Inclusiveness in STEM fields making you feel MORE alone?

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biostructure
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20 Nov 2022, 2:47 am

Have any of you felt like the push to make the perception of STEM fields as more inclusive sometimes make you feel MORE alone as an aspie? What I mean by that is, back when STEM, at least at advanced levels, was more of an "exclusive club", there was possibly more of a chance for aspies to feel like even if they're an outsider in everything else, in their particular field of STEM they had a "culture of their own" that the rest of the world couldn't intrude on. Whereas now there's this kind of push to create the image that "anyone can learn to code" or whatever and you don't need to be a weird genius to do it. I've seen people talk about how something similar is happening in gaming as video games become more mainstream.

I find that in such a world it often seems harder to find the niche where it's cool to be the person who dreams in assembly language or visualizes math in his/her head or whatever. There are more likely to be more spaces where more mainstream ideas of coolness/social status, well-roundedness, and ability to function as a human being are valued over hardcore nerdiness. The opposite is true as well of course--some degree of nerdiness becomes more accepted in progressively more mainstream circles as STEM becomes more mainstreamed--it's as though some of the variability in what is cool in what settings gets "smoothed out". Added to the increasing role of teamwork in research, it can seem progressively harder to find spaces where somewhat well-rounded people who also know how to do some coding in Python using help from a lot of existing tools aren't just as high in status if not higher as someone who can simulate networks of logic gates in his or her head.

Now, this isn't to say that I don't think STEM should be inclusive. In the past, the lone geniuses may have stood out more when tech wasn't in the fabric of everyday life, but at the same time, even an aspie with a very unique way of seeing math or whatever may have been kept out if he/she was black or from a poor family or whatever. I don't want to achieve my own "elite club of nerd cool" at the expense of keeping others interested in STEM out. So I guess what I spend a lot of time thinking about is how to find those "more aspie spaces" while at the same time keeping things more inclusive--so even if STEM workplaces have more "normal" people, I can still find my "tribe" to socialize with on my own time. Has anyone else thought about this problem?



magz
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20 Nov 2022, 4:12 am

My faculty (Physics) definitely has a culture of its own, way more Aspie-friendly than the mainstream culture.
Push for inclusiveness is in fields like gender, ethnicity and disability, encouraging people to try - and those who can do good science, remain.

Here, it doesn't really influence the Aspie-friendliness of the faculty culture. Interpersonal interaction rules are just as simplified and literal as always, tolerance for quirkiness remains high, most of the time everything revolves around your work. Actually, I find this environment naturally friendly to multiculturalism.

Probably important: there's hard work and no big money in doing Physics in Poland, so we can be completely inclusive in terms of gender, ethnicity etc., but we remain exclusive in terms of life choices...


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20 Nov 2022, 4:42 pm

I too found that the scientists in my workplace (a small research group operating within the department of biochemistry at a university) were more inclusive than the surrounding cultures. I was "only" a member of technical staff but what hierarchy existed seemed based more on real expertise than nominal position in the pecking order. The inclusiveness was noticeable in (for example) the fact that technicians were encouraged to present a "talk" on their work just like the toffs did, and were given a level of autonomy unknown in many other parts of the university. It was hard to tell from day to day who the bigwigs were, indeed I often didn't know.

As for racism, sexism, and other such -isms, that was practically impossible because we were a mixture of people from all over the world, and it was quite obvious that there was no correlation between country of origin and expertise. Plus of course, science can be a powerful antidote to jumping to conclusions which is the root of bigotry. I'm not saying the place was an egalitarian paradise - we had bosses, and the war between Capital and Labour was expressed, just not to the degree that is often seen in the average job.

Still, in spite of the high regard I generally had for my colleagues, I never fully joined in or saw them entirely as "my people." There was a point where I was nearly there but it was spoiled when one socially competitive individual arrived who drove a coach and horses through the whole thing. Naturally I disliked him but the others didn't seem to see what he was doing, and I didn't see it quickly enough. He left eventually but things never really got back to the way they'd been before. And I'd always had a strong feeling that workplace friends weren't for meeting outside working hours. I doubt I'd have applied for a job at all if I'd been able to afford not to. I always declined invitations to their "beer hours." I'd probably have felt like a fish out of water there just like I do at most parties, unable to attract attention. And although I like science, I didn't want it for breakfast, dinner and tea. I tend to prefer artists and less-technical types as friends, though I appreciate it if they're well educated in logical reasoning also. I suppose overall they didn't make me feel alone. I rather stood outside their society, letting them in to a fair extent but never completely. I've known for a long time that I bear a lot of the responsibility for my own loneliness, though clearly a lot also depends on who I get.



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20 Nov 2022, 9:38 pm

STEM workers tend to have a sense of community (if not fraternity) with other STEM workers.  Even a non-STEM "muggle" can find his or her place with a Ham Radio license or a knack for using techware.

