Academic science is no longer tolerant of those on the Spectrum?

Jul 14 2010 Published by under Tribe of Science

Is the Academy a arefuge for those with Asperger's or otherwise on the high functioning side of the Autism Spectrum? Has this changed?

In days past, people with Asperger's syndrome would be comfortably based at University and able to conduct their research throughout their academic careers. However, Universities have changed and are now much more financially orientated and status is based in terms of publications and research grants. This ability (sic) to convince others of the value of the research can be to the detriment of those with Asperger's syndrome and the expectation of working in research teams has also been very difficult for those with Asperger's syndrome.

emphasis added. Does the increasing* importance of winning NIH grants in bioscience careers slant the table away from those who were previously successful despite having traits which placed them on the spectrum?
* if true

10 responses so far

  • This quote seems to suggest that in days past, scientists never had to communicate their results in order to achieve prominence. That doesn't fit with my limited understanding of science history, and it really doesn't fit with even a first-pass analysis of human behavior. If you're unable to convince the NIH that your work is interesting and worthwhile, you probably couldn't sell it to a hiring committee or tenure committee either.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Perhaps it is not about whether you could communicate your results well but rather whether you can do it over and over and over again and respond to the often opaque cues provided by the summary statement. Is it not possible in your view that previously the work was more able to shine on its own, regardless of PI salesmanship, but that the forest has grown up in the mean time?

  • Lucas McCarty says:

    Explaining your work accurately != convincing others of the importance of your work. Those of us on the spectrum can do the former but will struggle with the latter.
    Like with a job interview, it doesn't matter how suited to something an Autistic person is; there's a dozen other non-Autistic candidates that simply sell themselves better.

  • New Asst. Prof. says:

    In a word, yes. I have 2 senior colleagues for whom I observe this to be true. Neither of them are truly independent investigators anymore, and for one in particular (now an unpaid adjunct) this has exacerbated her difficulty in dealing with personal (and personnel) issues.

  • qaz says:

    There is a big difference between laying out completed work and convincing someone that proposed work is viable and likely to succeed. In the former, the work, particularly if it is good enough, can speak for itself. In the latter, not so much.
    I have no idea how this translates to the autism spectrum, but I can easily imagine that it is easier for someone with social interaction difficulties to say "I have proven x is true" than for them to say "if you give me money, I will do x".
    By the way, speaking of the difference between data and proposals, did anyone notice that NIH is not accepting supplemental information (particularly new research results) on grants being considered anymore?

  • whimple says:

    ...respond to the often opaque cues provided by the summary statement...
    This doesn't happen to seasoned investigators. They use their contacts and connections to find out exactly what the "opaque cues" are really about and how to deal with them directly. In the context that a high functioning individual who alienates a lot of people won't have access to this insider-information track, this is a disadvantage.

  • lost academic says:

    I could be wrong, of course, but wouldn't similar things be required in grant applications for really any field? You have always had to justify, science or otherwise, why someone should give you a lot of money to do something. If you can't do that, you are not going to be a PI or generally very independent. When were these 'days past' in which effective communication wasn't necessary to get yourself ahead?
    I feel that this article (if it really is an article of sorts..) really might have done better to talk about the different collaborative requirements in research groups, science and otherwise, in universities today - which will be quite variable across many different scenarios. Perhaps what they mean to say is, it is no longer enough to just be a bench scientist, generating data - if you want to get and KEEP your job, you must do so much more.

  • DuWayne says:

    Most of the people I know who are on the spectrum, thrive rather nicely in industry, where hard results are more important than the ability to explain them. That would include a couple of research scientists, a couple of engineers and someone who functions as a troubleshooter.
    Honestly, I don't think any of them would really even want to work in academic science. My troubleshooter friend would probably do better than any of them, indeed she pretty regularly has to take classes to expand he knowledge base and travel to academic labs (her company designs and manufactures lab equipment) - but even she can only tolerate university settings for so long.
    Industry just seems to have a lot more room for accommodating a lot more eccentricities, when they come from people who have a lot of value to offer. Besides, two of the Aspies I know need the income as both necessarily have full time household managers.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Industry just seems to have a lot more room for accommodating a lot more eccentricities
    Huh. This is the first time I've ever heard anyone claim that. We academics seem to think we have a home for the eccentrics. Generally in the sense of "That annoying PI/trainee/staff member would never survive in industry!".

  • Autistic Lurker says:

    Just came back here (on DM's blog) because I haven't been reading since the atom or rss feed borked (maybe 3 or 4 weeks ago).
    now for the question, it's a tough one because, first, I can only speak for myself and second, there are relatively few employed auties and aspies relative to the population of auties and aspies (and google scholar list only a handful of studies on the subject, all behind paywall).
    I've worked in a) my own business (for 8 years), b) industry (server & network admin at an isp as well as assembly line worker later on), c) academic lab and d) non-profit.
    Best work condition would be in that order: my own business; server & network admin at an isp (there where only me and the owner who did everything); non-profit (I'm at work right now); assembly line worker (structured job is good but the speed needed and the hypoglycemia I had and still do made it difficult to do the job and after 6 month, I was on the verge of a burnout...) and finally; academic (low pay, no supervision and definitely no place or acceptance for me in the lab).
    I hope to start a new business again in the next 4 or 5 years.

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