It does get better with time. Life is never perfect though. I have had a very difficult business partner for 14 years, and even though he is not my boss, I still choose to tread very lightly around him because he is such a huge pain in the ass to deal with when he gets rolling.

    Sorry that you are currently chafing under these constraints. I feel for you.

  8. Athywren says

    Bah. You’re just afraid of the puddingologist backlash! :\

    There will come a time when having opinions won’t conflict with having a career. It will happen! Hopefully this will be before humanity joins the Dodo.

  9. Lindsay says

    People often disagree quiet loudly, and there are way more politics than there should be. It does pay off to keep a low profile, in that you will encounter less resistance along the route to your PhD. Believe me, being a not particularly outspoken person, I still get wrapped up in department politics big time and am finding it hard to get through. Don’t make it tougher on yourself than it needs to be. :-/

  10. Drakk says

    I’m an undergrad hoping to get into research someday.

    I keep wanting to believe that the attitude in this xkcd would work out, but damn…watching you take that post down (I did read it, by the way) almost in real time was sobering to watch.

    Would you all call me an unrealistic idealist if I said that this isn’t the way it should be?

  11. ajb47 says

    Type everything up and post them later, when you’re done with what’s currently going on?

    Alternately, “Names have been changed to protect whoever needs protecting — There once was a grad student named Ken McCorrect…”


  12. Raymond says

    I heard on NCIS from Ducky that the lower you are on a totem pole, the higher you are held in esteem, rather than what is usually thought of as being low man on the totem pole, so, I guess it would be that she is high person on the totem pole. Just sayin.’ Yes, if you are perceived to not be likable you go nowhere careerwise and that should not be the model. Your knowledge, experience, and education should determine your career successes, not social approval. Some folks are brilliant, but difficult to get along with and therefore unlikable. Scientists, many of which are not so brilliant socially but are academically are good examples. It saddens me that she has to walk on eggs and be careful what she says and always be approved of in her articles and viewpoint just to get by in her career.

  13. Athywren says

    An unrealistic idealist is what a pessimist calls a hopeful realist who can conceive of a better future.
    Or something like that.

  14. KarlVonMox says

    I think you should still be honest with yourself as a blogger and say what is on your mind – but when it comes to writing NSF proposals where you will likely get at least one, and problably more theistic reviewers perhaps that isnt the best medium to express your atheism. The decision to fund your project is entirely in their hands – these are not the people you want to piss off. You can probably include the enthusiasm for evolution without the jabs at religion. This is all about picking your battles.

    Im a graduate student too, and also outspoken about my atheism. I’ve thought about this very topic myself. I know I have a reputation among the other students, but I dont think the faculty really notice it or mind it much. I guess the bottom line is be selective about who you piss off. Also, some people like and admire those with strong opinions and the courage to speak out. It will problably close some doors, but it likely opens others. Being loved by some and hated by others is simply more fun that being merely liked by everyone :).

  15. Lxndr says

    That’s where I am. Glad I was able to read it before it vanished. Sad that circumstances required it to vanish.

  16. Raymond says

    Lisa Simeone of NPR’s World of Opera and another NPR show was fired from the one, and the other of which those in charge wanted her to remain, but NPR decided to remove the World of Opera from programming on NPR just the same, all because she was at Occupy DC.

    So, apparently, if you work at NPR you are to give up your rights as a citizen, your freedom of speech, and assembly, or your right to petition the gov’t for grievances. I’m sure NPR management did this because she was not seen as conservative enough and lately NPR is sucking up the the right in order to keep their gov’t funding.

    More rules for the way things should not be in the same way as having to win a popularity contest to further your career.

  17. Alex says

    Yeah, I just read it via Google. Google clearly knows all, even the things you want forgotten…

    Kinda creepy really.