One of my best workers was a woman who could lay out (by hand) a multi-layer printed circuit board using a light table and multi-colored trace tape.  The best part was that her layouts rarely (if ever) needed revision.  She had only an Associate's Degree (from Bell & Howell, I think), and could converse in "Technical-ese" with the rest of us.  Otherwise, she got along well with everybody.


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20 Nov 2022, 10:26 pm

Is this kind of thing confined to science etc, or does any area of expertise do similar things? I've had a lot of success with musicians like that, better than with scientists.



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21 Nov 2022, 1:10 am

It seems to be that common interests will bind people together as a team, even though they may have differences in age, culture, gender, politics, religion, sex, et cetera.  I saw this while working in a university physics department and in the comms section on board a Navy vessel.


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21 Nov 2022, 4:44 am

I think that the differences between the genders run very deep. Individual genetics are highly variable, so our ranges of abilities overlap, but exceptions don't prove a rule. It would be silly for a couple to have identical abilities, when specialists could have a wider range of talent. No venture capitalist will look at a team without variety.
One of the most revealing studies was regarding boys getting higher scores in math. Some young people maintain on-line "Avatars" of the opposite gender, and those Avatars show the same statistics. When a boy pretends to be a girl, his math gets worse, and when a girl pretends to be a boy, her scores improve.
Marie Curie had the talent to work in a lab and win two Nobel prizes, but her presence was disruptive, causing a divorce. Humans have always worked in unisex groups to reduce distractions and favouritism, and to increase interdependence. The roofs of masonry buildings in India are still waterproofed by a women's guild that has never told their method.
Since Engineers Without Borders went co-ed, I have not seen any news at all of engineering being done, just socializing. The only female engineer I knew went to Africa for a project and came home as a single mother. She came running to me when she had a chimney fire, which I was able to extinguish just by closing the intakes on her airtight stove that are usually in daily use. I had never had such a stove, but I understand systems.
I believe in racial equality, but gender parity - recognition of our differences leading to win-win arrangements. Affirmative action is sometimes reasonable on the path to recovery from discrimination, but far too often it just leads to lower standards and frustration for the real talent. I notice that women are pushing to achieve equal numbers in STEM studies, while keeping very quiet about being a strong majority in all other fields now. In Canada, there is also a great hue and cry about the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and adamant silence about twice as many men and boys.



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23 Nov 2022, 11:07 am

biostructure wrote:
Have any of you felt like the push to make the perception of STEM fields as more inclusive sometimes make you feel MORE alone as an aspie? What I mean by that is, back when STEM, at least at advanced levels, was more of an "exclusive club", there was possibly more of a chance for aspies to feel like even if they're an outsider in everything else, in their particular field of STEM they had a "culture of their own" that the rest of the world couldn't intrude on. Whereas now there's this kind of push to create the image that "anyone can learn to code" or whatever and you don't need to be a weird genius to do it. I've seen people talk about how something similar is happening in gaming as video games become more mainstream.

I find that in such a world it often seems harder to find the niche where it's cool to be the person who dreams in assembly language or visualizes math in his/her head or whatever. There are more likely to be more spaces where more mainstream ideas of coolness/social status, well-roundedness, and ability to function as a human being are valued over hardcore nerdiness. The opposite is true as well of course--some degree of nerdiness becomes more accepted in progressively more mainstream circles as STEM becomes more mainstreamed--it's as though some of the variability in what is cool in what settings gets "smoothed out". Added to the increasing role of teamwork in research, it can seem progressively harder to find spaces where somewhat well-rounded people who also know how to do some coding in Python using help from a lot of existing tools aren't just as high in status if not higher as someone who can simulate networks of logic gates in his or her head.

Now, this isn't to say that I don't think STEM should be inclusive. In the past, the lone geniuses may have stood out more when tech wasn't in the fabric of everyday life, but at the same time, even an aspie with a very unique way of seeing math or whatever may have been kept out if he/she was black or from a poor family or whatever. I don't want to achieve my own "elite club of nerd cool" at the expense of keeping others interested in STEM out. So I guess what I spend a lot of time thinking about is how to find those "more aspie spaces" while at the same time keeping things more inclusive--so even if STEM workplaces have more "normal" people, I can still find my "tribe" to socialize with on my own time. Has anyone else thought about this problem?


I have felt quite isolated in my area of STEM since I graduated with my doctorate. Many of my former coworkers did not actively engage in keeping up with the chemical literature. It is like their ability to learn stopped when they graduated and then stagnated to death. Sad to see from someone who teaches others. They were quite uninterested in the things that I would try to discuss with them, such as nanotechnology and developing fields in chemistry. They wanted to establish a pecking order within the department. Bullying became the norm there, so I stopped trying to change their minds. I have since moved on to another work place that is night and day different.

I can now talk to my new coworkers as if they are on the same level of understanding as me in my field. This is quite new to me. I am still mentally recovering from the last place I worked for, as I have post traumatic stress from the bullying. It feels like a dream to work here that I will someday wake up from to go back to my cold reality again. I hope it stays the same, but time will tell the whole story.



