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Thoughts on gender stereotypes and approaches to science [Sep. 28th, 2007|09:33 am]
Physics Chicks


I was interviewed for a postdoc job the other day, and some of the questions got me thinking.  [Just as a bit of curiosity, and certainly not as any kind of it's-so-unfair whinging.] Here I am, enjoying my field, and finding the nitty gritty details equally as important as the big picture.  In the past year, I've seen some fantastic work being done which hangs on that very approach - work which has completely transformed a particular field, because those details ARE hugely important to the whole.

And yet... the interview panel, all male, were giving off very strong vibes that the best research is always involved with finding the next big thing, and that details are inconsequential.  [Or maybe it was just the fact that the strongest vibes came from the theorist...]   I tried as well as I could to convey the message that just because you know the gist of things, it doesn't make a certain subject or specialism boring, done and dusted... because you never know when some new snippet is going to transform the whole field, and without that thorough understanding of the physics, what have you learned, really?

In the past, I've heard that this is typical of the different mindsets of the stereotypical male and female scientists.  But this is the first time I've become aware of it in practise.  So I'm curious on the thoughts of others - how aware are you of the two different slants in your own work? Is there an inherent bias in the system towards more 'male' ways of thinking, and does that approach make for genuinely better science?  Is it any accident that the example I gave in paragraph one was the work of another woman?

[User Picture]From: cthulhu_dream
2007-09-28 10:13 am (UTC)
I think both big picture and little details are important! Sometimes little details can be more of a distraction and wind up leading nowhere, but sometimes they are pivotal. Perhaps the key is being able to recognize which details are important.

I have no idea how that relates to stereotypical male and female scientists :-P My supervisor is a male and he's very "big picture" oriented, and one of the other students in my lab (a female) gets hung up on a lot of details. I don't know where I am on that scale :-P I feel like I'm still just learning.
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[User Picture]From: chesneycat
2007-09-28 10:17 am (UTC)
Oh, absolutely - you do need both, I think.

I guess I'm wondering if my own (slight) bias is a natural asset or a handicap? Though it's not really a question that *can* be answered...
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[User Picture]From: ahurani
2007-09-28 11:49 am (UTC)
I don't think such a natural bias is a handicap, because both views ARE important, so we need people to do both. Personally, I'm a big picture kind of person but I'm glad there are people who like details because I don't.
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[User Picture]From: amatol
2007-09-28 09:24 pm (UTC)
same with me, definetely more of a big picture person...but the details are equally important. I don't really think this is a gender difference but maybe more just different ways of thinking.
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[User Picture]From: cthulhu_dream
2007-09-28 11:55 pm (UTC)
Because everyone is different, I think it's important to have a variety of people in a research group. That way each person can contribute in the way they do best.
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