  18. Melissa says

    I just wanted to say that the situation your in sucks, and it sucks even more to not truly be “allowed” to talk about that suckyness publicly. I’m glad I got the chance to read your original thoughts, and it made me tear up. As a fellow science-loving, atheist, I just wanted to say keep your head up and there was absolutely nothing wrong with what you wrote. It was truth. You’re not the only one frustrated by the stranglehold that religious folk have on public education and science education, and ashamed that even in science academia standing up evolution can hurt your public reputation. I feel like we need a PSA or something where we can all stand up and say something like, “I’m Melissa, and I believe in evolution.”

  19. Andy Groves says

    I can’t criticize…well, anyone even remotely related to my field, especially not people in my department, because it would basically be the end of my career.

    One of things distinguishing scientists in leadership positions who I admire is their ability to take and absorb reasonable (and sometimes unreasonable) criticism without taking it personally. There are plenty of small, petty personalities who will be affronted by any criticism whatsoever and will remember it to the end of their days. But there are people who are bigger than that, and I hope you will find those people in your department and your field and get them to mentor you. That has certainly been my experience (and I now have tenure!)

    The nature of the criticism is also important – not just whether you think it is reasonable or not , but also the forum in which you present it. I am willing to bet that the majority of tenured faculty are not terribly blog-savvy, and so they might take offense at learning that they had been criticized “in print” on a blog as opposed to, say, receiving the same criticism verbally at the end of a presentation.

    I’m sorry you had a bad experience today, and I hope things improve.

  20. says

    Hi Jen, I am in the same situation. I ended taking down a number of posts on my blog as well. What I need right now is a tenured professor that tells me: it gets better! What makes it bad is that some of my co-workers are pretty convinced Christians (hopefully they don’t read the comments on your blog :P) and I can’t be as honest about religion as I would like to. I don’t want them running to my supervisor saying that I am insulting them on the internet… We want free speech 2.0!

  21. says

    This sort of thing is why accommodationism scares me. If you get enough people in a room saying, “we don’t tolerate dicks”, then all it takes is for someone to define ‘voicing an unflattering opinion’ as being a dick, and you get shit like this.

  22. Mikey says

    Well, if you want to turn this into a Doctor Who blog, I’ll stay onboard. It’s a rough deal out there – academia can really drag you down when it strikes, but one day you’ll land tenure and can be as wiseass as PZ. How’s the market looking for science PhDs (Biologists?) I imagine you guys get peeled off more by industry than my friends who are history or English doctoral candidates.

  23. rational jen says

    This, more than anything else, is a good motivation to never, ever do graduate school.

    (Though I’m looking at a Masters of Fine Arts, which might be different from a more disciplined profession….)

  24. sithrazer says

    It’s not an identical situation, but close enough. I’m a total social klutz, so I doubt I’d be able to express it coherently to their faces, but after what you related in the now removed posting I’d be telling them that the bridge was already burned and I was just pissing on the ashes.

    I’m grateful I got to read it before you removed it.

  25. Heisenberg says

    You know, if you feel like blogging but don’t feel comfortable doing such about your school life, I’d suggest doing a follow-up to ‘The Outbreak’; maybe a prequel or sequel? I always like the freedom of writing something that I can really let loose at and be comfortable doing anything with (something I can do pressure-free knowing in the end it’s purely for my own enjoyment and I don’t really have to do anything particular with). Just a thought! Or you could do what I do with friends and have a friend do the follow-up and then you do the follow-up to their follow up. A friend and I actually had a bit of a ‘project’ going on where one of us would write something and the other would come up with an illustration for it, and vice versa. Good times had by all. Sorry you feel so constricted!

  26. maverick.librarian says

    Looks like reality just hit. I can certainly sympathize. Academic librarianship, my chosen path, is pretty much the same way. It is very much who you know, and more importantly, it is a very small community. If potential employers learn you blog, have an FB presence, etc., they will dig all of it to see what flaws, etc. you may be bringing. As a blogger, I have had to censor myself as well quite a bit. Add to it a small town campus, and it can make things dicey. So hang in there.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  27. Kristine says

    I transfer to UW next quarter to work on a BS in biology. I hope this isn’t something I have to worry about (ever) until grad school.

