The silence.

I caught up with part of my backlog of podcasts with this Breaking Bio episode where Drs. Kate Clancy, Robin Nelson, Julienne Rutherford and Katie Hinde talk about the #SAFE13 study they did and some of what they’re doing to follow up. I recommend it if you need to learn about some of what the problems are in STEM for women. All the more important to point them out since articles in the NYT get published saying there’s not problem at all.

The bottom line is the cultural problem of harassment in science and just our culture needs to end. It’s not good for anyone and puts victims, bystanders, and institutions in tough positions when it does occur– of course it needs to be addressed when it does occur with some sort of rules set out that actually function, but preventing in the first place is the best practice here.

I was struck when they talked about the culture of academia really being so focused on research that the humans doing it and their lives are forgotten, including when things like abuse happen. I found myself inserting “Or depression” too. Though the parallel is not exact, there is a culture of silence around mental health in academia. Just publish the papers. Get the research done. Your brain isn’t functioning? Just publish papers.

You don’t matter (you’re depressed so you really think it’s true too).

I know in the grand scheme, I truly don’t matter, but feeling like that does not help you get things done or thrive. We want people in academia to thrive and do their best work. And whether abuse or mental health, it’s too big a problem to ignore anymore. Silence isn’t a solution.

I don’t want to co-opt the importance of #SAFE13 with my own thing. I am trying to empathize and fight for change in my own way to improve what is a system that fails too many brilliant scientists. (no I do not currently count myself as brilliant).



Author: Ian Street

Ian is a plant scientist and science writer relating stories of plant science and scientists on his blog, The Quiet Branches as well as other outlets. You can find him on Twitter @IHStreet.

2 thoughts on “The silence.”

  1. Ian, you are very brave for starting this blog and this conversation. It’s not an easy topic, and “outing” oneself as depressive in academics (or anywhere) is not easy either. After the recent death of a very high achieving scientist in our field as a result of mental illness, I think it’s high time to build a social network for those in academic science struggling with mental health issues, be it addiction, depression, anxiety, or a plethora of other diseases that afflict so many in our line of work. You are not alone, and there is a path out of the darkness.

    1. I worry about being so open, but when I started this a few years ago, I decided it was more important for me to speak out for those who can’t/don’t. Even though I know it opens me up to criticism or is limiting my career (to that latter point, I feel like it was/is already). And I hope I can help a few people do better in their lives for having heard my voice. I agree academia needs a stronger community around mental health and resolving the systemic issues that encourage its development. There’s a lot of us that do write/tweet/interact about it ,but I don’t know that we speak collectively all that well (have you seen @PhDisabled?).

      I hope I can be a leader in this, but my voice is still relatively small & humble. And at least I am doing better re: my depression.

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