tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
This is the last part in a 4-part series on impostor syndrome. (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3)


At this point, I know someone will ask: "what could computer science departments do differently?" Well, more involved advising and mentoring would be a great start! That is, it isn't enough for an advisor to just say "come by if there's anything you need", because if you have impostor syndrome, you may not know what you need and you certainly won't want to admit that you need help. What if departments expected advisors to be ready to support all grad students, not just the ones who look exactly like themselves? This isn't to say that every faculty member can or should try to be an expert on every identity, but knowing what they do and don't know would be a start. Any outright acknowledgment of impostor syndrome would be a great start too. At Berkeley, there was nobody who stood up and said that most of the time when people look like they know what they're doing, they don't. I'm not sure I would have believed it even if they'd said it. Oh, sure, other people might be fumbling, but not as fumbling as me. We did have a required class on teaching techniques at Berkeley, since all grad students were required to TA for at least one semester -- in my head, I called the class "Geek Support Group", but it was actually really helpful because it was one time during the day when we got to put aside the pretense that we were all rational beings made of pure logic. So maybe a required class on how to be a grad student would have been helpful (required because I suspect the very people who needed it the most would have brushed it off if it was optional.)

Encouraging socialization in a way that includes everyone would also be helpful. Of course, most departments already have social events. In my department at Berkeley, when I was there, the CS grad students' group organized a weekly reception. However, faculty members rarely attended; the professor who I saw there most frequently seemed to stay just long enough to snag some free food. I was part of the CS grad students' group at Portland State, and over time, students stopped attending our events, even when we offered free food; it's not clear why. In contrast, in my ex-partner's department at Berkeley -- mathematics -- the department had a tea/coffee hour every afternoon, which a department assistant organized (the job wasn't pushed onto students) and was very well-attended by both students and faculty. Just having social events is not a be-all and end-all, since some students won't feel comfortable in large groups and some people always get left out, but it's a start. Of course, offering free food can help, and provides an excuse to go for someone who is reluctant to socialize.

Read more... )

tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
This is the third post in a 4-part series about impostor syndrome (Part 1, Part 2). Check back tomorrow for the conclusion!


When a department admits students from "minority groups" but doesn't do anything to address impostor syndrome, how different is that from categorically rejecting everyone who isn't a het cis able-bodied white man from an middle- to upper-class background? This way, the administration gets to boost their diversity numbers and gets plausible deniability when those students (as it were) "self-deport". "We tried to admit women and students of color, but they just didn't like it here! They must just not be interested in science." As if interests are developed in social isolation and don't depend on a network of social support telling you -- implicitly, usually -- that you belong. It's not as if everyone who's in a minority group experiences impostor syndrome, but the experience of someone who gets treated like they belong and someone who doesn't is so different that I don't think it's too strong to say "you might as well just reject everyone". I also don't mean to say that diversity decisions always get made in bad faith, but I've had some personal experiences that make it difficult for me to believe that there is any genuine institutional commitment to diversity at the universities I've attended.

In my experience, it seems that being told you're welcome and that you belong is sort of like water if you're a fish: when you have it, you don't notice it. It's only when these things are absent that you do notice. I blamed myself for their absence, because that's what I've always been taught to do. I attributed my failure at Berkeley to my own incompetence, and it didn't occur to me until years later to think about how my environment contributed to my failure to thrive there. I got ignored. The other grad students in my group and cohort socialized with each other; I just got left out. Since I was being perceived as female at the time, I think this had something to do with the fact that I was perceived as not a peer (because I wasn't male) and not sexually available (since I was married) -- therefore, to most of my fellow students, I was useless.

Read more... )

tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Here's a comment I wrote on a locked post by a friend discussing frustration (as a non-programmer) about being in conversations about programming where people talking about code weren't really making an effort to be understandable. I thought it was worth posting elsewhere.

I can sympathize with this because even though I've been programming for 17 years, I *still* get that "it might as well be Russian" (or Japanese in my case... I know a bit of Russian) feeling quite often when listening to people talk about code... and often, people I feel like I should be able to understand, like my immediate co-workers, or people at conferences (that are dedicated to the small, specialized area I used to focus on). I think part of it has to do with my difficulty processing speech (I can handle small talk just fine, but combine speech processing with any sort of difficult/complicated/abstract *content* and my brain falls over and dies), part of it is anxiety caused by impostor syndrome that ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy (when I can't understand something because I'm devoting too much effort to being worried that I won't understand it), and part of it is that CS and software are just so ridiculously specialized that even confident people with good communication skills just can't understand what each other are talking about if their specialties are different.