  28. Rohanna says

    Dwayne Litzenberger — If you get enough people in a room saying, “we don’t tolerate dicks”, then all it takes is for someone to define ‘voicing an unflattering opinion’ as being a dick, and you get shit like this.
    False dichotomy.
    All it takes is more people showing that there’s more diversity amongst atheists than the hard-line, aggressive and rude stereotype out there that gives atheists a bad name, in order to allow people the ability to fight back with ‘You can’t discriminate against me as a citizen just because some but not all atheists do things like the Blasphemy Challenge.’

  29. A. Noyd says

    I’m there now as an undergrad, and I’ll give you a tip if you email me: anoyd [at] ymail [dot] com. (Use a disposable email if you’re worried I’m some weird stalker person.)

  30. Alisa says

    Damn, that’s a shame. I liked your post so much I saved it, so if you ever lose it and want to repost it later, or show other people, I’ve got it on my computer.

  31. Azkyroth says

    What the fuck is WRONG with neurotypicals that they create social systems that “work” (I use the term loosely) this way?

    Aren’t they, like, ashamed?

  32. eladnarra says

    I don’t know whether to be thankful that Google Reader has saved the post, or creeped out that it doesn’t automatically delete things…

    I won’t comment on the specifics of the post, but I will say that reading blogs like yours is one of the things that made me reconsider a science degree. I won’t say I was dead set against the idea in high school, but I definitely thought I was more of an English or history person. Since then, however, the discussions I’ve seen here and elsewhere about evolution in particular and biology in general, combined with two college biology classes, have steered me towards biology.

    Not exactly sure where I’m going with this, just that I’m sorry circumstances mean you can’t be quite as open as you used to be, but that I’m also convinced you will continue to inspire people to learn more about evolution and the natural world. :)

  33. Johann says

    Saved it. Not to share, not to pass on, but to remember what we’re up against.

    *academic terrorist fist jab*

  34. mouthyb says

    As the veteran testifier in several lawsuits between professors at my previous graduate school, you have my sympathy. There’s nothing quite like academics being shitty (says the academic.)

    I’ve switched disciplines because of it. On the plus side, now I’m a scientist, like I’ve always wanted to be.

    On the minus side, the five years it took me to finish my last degree were……indescribably bad. And I’m still testifying in lawsuits.

    The publicity has been kind of traumatic.

  35. says

    I hate when this happens, I feel like I’ve come late to the party and all the fun and interesting stuff has already happened and everyone is getting ready to go home.

    I guess you need to pull a page from ye ole’ Gene Roddenberry school of writing and use a lot of metaphor and misdirection so that people don’t know what you’re talking about:

    Kirk: “I… don’t see… the difference!!! You’re both…. half black… and… half white.”
    Dude who’s name I can’t remember: “No Captain, that is where you’re wrong. He is white on the left side, I am white on the right side.” Gives good ole JT a snide look as if it should be painfully obvious why they’re willing to wage a global war that’ll destroy a biosphere.

    Who knew Gene was talking about racism? :-D

    Maybe continue your short story from the other day and have Greta’s talk be about the missing post and when she’s about to say anything really contentious just type out a variation of:

    “With a loud BOOM the now comforting retort of the discarded police shotgun mangled yet another zombie. I had finally managed to figure out how to reload it, funny how pending death can really motivate you, but not before a few audience members were dragged away. Surprisingly, with Greta’s amazing ability kept the crowd so calm and engaged, they continued to remain oblivious to the pending threat, even going as far as ignoring their friends screaming for help as they were dragged through the ragged opening of the door. In fact they continued to ‘shush’ me for making too much noise whenever I, and the retort of the shotgun, saved their lives. Watching the zombies try to claw their way through the makeshift barrier made of their now dead undead friends, I had the irrational hope they would perhaps get tired and start eating their now deceased zombie friends and be sated enough to leave us living alone at least long enough for Greta to finish her talk, particularly now that its really getting good.”

