Repost: Take the Money and Run

The Hermitage has a post up entitled The Academia Ghetto that bemoans:

...the state of mind that awards, programmes, initiatives, etc are pointless unless a white dude can win it, serve on it, or vote in it.

You will also note that the D-List Monktress anticipates my opinion, perhaps having previously read the repost I'm serving up, I don't know.

I realize many senior monks’ responses are ‘get yours and tell everyone who thinks otherwise to fuck themselves’, but the reality of the situation is that Everyone Who Thinks Otherwise comprises a substantial amount of my academic peerage.

Yeah, no crap. Majority is majority. And bigots are bigots. There is very little you can do about it in this scenario, save to punish yourself in a vain attempt to change the idiots' minds about you.

I want to re-emphasize a point I made before. People in Hermitage's situation vis a vis fellowships, funding and platform presentations have a simple reality to face. What is the alternative? Are you telling me you are going to not apply to some fellowship just because it says "Minority" or "Women's" in the title? Don't get me wrong, I think you should be applying to regular awards as well. For certain. But to avoid applying to a nice program just because it is going to somehow look bad to certain people if you do win the award? This seems very, very stupid to me.

The following originally appeared Dec 7, 2008.


In a recent episode of "Ask Dr. Isis", the domestic and laboratory goddess fielded a question from a person underrepresented in her field of endeavor:

I'm a black female graduate student ... I've been very careful in choosing schools and advisors that seem to value my ideas and potential, not just the diversity I can bring to a brochure photo. At the same time, I recognize that there are doors open to me that are unavailable to the vast majority of people in my field- fellowships that seem tailor-made for my circumstances. I'm not one to turn down free money, but at the same time it makes me feel as if I'm something of a novelty item, a token, or in the worstcase, a fraud who's only there because of her skin color and reproductive system. It can be hard to tell if this stems from my own insecurities, or if this is something I should be genuinely concerned about.

I absolutely hate it that people are made to feel this way. Unsurprisingly, as with most academic one-upsmanship and tear-downsmanship it is based on the underconfidence and personal failings of the one doing the tearing, not the limitations of the one being dismissed. Nevertheless, I hear questions related to grant/fellowship seeking and I perk right up.


Sciencewoman nails the answer in a comment:

Take the money and run; you are going to need every ounce and dollar of advantage you can get as you try to navigate science. You may not even know yet what you are missing out on by being female and black, but the people who made those fellowships know...so take advantage of them.

Hell yes! Do not for an instant think of not applying for or not taking fellowships, grants or jobs that are "set aside" for one of your class and characteristics. This business is far too hard for any individual to fail to take advantage of any opportunity. The only caveat I would suggest is that, as always, when there are multiple things you can be doing you need to do some head's-up thinking about your chances of success versus the payoff (smaller, more limited grant funding may not be the best opportunity even if it appears slightly harder to obtain a larger award, for example).
Are some people going to look down on you for taking advantage of applicant-selective programs? Yeah. But here's the thing...those are the exact same individuals who are going to carp about you no matter what you do. Because their reflexive orientation is that of bigotry. So screw 'em. Why would you shape your life around idiots and their stupid opinions? The opinions are silly, pernicious and wrong so why would you credit them? Don't.
It is far, far better to take the money and publish more good science (because you don't have to take that second TA-ship thanks to a "minority" graduate fellowship, for example). Lemme tell ya...whenever I've heard someone being reviewed on the basis of his/her papers I've never, ever heard someone say "Yeah, well she only got that Cell paper as a junior faculty member thanks to an affirmative action graduate fellowship so it doesn't count!". Ha. The point is that ultimately the papers are going to be the thing. And there it is very difficult for someone to carp on about how you got there with respect to admission to graduate school, fellowships along the way and even "the Dean's hire" faculty positions.
Back to larger points, DearReader, it is imperative for you to combat this corrosive nonsense if it is ever raised in your presence. Now, I do know we have some unreconstructed trilobyte readers so I'm not talking to them. For the rest of us, it comes down to first and foremost recognizing the affirmative action set-aside programs for members in the majority. Here in the US that is generally English-speaking white male heteronormatives but I imagine the principles generalize to most in/out groupings of interest. Plenty of majority group scientists perform poorer than expected and flail out of grad school. More have dismal, unproductive post-docs and have to take the sneered-upon "couldn't hack it" jobs. Many struggle to acquire grants and publish papers and succeed. How many of these do we chalk up to their whiteness, maleness, etc? Don't make me barf.
I think it is an old Bella Abzug quote that reminds us that success is when the lower performing member of the out group can have just as good a success as the low-normals of the majority in group. That is what we need focus on. Not that there are not brilliant minority and underrepresented scientists. There are and we should honor them. But for encouraging a change in which all scientists of any skin hue or dangly bits can just...exist. Without worrying about stupid perceptions we need to fully embrace the notion that the performance of the whole distribution is the acceptable target.

