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"Abused" scientists

Karen Allendoerfer kallen at ontogeny.com
Tue Aug 24 11:32:44 EST 1999

B. Martin wrote (concerning my post about the "no personal life" myths in 

>I would agree that, in most situations, these are just myths.  Two problems: 

>1. New graduate often think they have to act this way and don't get sufficient
>counseling from older students to just act normally; and 
>2. There are PIs who do believe these assumptions are true and do act on 

These problems are definitely there; both of them.  I think that when I 
entered and passed through graduate school, though, I was insufficiently 
attuned to #1 and oversensitive to #2.  Yes, there were/are PI's who said 
outrageous things (I still remember being told, during my first week of 
graduate school, by one P.I., that "good graduate students work 14 hours 
a day").  I don't excuse that--but at least I did have the choice not to 
work for that guy, and it wasn't a difficult one to make.  

There was also a lot of what I'd now call adolescent peer pressure.  
Especially this "work hard, party hard" thing.  I heard that explicitly 
on several occasions, at more than one institution, from other graduate 
students and medical students, that *this* was the way to live life, 
always full throttle, no matter what.  If you're going to do something, 
do it hard.  Do it whole hog.  Don't just jog around the lake for 
exercise, become a triathlete and enter competitions.  Don't just hang 
out with a few friends in the evening, drive into the city, go to clubs, 
stay up/out dancing and drinking until dawn.  And somehow, do all of this 
while putting in 10-12 hour days in lab.

Ironically, this attitude was packaged by those who subscribed to it as a 
way to demonstrate that one had a personal life, that one wasn't "just" a 
lab geek.  

I never personally was able to actually do much of anything like this, 
due to a congenital need for 7-8 hours of sleep per night.  I just spent 
a lot of time feeling inadequate at everything because I did none of it 
"hard" enough.  The attitudes of PI's played only a small role in this.

The only solution seemed to be to find peers who felt the same way I did. 
 Fortunately, they did exist.  I just sometimes had to make the extra 
effort to find them, and often the place to find them was women's groups. 
 I think that men face the same issues, but the culture makes it harder 
for them to find a safe place to open up about it.  

Pat Bowne wrote:

>Can anyone point me to some for my students to look at? In science, 
>it seems as if "Arrowsmith" is still the pattern, at least in 
 >literature and films. There is always the NIH and Scripps scientist
>who was interviewed on the "Paris Fall Fashions" show last night, I 
>suppose, but I missed her name.

This NIH and Scripps scientist sounds to me like one of those work 
hard/party hard types.  Only in her case, she dresses hard.  She doesn't 
just dress well and enjoy that for its own sake, she gets on TV and gets 
interviewed about it.

Another person who I think might be a sane role model for a scientist 
with a personal life is Shirley Tilghman at Princeton.  She does 
excellent science and has an international reputation.  I've also read 
that she raised two daughters by herself and is very attuned to the 
concerns of women in science.  

Karen Allendoerfer

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