    Because stories are cool and make a nice diversion sometimes. :-)


  36. says

    I destroyed my graduate career due to intellectual honesty. I was working on my M.A. in Sociology, a field that is heavy on “theories” (which are actually hypotheses) and activism (which would rather have interpretations that support the desired position than reflect reality). Of course, at the time, I saw these problems with the field as simple growing pains of a relatively new science trying to find its bearings. I struck out writing entirely new and original works for every paper (my peers often wrote a single paper and altered it in small ways to fits each class). I often criticized the many sociological “theories” because they were built on faulty or unproven assumptions. My goal was to seperate the wheat from the chaff: discard the useless or wrong and keep the useful, promising, and right. This was obviously the wrong approach as my could not get accepted into the Doctorate program as my peers did; I couldn’t even get my thesis topic approved: a modest overview on the human nature assumptions that it is reasonably safe to make during sociological study (as well as those assumptions that should be avoided due to error). When I asked why I had hit this wall, I was told by a “sympathetic” faculty member that I was disrespectful of the staff and their work. Keep in mind that I had nothing but the highest esteem for the faculty, and I never said anything that I would dream of being disrespectful. But apparently criticizing ideas that they held dear, was considered “disrespect”: scientific inquiry had become prisoner of the religion of “respect”. Now, I’m a clerk at a retail chain, suing none of my education at all. It is one of my greatest prides that I stood for intellectual honesty rather than the cult of personality or false “respect”; hoever it is also my greatest regret that I was unable to “go along” long enough that I could have finished my graduate studies and made use of my mind. Sadly, I don’t think I would have ever been able to “go along”: it’s too much like going to church and mouthing prayers for the sake of your community, even though you’re an atheist; it’s living a lie. Anyway, I know I’m rambling, but I just wanted you to know that I understand your frustration, and I hope that you are better able to run that particular obstacle course than I was.

  37. says

    Yay! I subscribed to the RSS feed and the feed gave me the previous post.

    Jen, as someone who also had a difficult time learning to stifle my “intellectual honesty” around certain groups of people (namely, most of them) I have one piece of advice:

    Learn to fool the foolish fools at their own foolish game.

    There are two main problems with the quoted part of your NSF proposal: It is too negative, and it is too direct. I know, I know, if someone is ignorant of some fact it should be OK to state that as a fact. But ignorant people are often self-conscious about said ignorance and feel it means they are stupid. A different concept, I know, but said ignorant people, being ignorant, often don’t see the distinction in the difference. And political correctness run rampant means that no one is allowed to point out that ignorance to anyone who doesn’t already see it. I know, it makes it pretty difficult to do anything other than – pardon the expression – preach to the choir.

    While it is tricky and requires much more skill as a writer, it is possible to be true to your intellect without calling out nearly everyone around you as an ignorant nincompoop. Remember, perception is everything for most people. If, in their tiny, self-centered, self-conscious minds they perceive they are being criticized then they will take that as a personal attack on the very core of their being. I know, that’s just dumb, but that is the way most people work.

    Also, remember, that the NSF is about advancing knowledge, not looking back at how ignorant most people are. Let Jay Leno take care of that. So, instead of listing all the ways that you are disappointed with the current average knowledge-base, point to a goal in the opposite direction and propose to search for ways to get there. If you need to talk about how ignorant people really are (as a statement of the problem to be solved) then do it with evidence and quotes. Say, “Forty-Seven percent of biology majors do not believe in what X famous scientist says is the most fundamental paradigm in biology since germ theory.” or something like that. This way, the facts and authority figures are making your case and no one can fault you for it. But you can’t just stop there. You must then propose either research into the cause of this dichotomy or research into how to rectify it. What pedagogical tactics can alter the statistics in favor of increasing belief in evidence based science? Something like that.

