Thursday, August 21, 2008

Does culture affect your science?

An odd question I know. But it is something that I have been thinking about for the last couple weeks. That is what happens when you're at home dealing with a toddler I guess. As I have mentioned before, I am East Indian / South Asian. My parents immigrated to Canada in the 70's and embraced Canadian values. They worked really hard to be able to send all us to university and overall they treated myself, my brother and my sister relatively equally. There were differences and I dealt with them the best I could. My parents worked hard to incorporate many aspects of Canadiana into our childhood from camping and joining sport teams to celebrating Christmas and Thanksgiving. They also wanted us to value and appreciate our Indian heritage and did a lot to keep us connected to the Indian culture.
One of the things that is huge in Indian culture is respect for your elders, importance of family and "saving face". These things were drilled into me as child and they are things that I value. I truly believe in the importance of family and respecting those older than you. Those "older" included not just your parents and grandparents but your teachers, as well. Teacher includes your professors and PI. Respect to most Indian parents is defined as doing what your family asks. So for me respecting my PI = doing what S/he asks. Obviously that makes for a very difficult graduate studies, and over time I have had to make alot of adjustments to what I view as being respectful. This has been a difficult and challenging journey. One that I am extremely glad that I made, but it makes me wonder that if I didn't have that strong believe in what the definition of respect is, would the transition to questioning your PI had happened sooner or been easier? Would I have been able to take control faster?
The other ability that is critical to success in science (and almost every other field) is speaking up. Having opinions, stating them and being strong enough to defend them. Yet I am not able to do that at home. Actually that is not 100% true. I know Mr.SM would run in the opposite direction if I didn't have vigorous debates with him on all sorts of different topics. But Mr.SM is the epitome of the modern man (not compared to you 'whities' but definitely for an indian man), but his family is much more traditional. They have clearly defined roles for men and women, and quite frankly I can't be bothered to try and change the views of 50+ year old people. It is much easier on my relationship with his family if I pick my battles with them. Again, I wonder if it wasn't so faux pas to be an outspoken woman, that it would be easier to put the "hat" of outspoken woman on.


Mrs. Spit said...

I think family of origin stuff is just huge in how we live our lives. The way we were "programmed" to respond to things, what tasks we do, what roles we fall into, has a huge affect on how we live our lives.

I imagine the effect would be equally significant on your career.

My Step Dad is Indian, so I've been given a unique picture into that world. And there's good parts, but bad parts too. I think there is in every culture. Sorry it's been a struggle.

Mimi said...

I know how I was brought up definitely affects my science. I don't know if it is a cultural thing, but it is definitely my personality that seems to hinder me the most. I was always told to not take anything lying down, no matter who it dishing it out, and I have gotten into some serious disagreements with people I have worked under because of things. I'm learning I don't have to be as hot-headed as my mother, but it still seeps in.

Amanda said...

Yes! It's one of the things that I have struggled with (culture affecting my science). I was brought up to be polite (read: non-offensive and not uncomfortable-making) above everything else. So, I struggle to ask for things that I need and to assert my interpretations of my data. So, I guess I have the opposite problem of Mimi!