But believe it or not, I do know the feeling of alienation that comes from being in one of those conversations... and as with you, I hardly ever get it with any other conversation topic, even ones I know much less about than CS (well, maybe once in a while with physics or math, but most physics and math conversations I'm in on these days are people bullshitting and I'm well aware of that, so...)

Anyway, I'm not sure what the point of this comment is -- I don't think that my lack of confidence in my area of expertise should magically erase your lack of ease talking about an area you have no expertise in -- so I'm not sure what my conclusion is. One is that Bay Area tech culture can be really exclusive (when certain kinds of knowledge are used as a proxy for having had certain life experiences and *not* having had to deal with certain kinds of problems; I didn't have a computer when I was 5 and sometimes I feel like if I did, I'd be able to keep up with my peers). And another is that, well, often geeks just have a really hard time talking (or thinking?) about anything non-technical, and that's a flaw on their part, because part of being polite is to talk about things that won't exclude your conversational partners. I get the feeling people who sell insurance don't talk about it all night while hanging out at the pub. Why can't geeks extend others a similar courtesy? (And I think that also relates to my first point: privilege is *not* having to accommodate other people socially, and if you learned to talk about something besides code you might actually end up including people you'd prefer to exclude.)

ETA: I just came across this post on "technical entitlement", which overlaps with some of what I'm saying but says it more clearly.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
A reddit response to "If you were hacking since age 8, it means you were privileged", summarized:

"I was hacking since age 8 and I wasn't privileged! My family wasn't very rich, we just got free computers through my dad's job."

(Note to self: edit later and talk about the other fun logical fallacies that this dredged up.)
tim: Mike Slackernerny thinking "Scientific progress never smelled better" (science)
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 21

Suppose you are a researcher and you collaborate with your husband, wife, domestic partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, lover, mistress, gigolo, inamorat{o|a}, sweetie, fuckbuddy, or baby mama. Suppose you are giving an academic talk. Which of the following do you consider reasonable ways to refer to your joint work with your collaborator (named, say, Dana Q. Zygomorphism), when used more than once in the same talk?

View Answers

"In work with my wife..."
3 (14.3%)

"In work with my husband..."
3 (14.3%)

"In work with Dr. Zygomorphism..."
16 (76.2%)

"In work with {Mr.|Ms.} Zygomorphism..."
6 (28.6%)

"In work with Zygomorphism..."
11 (52.4%)

"In work with Dana..."
18 (85.7%)

"In work with my collaborator..." [when credit is given by name in a slide]
17 (81.0%)

Something else
2 (9.5%)

None of the above.
0 (0.0%)

Which of the following phrases would you consider unprofessional to use one or more times during an academic talk (assuming it was true)?

View Answers

"In work with my wife..." [speaker is male]
13 (68.4%)

"In work with my husband..." [speaker is female]
13 (68.4%)

"In work with my wife..." [speaker is female]
13 (68.4%)

"In work with my husband..." [speaker is male]
13 (68.4%)

"In work with my partner..."
10 (52.6%)

"In work with my significant other..."
14 (73.7%)

"In work with my boyfriend..."
18 (94.7%)

"In work with my girlfriend..."
18 (94.7%)

"In work with my girlfriend's other boyfriend..."
18 (94.7%)

"In work with my friend with benefits..."
18 (94.7%)

"In work with my gay lover..."
17 (89.5%)

"In work with the mother of my children..."
18 (94.7%)

"In work with the person with whom I have sexual intercourse on a regular basis..."
18 (94.7%)

"In work with my partner in a full-time BDSM relationship..."
17 (89.5%)

"In work with your mom..."
13 (68.4%)

None of the above
0 (0.0%)

tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Dear world:

Please stop using the phrase "I'm sorry if I offended you."

If I'm calling you on your bullshit, your error wasn't to hurt my feelings. If I were actually hurt, I probably wouldn't have the energy to confront you about it, unless you were someone I knew well.

Rather, your error was to say something that made you look like an ignorant clown.

So why are you apologizing to me for that?

[personal profile] tim
Another way of saying it (in re discussion in comments here) is that there is something to learn from any criticism. If "Alice" thinks something you said makes you seem like an ignorant clown, then there's probably something in either what you said, or how you said it, or both, that's worth examining. Unless, that is, you have no respect for "Alice" whatsoever. If "I'm sorry if I offended you" connotes "I have no respect for you whatsoever", is it really a polite thing to say?


tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

December 2018

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