    It may matter to you that one of the local churches contributed to the frikkin’ “creation” museum. But it doesn’t matter one whit to an NSF grant manager unless that church or that museum can be shown to have a direct effect on the statistic in question. Otherwise, you are just shoehorning your own personal rant in where it does not belong.

    Keep in mind, I agree with you wholeheartedly. But you still need to learn, not only to choose your battles, but to choose your battlefields as well.

  38. Daniel says

    That’s so messed up. I mean, it explains a lot about sociology; in my experience, if any scientific field would benefit from strict rational inquiry, it’d be that one. Without having to test and justify your statements, it’s just a bunch of people flinging their opinions around. That’s not science, that’s bullshit.

    Well-intentioned bullshit, as most sociology majors I’ve met seek to use it to discourage racism, sexism, and homophobia, but there are plenty of reasons to fight against those, good ones, ones that aren’t made up.

    Ugh, that’s just horrific and depressing on so many levels. Why would anyone think that circumventing the scientific method will improve their field?

  39. Shaun says

    I’m sorry to hear about that, Jen, and you still rock. Maybe there needs to be an “It gets better” style campaign for academia. (It does get better, right?)

  40. Gavin says

    I published a couple of controversial things while I was a grad student (one magazine article and one journal article). Both brought me abuse, one brought me hate-mail. Both times I checked with my head of department before submitting them, and both times he smiled (thinly) and said “graduate students are supposed to be controversial”.

    Freedom of expression is vital in academia, and self-censorship is damaging and demoralising. As for harming your career: people who would reject you based on differences of opinion are not the kind of colleagues you would want anyway.

  41. Beowulf says

    I’m not happy that you’re going through a rough patch, specially if it’s related to the classical disenchanting about academia. But I am hopefull that, maybe, you are starting to realize what academia really is all about. Hopefull that you might finally realize what is it that you have been doing all this time with your blogging and your atheist/skeptical activism. Hopefull that you might finally accept that, even though you are a good writer, that is not the reason you became “famous”. Hopefull that you might finally accept that discrimination in the atheist/skeptical community/academia, has nothing to do with being or not being a woman. That the all mighty peer-review is more of an instrument of segregation than an all perfect tool for scientific perfection. That PZ can do the thing he does not because he is a tenured academic, but because he fell on the good graces of the leaders of the boys club that is academia by attacking a long time favourite prey group. Hopefull that you might finally understand that religion is not about believing inconceivable models of reality, but is all about authority and social power… and that academia is really all about those same things! And was also getting hopefull that you might have stand true to your principles and shift all your blogging/activist energy and talent to fight those injustices and those hypocrisies. But that hope has now faded…

    I just hope now, that it is because you are choosing to become part of that silent majority who sees what the world is really like and just chooses to breeze past it hoping for better days, just like the early mammals did in the time of the dinosaurs. I hope it’s not because your blogging as always been just an instrument for you to achieve prominence in that old dinosaur boys club.


  42. says

    Gah!! Luckily I subscribe to your RSS feed, so I read your last post in full. In fact, I was going to quote from it on my Tumblr when I got a 404 error after trying to follow the link =(

    It’s a shame, really, because you made some excellent points in it (which I suggest you re-post without the references to specific academic institutions). As for the future, how about discreetly linking to a new anonymous blog by a “fellow biologist”, wink wink nudge nudge…

  43. says

    Hey Jen, I totally sympathise. I am an outspoken liberal, political atheist, but I am also just finishing my PhD in astrophysics. I find myself having to watch what I say, watch who I complain about and play the politics like there is none other. I’m afraid I may have thrown away a potential post-doc job because I had a rant at a bar about colleagues.

    Welcome to academia, I guess… *sigh*… just remember, that we all suffer for it.

    Also, I’m totally on your side with the scooping crap. I love what I do, but can I tell people when I get results? No. Sad days.