7 responses so far

  • thehermitage says:

    The opinions are silly, pernicious and wrong so why would you credit them?

    If you would allow me to be flagrant and vulgar, I'm fucking sick and tired of people saying it's just 'their opinion, don't pay attention to them'. Them are the ones who are deciding who gets internal awards, will be be my future collaborators, deciding what talk slot I will be given, will be reading my future grant proposals, and generally influecing a substantial portion of my career.

    Their opinion matters, and their opinion is that I'm a second-class citizen that they shoehorn into their 'second-class citizen' box so the Diversity Programmes/HR gets off their fucking backs. No matter how fucking awesome I am there will be some bilthering shithead with more money, more funding, and more clout rolling their eyes and going 'but....'

    And the part that sucks is that I know all this and I'm going to do it anyway, and I just fear that 20 years from now I'm going to look at a CV of second-classedness and want to quit, even if I am awesome.

  • drugmonkey says:

    My point is that you can't wave a magic wand and make those voices disappear. So what are you going to do? *Not* take the money? Those voices will still be looking down on you and your accomplishments. Carping about the sources of your funding is an *excuse* for those people. I say, don't penalize yourself over something that won't work anyway.

    Wrt looking back at a 20 year history- my view is that minority-targeted funding looms larger, by some margin, for fellowships over research grants. Once one is on the independent research track one is duking it out in open competition anyway..

  • becca says:

    DM, you seem to assume either 1) there is no benefit to having jackasses in your court or
    2) there is no chance of getting this sort in your court by vociferously endorsing the meritocracy (myth) meme.
    This is manifestly false. Else why would the ipod loving masses continue to support tax policy that benefits the ultra elite rich like Jobs at the expense of public school funding to raise opportunity for all? The whole model of "it oughtn't to matter!" about race/gender/SES/what have you, is what enables people to be *aspirational*.
    Why if women are just good enough scientists, and act hip enough with the male-dominated subcultures (*cough*likegamers*cough*), than everything will be totes ok and they will be accepted like one of the guys! Until it comes time to actually have their careers promoted. Then it will be clear that the order is:
    1) men who endorse the status quo
    2) men who speak out against the status quo
    3) women who endorse the status quo...
    ...
    ...
    ...
    11938) boy monkeys who are crack-addicted
    11939) women who speak out against the status quo.

    Of course, in this academic job market, there are plenty in category 1)- and maybe a few in category 2)- to go around. So, I figure I've got little to loose with being 11939th in line compared to 3rd. That doesn't mean it's the most wise strategy for self-interest.

  • Namnezia says:

    @DM: "Once one is on the independent research track one is duking it out in open competition anyway.."

    I'm almost certain that checking that "hispanic" box in my CAREER award application factored into my success. Especially after the program officer told me to make SURE I filled that part in. But hey, I think it is foolish not to take any advantage one can get, and I don't think my award was any less deserving than the next fellow's.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Ok, Namnezia, true that there are *some* additional advantages that may accrue once you are fighting for major research funding. As you say, potentially some Program pickup behavior since they have diversity targets too. No doubt. But c'mon. The effect size of this can't be that large. Fair enough to say you can't make a career out of expecting to benefit from affirmative action policies?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    becca, it is not so much that there is no benefit from having the jackasses think of you as their pet whatever. it is that over the long haul, it is more worth it to take the support and presentation opportunities than it is to forgo them in hopes of staying coolio with the jackass.

  • namnezia says:

    "Fair enough to say you can’t make a career out of expecting to benefit from affirmative action policies?"

    Agreed.

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