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23 Nov 2022, 10:17 pm

With the perception that STEM is more inclusive, finding out that it isn't is... disappointing. I think the faux inclusivity is more in mainstream STEM whereas edge professions or academia, etc. might be truly more inclusive ... to a degree. The "fraternity" is not readily available to women, so there's that intersectionality at play also. I'm fortunate that I recently found a fit for my crazy-genius systemization skills... we'll see how long that boat floats. It would be nice to find other ASD folks at my workplace, but sadly when I found one at my last workplace the work relationship backfired on me.



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24 Nov 2022, 4:18 am

My personal experience:

I had no problem with being a woman in STEM in Poland - including being part of "the fraternity" - until I become a mother.
I found "affirmative actions" offensive. I wanted to play by the same rules as the rest. And I did, and I did succeed.

Motherhood changed completely my position as a woman in the society. I was suddenly flooded with expectations and special treatment... we have a strong myth of "mothers are saints" in our society and it backfires in a million of ways, including this one. When you're a mother, you stop being seen as a regular person, you're always judged in the light of being a mother. I hate it.

A small but meaningful event: I had a deadline coming when my baby got sick. My husband filed for a day off for sick baby care (a regular thing here). He heard: "Couldn't your wife take the day off?"
Things like that on every corner. I don't take it well. But there's no escape now.


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24 Nov 2022, 9:39 am

What I've experienced in my job is that what matters most is the individual's ability to do the work and contribute to the effort, and TBH relatively few people excel in that area. I've worked with people from all sorts of "backgrounds" and if there weren't inclusion then we'd be deprived of some quite awesome talent.

For a while now I have been working with a youngish black woman with 2 children, interestingly her husband is a fellow employee of the contracting corporation I work for (but supporting a different agency) she is a government employee. From what I understand, she has relatively little actual experience. I am the person to whom she turns whenever she needs help with anything but what's amazing is if I explain something to her once she gets it immediately and doesn't need further guidance in that area. TBH I think she's a freaking genius and the worst outcome for her would be that they promote her to the level where she's mostly directing others rather than coding herself. And in case the question has occurred to you, she doesn't have obvious European ancestry given her appearance (although it's my understanding all African American have some). My point is that 50 years ago such a person would most likely never had the opportunity to pursue the sort of career she's in.

I guess inclusion might lead more "hyper-social" people being hired but those people will get bored with purely technical work, even if they're good at it, and will eventually move on to management.

Speaking of Europe e.g. Poland though I've been told by Europeans that in Europe one is considered a failure if one doesn't move on the management and some point in one's career. Specifically I've been told that by a Spanish person, I wonder if the same is true in Poland?


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24 Nov 2022, 9:43 am

MaxE wrote:
Speaking of Europe e.g. Poland though I've been told by Europeans that in Europe one is considered a failure if one doesn't move on the management and some point in one's career. Specifically I've been told that by a Spanish person, I wonder if the same is true in Poland?

Honestly: I don't know and I don't care.
Neither me nor my husband ever wanted any management position so we let others rat race.


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24 Nov 2022, 11:19 am

I am a computer scientist. I have a BS in computer science from WPI in Massachusetts.
When I went into the field it was mostly geeks only.
The internet originally was a community of US government researchers and the colleges and universities that worked with them.
Things really have changed.
I sometimes joke "I liked the internet better when it was less social".
As more and more average joes have been attracted to computers with the draw of dollars the community has changed quite a lot. The other thing that has happened is as computers got faster and faster the need for "super crazy optimization" went down. My iPhone has more computing power than government "room full of computers" from days gone by.
Personally: I feel more alone. My "specialness" as a geek, one of the few who could understand this strange esoteric world of computers has simply become less important. Think of what MacDonalds did for food preparation. That is what has happened to my field. I am currently out of work and looking for work where I can get payed what I was payed at my last job. The only jobs with simular salary require a senior software engineer, the skills needed include planning and execution, on time and on budget, and leading a team. My EF (Executive function) issues make planning and execution on time and on budget very hard. My people skills make leading a team very hard. This is not theory, it is based on my work experience of 30 years. Another job with simular pay would be a senior DevOps engineer. Again the requirement is short analysis followed by action. My tendency to hyperfocus and get into analysis paralysis is a big problem in these cases. I am the kind of person who feels like he doesn't know anything about a subject unless he knows everything about a subject. No time for that in DevOps. And again, since DevOps is half way between operations and software development a senior DevOps engineer is also expected to do planning and execution delivering on time and on budget. I also have problems with OO Design and Analysis, related to EF issues, the more parts, the more connections between parts. The more connections between parts the more possibilities. Again I am the kind of person who feels like he doesn't know anything about a subject unless he knows everything about a subject. Back in the day being the one geek who understood the machine gave me a specialness. Now if I don't have the computer special knowledge AND the people skills AND the organizational skills, there are 50 guys standing behind me who will be happy to give it a try, and probably charge less per hour / year.
And the "social media" scene is really not made for people like me.
So - yes - I do feel more alone in a crowd.
YMMV


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