    Hang in there, and store it all up until you get tenure ;-)

  44. JT says

    Someone blogged about your blog post being taken down, they have a copy of it up. So I got a chance to read it.

    I thought it was an excellent post and will now breakdown into how I really feel about it:

    FUCK EVERYTHING ABOUT THAT! A bunch of people in a scientific field think promoting science is too dogmatic?? What the what? Yes. As a biologist you should pretty much have to accept the central theory to biology (unless you have a better theory with mountains of evidence lying around). Please infiltrate the highest levels of academia and break everything about this. One day sit on a panel critiquing a proposal and point out that they were stepping lightly around the topic of evolution. Politely tell them that they are in a scientific environment, they don’t have to apologize for empirical evidence offending idiots.

  45. says

    I’m sorry to see your post go. It was very compelling. It was that kind of writing that got me interested in your blog in the first place.

  46. julian says

    I really wanna scream right now but doubt that would do any good. That post was beautiful, it was respectful and it was honest. Your faculty sound like a group of bullies and cowards. A shame people like that have any authority in this world.

    Hopefully when you’re Dr. McCreight you can stand up for some student being put in a similar situation. And you are totally an educator. A damn good one, too.

  47. Godless Heathen says

    Don’t worry, that’s an issue in the working world, too… My fellow atheist coworkers often shush me when I’m complaining about religions because a religious coworker might overhear.

    Also, in May, I received an email from a management level employee promoting a National Day of Prayer event being put on by a Christian employee group. The issue has been debated through our anonymous suggestion box ever since.

    Blargh to religion’s special status in society.

  48. julian says

    Maybe it’s my own paranoia kicking in again but I keep reading this not as heartfelt advice, but as a coldly calculated attempt to convince someone you believe is wrong to do what you want by appealing to their biases and fake flattery…

  49. Tom Singer says

    It’s amusing to me that this is being framed as a problem in academia. It’s a problem everywhere. Speech has consequences, and social relationships are important. If you offend an interviewer, you’re not going to get the job. If you offend the girl at the bar, you’re not going to get her phone number. It doesn’t matter how right you think you are, or how right you actually are. So you put in a little forethought, figure out how what you say might affect other people, and decide if it’s worth saying. The smaller the circles you run in, the bigger the effect will be. Take that into account.

    I interpret Jen taking the post down to mean that she either spoke/blogged without thinking of the consequences, or, more likely, thought of the consequences, but miscalculated a bit. Which is fine. It’s interesting that she replaced it with another blog which is critical of members of the same group of people. Jen, this post presumably has similar potential effects. If you’ve recognized that and decided to publish it anyway, good for you. But I hope you have, in fact, recognized that.

  50. says

    I’m very sorry you had to deal with this. I’ve seen some seriously childish shit in my grad school days, and some seriously unethical actions taken by people who knew better but could get away with it. And I had to stay quiet when what was needed was a good whistle blowing. It sucks.

    I wrote a post about some of our favorite creationists, which stirred up a shitstorm, calling for my ouster from my college. That was pretty damn stressful, and has really put a damper on my writing on the subject. I’m not there anymore, but for reasons not linked to that bit of fun, just that I’m not an ecologist and that is what they needed for the next year’s sabbatical replacement.

    You will be fine, in the end, but it seriously sucks to be in that spot.

  51. Andy Groves says

    So what if it is? Sometimes the end can justify the means. I’ve had lots of conversations with colleagues about problems they have encountered (with other faculty, students, postdocs, or administrators), and my advice is typically – “What do you want the end result to be?”. If the goal is to win an argument in the short term, then go ahead – try and win the argument. Good luck with that. If the goal is to get something positive done and to leave everyone feeling OK and on good terms at the end, then maybe being diplomatic isn’t such a bad idea.

    I’m not trying to paint this in black and white terms – there is a huge grey area between being diplomatic (or, if you prefer, insincere or even dishonest) and being completely open about saying what is exactly on your mind at any time. I think that one of the secrets to being a good academic colleague or a good mentor or a good manager – all of which rely on long-term professional relationships – is learning how to operate in that grey area in a way that is as productive and respectful of people as possible.

