Simbi — a digital marketplace with a difference?

My article in Medium about a sharing economy site

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Girls, don’t cry – an advice to the emotional scientists

My boss had a plague of crying females recently. First it was a BSc student, who started  weeping suddenly in his office because she felt that she wasn’t doing well in her project (the result: a 1st, which is the highest degree denomination in the UK and a successful application to a postgraduate studies degree). Then it was a first year PhD student: same reason, in everybody else’s opinion she was doing really well as confirmed by her first years report committee. Then an MSc student cried during her viva puzzling a female external examiner.

May be this is a specific British problem, contrary to the legend about the stiff upper lip? However, Dr. Lise Eliot, an Associate Professor of Neuroscience at The Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine & Science wrote in her excellent book “Pink Brain, Blue Brain” how she broke down in her supervisor’s office.

I wholeheartedly agree with her advice, which is simple – do not do it. Your supervisor is not here to hold your hand and help you in a research-related distress; your lab is a professional environment.

Of course, nothing extraordinary happens if you do cry. But do consider that you make your supervisor uncomfortable. Your crying ever so slightly decreases chances of a high professional estimate of females in general and you in particular, as I never yet heard about a male scientist crying while sober in his supervisor’s office. Given the same qualifications of a female and male candidate, this reputation of the emotional instability can tip the balance.

Personally, I find that crying in a locked cubicle of an otherwise empty bathroom is much more satisfactory. Additionally, as all the above examples show, there was no real reason for crying, all these people were doing well at their respective career stages.

Perhaps, it is better to ask for a frank appraisal of your progress before crying, not after. In addition, if you feel tears coming you can excuse yourself and leave the office.  Excluding sociopaths, we all feel sometimes like frauds and hopeless cases, even J. Watson of the double helix had had his moments of doubt in his abilities.

Onward and forward, colleagues!

Literature:

  1. Eliott. Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps and What We Can Do About It (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009).

2. James D. Watson, The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (1968), Atheneum, 1980, ISBN 0-689-70602-2

What fantasy ever did for humankind (except New Zealanders)?

I am taking part in Coursera’s  Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World.  Recently I was disappointed to learn that from the literary point of view SF (spaceships and robots) is a sub-genre of fantasy (kings and wizards), and not two separate, opposing genres.

So why do I  think that SF is better? Firstly, fantasy always happens in the past, even it’s “past in our future” as in  King’s  “The Dark Tower”.  And the past means outdated forms of social order, where your future is determined by your birth and you have no say in how the kingdom is run. Of course, everybody imagines herself being a princess with golden hair and blue eyes or an exceptionally gifted brunette sorceress, who will transgress the class boundaries. But I read witty short story, of which I don’t remember the author or the title (sic transit gloria mundi) about a young man, who is told that he should have been born in a fantasy and offered to transport him there. He agrees and becomes a groom, who shovels dragon dung all day long. There is only one princess for a hundred thousand of illiterate, half-starved peasants, so your chances of being a princess are negligible.

Prof. Rabkin from Michigan University in his excellent lectures have said that in granddaddy of modern vampire stories, Stoker’s Dracula the vampire represents aristocrats, an outdated social class, which is being replaced by a ragtag band of commoners including even a woman, representing emerging democracy. Likewise, werewolves represent middle class and zombies – underclass. In one of the most notorious modern fantasy franchise, Twilight, the heroine has a choice between a decent but poor werewolf and a very rich vegetarian vampire. It is the sign of our time of capital concentration and decreasing social mobility that, opposite to Dracula’s Mina and similar to another notorious pop-culture phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey, she chooses the millionaire with kinky sexual habits. A fantasy world means acceptance and detachment from the real world. I don’t think Nineteen Eighty Four would have been so chillingly effective if it was set in a world ruled by an evil wizard.

Secondly, it may not matter from the literary point of view that in a fantasy people communicate via telepathy and in a SF novel via an ansible. But it matters in real life. The golden age of SF, 1930th – 1960th, raised a whole generation of engineers and scientists, who constructed bridges, buildings and dams, put man on the Moon and machines beyond the Solar System. A rational explanation leads to incorporation of cutting edge science into the public consciousness and results in discoveries. A purely fantastic explanation is an escapism, pleasant but not harmless.