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03/06/2014

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Shen-yi Liao

I really appreciate the Monica Miller essay linked, and your raising this issue. It's something I feel quite conflicted about.

On the one hand, it would be good to get people toward "professional" norms that involve less aggression and less showing-off.

On the other hand, there is a sociological dimension that seems to be ignored here, even in Miller's astute essay. Many of the norms that are seen as "professional" are (more) alienating to specific, underrepresented groups of grad students. Having the right academic manners might come naturally to someone who grew up in an academic family, but completely alien to someone who is the first in her family to go to graduate school. Having the right academic manners might come naturally to someone who went to college in anglophone countries, but completely alien to someone who came from elsewhere.

I am especially skeptical of any proposal, explicit or implicit, that would penalize people for "behaviors that ooze a need to 'prove oneself' in public". Often, it is the already disadvantaged who do feel the need to prove oneself -- because that's what they've been told! (For a related discussion, see http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2014/01/programmer_privilege_as_an_asian_male_computer_science_major_everyone_gave.html .) So any such proposal would end up rewarding the already privileged, the ones who already feel like they belong and have nothing to prove.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Shen-yi: Thanks so much for your comment, and for raising that concern. A couple of thoughts.

I wasn't advocating *penalizing* anyone -- explicitly or implicitly -- for behaving in those ways. Quite the contrary, generally speaking, I would advocate that the profession be far more forgiving of grad student insecurities than (in my experience) the profession tends to be (and for the kinds of reasons you give).

Unfortunately, it is a fact that people are sometimes negatively judged for "acting like a grad student", and so my post was simply aiming to elicit what sorts of actions people judge that way.

Finally, I'm not convinced that a norm against behaving in ways that evince a need to prove oneself would work against disadvantaged individuals. My personal experience in the profession is that it tends to overwhelmingly be individuals of *privileged* backgrounds who behave in the kinds of ways I describe in the post (they can be more apt to "act out" in arrogant, defensive ways precisely because they are members of a privileged class). In other words, in practice, I think a norm against arrogant, defensive behavior would work in favor of the disadvantaged, not against. But again, I do appreciate your worry.

Thanks again for your comment!

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