  52. julian says

    If it is it’s (to this paranoid nobody) incredibly insulting. It says plainly you do not respect the person you are speaking to and that you have no desire to engage them but are perfectly happy trying to manipulate them for whatever your ends are. Respecting someone means meeting them on equal terms and respecting their ability to make a decision not trying to subvert that process by smiling and pouring more wine into their glass.

  53. Chad B says

    Academia is loaded with politics. As a grad student you catch a glimpse of it… and yes, you can make life harder for yourself.

    As a researcher, they can’t take away my letters, that’s true, but they can take away my funding, blackball my papers, prevent any sort of chance at moving up the ladder. Even a tenured professor has to be careful. The only people I know that don’t have a care are the emeritus professors I know…

    Politics is everywhere, learn to deal with it. If you want to rock the boat, know just who is in the boat and what will happen if you rock it too much.

  54. julian says

    Politics is everywhere, learn to deal with it. If you want to rock the boat, know just who is in the boat and what will happen if you rock it too much.

    This kind of thinking strikes me as problematic. It completely absolves the group doing the ‘wrong doing’ and thrusts the responsibility of whatever happens onto the shoulders of the ‘wronged.’

    Why is everyone so ok with this? And if they aren’t, why don’t they make more noise about or just refuse to play the game. Such a system can’t possibly be popular or productive to a healthy debate or society. So why allow to spread, indoctrinate others into it and chastise those who express dissatisfaction with it? What sense does that make?

  55. Chris says

    I read the post, and found it to be completely reasonable. I fail to see how anyone could equate “following the overwhelming evidence” with “dogmatic”. This was a sensible criticism that needed to be heard.

  56. jose says

    Science is a human activity with people in charge. Who knew?

    May this post serve as a useful, eye-opening reading on how science works. There are too many skeptical blogs telling romantic fairytales about the scientific method and the scientific community and the fascination for Mother Nature and looking at the world freely through the passionate and innocent eyes of a child and stuff like that.

  57. JM says

    I, too, once started down the road of sociology grad school. By the time I was ready to do my thesis, I was so popular that I wrote 4 proposals that got rejected. I later went to a course-only master’s program in IT and have been in software development for over 20 years. There is still politics, but at least I can earn a decent living if I “keep my mouth shut and wear beige” as a friend says.

  58. ajb47 says

    I almost put “McLeft”, but realized “McCorrect” is so much better. Now that I am thinking back on it, I probably should have used Guinivere McCorrect. I always think of these things much later.


  59. says

    I feel your pain. I work in government and want to be an author. There are plenty of things I’d love to comment on/write a blog post about but I have censor myself so that I don’t burn bridges or shut doors in advance.

  60. says

    It’s very easy in academia to convince oneself that upholding one’s principles is incompatible with being a team player. It’s often very hard to figure out how to do both. But there usually is a way, and (like most things) when done well it looks easy. Finding a way to reconcile the two is worth the effort.

  61. says

    I read the post that was deleted and I don’t think you should have to take it down. I think if the post became such a controversy that it blew up than you would have a greater influx of support from influential biologists than you would have an influx of punishment. You didn’t name any names or put words in anyone else’s mouth. The only thing that you said that should cause any offense is the conflict between science and religion – but you made it clear that you are criticizing religion only in so far as it contradicts science.

  62. Andy Groves says

    At the risk of stating the obvious, I think it is important to keep a sense of proportion here when we talk about compromising principles*. Take two examples:

    1. You are made aware that one of your colleagues – let’s say one of your senior colleagues – has engaged in scientific misconduct. Do you compromise your principles by not reporting this because you are afraid it might damage your career?

