Sunday, October 27, 2013

On psychological integrity

It must be hard to participate in diversity programs these days. I mean, I know people who spend considerable amount of time encouraging, say, women, or people of color, to join graduate programs in science. But these same people spend at least a hour a week ranting about an oversupply of PhDs, and the scarcity of job offers. Mathematically both claims are 100% correct and valid: we DO need more women in science, and we definitely need more people of color in science, even with current job market situation, but psychologically it must be hard to switch between these two mindsets.

At least I totally don't know how to switch between these mindsets effectively. I seriously considered going to an outreach session like that, because it's fun, and a right thing to do,  but then I realized that I'm rather likely to have a slip of the tongue, and say something inappropriate, or even embarrassing. Because how do you even phrase it? Hey people, this whole graduate school thing is an extremely risky, and in fact somewhat silly and delusional affair, and only about 5% of 1st year graduate students will make it to a TT position. But please come, because your chances (as, say, diversity candidates) are actually somewhat higher, and at least 10% of you will get TT jobs! Which is like a lot higher, if you think of it, twice higher than the average, but still - really - it is so unbelievably risky! How do you encourage people en masse to follow a path that is that uncertain?.. Or rather, how can you do it responsibly, without compromising your conscience?

I don't know. That's a freakishly hard, complicated, and loaded topic. For now I decided to just quietly withdraw and hide from this particular type of outreach. Encouraging people to go into college, or to a medical school, is easy and pleasant. Straightforward psychological "You can do it" type of encouragement totally works here, I think. But with the graduate school - maybe not so much. I guess I'll take a pause and wait for a while, at least until my mind clears.

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