Some more Baroness von Sketch for your morning.

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This interesting account of bias and data drifted across my Facebook feed this evening, and I wanted to share it.

And I just want to say how much I admire her for this post. Admitting when the data doesn’t support the hypothesis is one of the most difficult things a scientist can experience. I have seen many who just can’t face it, and so for this, I salute her. Good on you, Bethany.

I also want to share a little bit of my own experiences in the lab over the past almost fifteen years, which I think are an important perspective, because I do not have an advanced degree.

Yesterday I had a very anxious MD walk into my office full of questions on how to accurately present some of this Western blot data in a presentation. And we talked for a solid fifteen minutes about what made a good Western to publish in a paper versus use in a presentation, about what image manipulations are permissible, about how to be clear about what image manipulations have occurred, about how the quantification of samples stretched across multiple blots works, and so on.

And I was struck by the absurdity of it all. Of being approached by these MDs and PhDs who see me as an authority, but also of my relatively calm assumption of authority. I do know what I’m talking about, after all. I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years now. That’s probably approaching PhD equivalent work experience levels.

I do get addressed as a PhD occasionally, mostly by people who are trying to sell something and would rather promote someone with an undergraduate degree than accidentally demote someone with a graduate degree. But, all degrees aside, I would categorize my professional interactions into ‘people who see the quantity and quality of my work, value it, and accord me the proportionate professional respect’ and ‘people who do not’.

Very occasionally, I have seen a person move from one category to the other, but that is uncommon.

In my observation, people in the former, men and women, don’t care much about degrees. They value competence and reliability and honesty. People in the later care more about maximizing the promenence of their own degree and importance more than the competency or credentials or importance of anyone else.

I just finished a three year stint working with an MD by whom I was highly valued for my virtues at the bench. And he made sure I knew it, not just verbally, but in action. He didn’t just treat me as an equal, he prioritized my primary obligation to my family. And, because it was so different than almost any of my other work experience, it was transformative.

Even a year ago, I would have been unspeakably embarrassed and uncertain to have an MD approach me for advice I was fully qualified to give, no matter how he approached me. Imposter syndrome would have reigned supreme. But since my friend’s post doc ended, I have had no anxiety about these interactions. I feel like a completely different person at work.

And so, I’m inclined to see the use of first names as a good thing, an equalizer between individuals who may have different levels of formal education, but who don’t have different levels of competence.

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Whatever I Want. Mostly. Ish.

There is a woman I know, and our relationship is difficult to quantify. We’re closer than acquaintances, less formal and businesslike than associates, but somehow also less than intimate friends. We get along well, I like her, I think we genuinely enjoy one another’s company when we are presented with it…. and yet, the relationship seems entirely driven by the fact that our husbands are friends.  We never see each other outside of that context. I don’t have a word for this kind of relationship. But she has, on occasion, read my blog.

And, I found out last year, through the husband/fiance grapevine, that she was in awe of, and rather intimidated by, the projects I post to my blog. She was afraid she could never be as good a wife and mother and homemaker as I am. Dear, if you’re reading, this is specially for you. I know you won’t mind the strong language.

And… this is me. I do what the fuck I want*. If I make something, its because I wanted to make it, because I enjoyed making it, and because I love to share the process of making with other people. Also because I’m flakier than a good croissant and I need to document my process for posterity, lest I forget.

Two of my last three posts have been about baking bread and knitting mittens. I did these things because I like to bake and knit. Not because they form some ancient and hereditary gnostic feminine wisdom. There are many, many other different but equivalent goods on which you may spend your choices.

Because you don’t have to be me. I’m not modeling what a wife and mother and homemaker should be. I’m just being who I am. And I’m far more interested in who you are, and in the good things you apply your talents to, than in living in a hellish Camazotz with every house and soul the same.

* This is not strictly true, I do have three small children at home. Many, many times I do not get to do what I want, except in that least viscerally satisfying of senses where what I really want is to do what is good. Or, at least I want to want to do what is good. Sometimes it gets even more recursive than that, but I do it anyway. Ususally. Eventually. With a fair bit of whining.


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