    2. The grant administrator in your department has a small postcard on her cubicle wall that says “Abortion stops a beating heart”. You are pro-choice. She is really good at her job. Do you decide to have a frank exchange of views with her, even though you know it will likely end badly and sour your professional relationship with her in the future? Or do you compromise your principles and ignore it?

    What I’m trying to say is that while all of us have principles and beliefs, not all of them are worth going into battle for every single time on a day-to-day basis with our colleagues. All of us have comfort zones and different lines in the sand that we will not cross; the challenge is to work productively with people whose comfort zones may be different. Sometimes it will be impossible. But not always.

    (*I’m not suggesting that John lacked a sense of proportion, I’m just building on what he said.)

  63. Craig McGillivary says

    This is a mild parody based on the deleted post:

    College was a bit of a culture shock for me. I grew up in a very conservative Christian community. But when I moved to this northeastern University, I quickly realized this was not a universal truth. I found that Christianity was not common amongst the non-theologians on campus. I was shocked to learn that even many of my fellow seminarians did not accept Christ as their savior.

    The fact that so many people didn’t share my fascination with Christ troubled me on a personal level. This wasn’t simply someone disagreeing with how I earned a paycheck: Learning about Christ was the key event that led me to adopt a conservative, god centered worldview. I felt like people were rejecting the ideals that shape my ethics. I wanted others to understand my feelings of awe as I contemplate the crucifixion, or how lucky I feel to have the god given traits to contemplate the crucifixion in the first place. I quickly learned that many of these people still valued god, but never had the opportunity to become one with Christ.

    That realization motivated my passion for street preaching and sermonizing. […]“

  64. Craig McGillivary says

    To be clear, I actually agree with Jen’s post. I think that the problem with Christians isn’t that they are certain, but that they pretend to be even though they have no evidence. Its probably bad form to write a parody of something that doesn’t exist, so I wouldn’t blame you for deleting it.

  65. says


    It is called speaking to your audience. I was channeling the me from not too very long ago when I would not have understood or accepted that the only way to fight the system is to pretend to be part of the system and change it from the inside. It’s like being toxoplasma gondii except you slowly make your victim go sane. No one writing about academia from the outside will ever change it, especially after they have been booted from it. However, If you tell people what they want to hear for a while, or at least don’t shout what they don’t want to hear, then you can replant the seeds of true science as you build your reputation for good solid work. You can put a bug in this ear or that. You can commiserate with your less entrenched friends while planning what you will do when the turf protectors have finally retired. As Max Planck said, “Science advances one funeral at a time.”

    But, if you piss off the established power structure, you will be booted out and blacklisted, regardless of how illegal that may be. And then you won’t be able to help anybody. (Unless, of course you form or join a non-profit and go off and preach to the masses your way.)

  66. julian says

    Why are you sharing this here? Looking at your scenario the roles were reversed. Ms. McCreight was the one sitting at her cubicle minding her own business with a poster expressing her views up when she was approached by her manager and told to take it down because someone had complained.

    Are you suggesting she follow suit and start straight to the boss whenever she sees views expressed she doesn’t agree with?

  67. SciCommenter says

    I think that the response is to accept it because, in general, many of us recognize that we are also guilty of it. If someone comments negatively to me or a colleague about my writing, do I simply accept it or do I respond with at least some emotion? The emotional response may be to seek support from my local echo chamber, to lash out at the commenter, to repress, to partake in a distracting behavior (a few hours at the local pub). Does this emotional response color my response to the commenter’s other work? If you are always able to compartmentalize response to a critical comment from your own general feelings for a person or specific feelings towards a person’s work, then you are, rightly, a far better person than I and than most people I know.

    Recognizing human nature, whether you believe that the most likely response is the correct one or not, is important for succeeding in any collaborative exercise — which science absolutely is. Someone has to fund you. Someone is reviewing your work. Someone is working in your lab. Human nature isn’t likely to change and, if you are honest with yourself, you’ll probably identify some examples of poor behavior in yourself that, in a strictly rational world, wouldn’t make sense to condone or continue.

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