I am 28 years old. I have spent the past 10 years – my entire adult life – in academia. I have a Bachelor’s degree from a large state university and a Master’s degree and Doctorate from an Ivy League institution: all in engineering. I would like to share some observations, insights, and wisdom that I believe are valuable to all men, no matter their age or level of education. Whether you’re currently in college, graduated years ago, or decided to avoid higher education altogether, these should prove useful to you. Due to length constraints, this article may appear in multiple installments.
1. There are innate gender differences
Gender differences are real no matter what progressives say to the contrary. I’ve been a teaching assistant for many introductory engineering classes. This meant I held office hours, wrote proctored, and graded exams, setup laboratory experiments and in general did the scut work that professors deemed beneath them.
Female students would routinely come to my office hours with pre-formulated questions on the homework. They turned in painstakingly completed assignments that were 10-15 pages long. The male students rarely attended my office hours and turned in assignments that were incomplete with many of the problems barely attempted and most of the work not shown.
When I wrote exams, I avoided including questions that were simply a test of memorization or vocabulary. I included more design-oriented questions that tested students’ ability to problem-solve or to extend previously covered concepts. Here the situation was reversed. The female students had great difficulty with these types of problems while the male students did very well.
The female students vocally complained that these questions hadn’t appeared in the homework assignments or that they departed from the previously covered material in some fashion. The same female students who had turned in masterfully completed assignments were positively flummoxed when presented with a problem that tested their ability to problem-solve. On the other hand, the male students did quite well with these types of problems.
The end result was that the male and female students ended up with approximately equal grades overall. The girls were conscientious and meticulous when it came to the assignments and did well on exam questions that tested vocabulary and things learned by rote memorization, but were hopeless when presented with something even slightly unfamiliar or that required them to innovate.
The males were sloppy and indifferent toward assignments but performed well when presented with questions that tested their comprehension and raw intelligence. Of course, some girls did not complete their assignments and some boys turned in assignments into which they had invested a significant amount of effort, but in general, there were very pronounced gender differences, in terms of attitudes and aptitudes.
2. Ethnic solidarity is real and white students do not have it
It would be impossible for me to recount the number of instances of ethnic solidarity I witnessed among minority students. Innumerable times I worked in the computer lab and saw groups of three or four Chinese students huddled together, cooperatively working on lab work, assignments, or research.
In a graduate level nanofabrication class, the final project required using semiconductor modeling software none of the students had any experience with. A female Indian student had her older Indian friend who had previously taken the class help her. In fact, collaboration is actively encouraged at my university according to the student code of academic integrity, perhaps as an acknowledgment that it is impossible to prevent or guard against.
So being a loner or the sole white guy in a graduate level STEM class filled with nothing but Chinese and Indian students means you will be on your own while everyone else will be able to bring multiple strong minds to bear on a problem set or take home exam. Black students in STEM help other Black students, Asian students in STEM help other Asian students, and white students…struggle alone.
3. Do not ask for permission to do something
Just do it and if there is a problem, deal with the consequences later. Do not ask permission only to be told no. Then you can’t do it without being blatant about it. Just do it and deal with any fallout later. More than likely, there will be no repercussions. Perhaps a verbal reprimand. You’ll just have to claim ignorance and offer up a mea culpa.
Asking permission, having it denied, and proceeding anyway is proof of deliberate and willful disregard. Or you get told no and have a possible course of action effectively removed. A common adage is that you don’t ask a lawyer what you can or can’t do but to argue why what you did was justified. Don’t artificially constrain yourself by seeking permission for something you feel is necessary or the best course of action.
4. Wearing multiple hats is a very good thing
Whether that means having multiple titles, positions, bosses, or institutional affiliations, it introduces a gray area that can be exploited to your advantage. Having multiple affiliations blurs otherwise distinct boundaries. People around you won’t know exactly what you’re doing, your schedule, or to whom you’re accountable.
You will have more freedom to operate and be able to come and go as you wish. If you collect multiple paychecks or have multiple streams of revenue, you can skirt pay caps and ceilings. It also gives you plausible deniability and a sound defense for flouting procedure. For instance, you can always claim you just made an honest mistake and confused the operating protocol or standard procedure of one institution with which you are affiliated with another. After all, the human memory is infinitely fallible, right?
5. Pick a specialization early on and stick with it
Ever wonder why Asian students seem so academically precocious? It’s because they chose their specialty early in life and never wavered. They began specializing in high school. They then began undergraduate research in a lab when they were 18 or 19. They then go onto graduate school and continue the exact same line of research. By the time they are in their late 20s, they have a decade of relevant experience so of course they are consummate experts on a topic by then.
At an age when many whites are “finding themselves,” discovering their true passion in life, or globe trekking, Asian students are entering the second decade of their professional careers. Asian students will not switch focus, even if they hate what they do. They will not jump ship. They will stay the course. With so much more accrued knowledge and experience, of course they appear to possess otherworldly intellect.
They are, however, just persistent and specialize at an early age. When I was just starting graduate school, I marveled at a female student from China who would absolutely dominate group meetings. She was cute and petite but was a tenacious bulldog when it came to research: she monopolized the group meeting and would shamelessly interrupt, speak over, and correct the other students.
I later learned that she was in her 30s and had worked as a research technician for a decade before embarking on her PhD. She had more than 10 years of relevant experience which accounted for why she was so self-assured. It wasn’t empty bravado or chest-thumping on her part. She was genuinely competent and did know more than the other students at the progress meeting. Now, years later, I’m similarly self-assured and feel no reservations offering my input and suggestions to doctors and scientists decades my senior. Moreover, they actually give credence to my suggestions and heed my advice.
When I began my academic career 10 years ago, I was a much different person. I was young, naïve, and idealistic. I used to believe that academia was somehow different from other fields of human endeavor. My idealism has since been tempered and I’ve developed a much more jaundiced view of academia altogether.
In theory, academia is beautiful, pure, and egalitarian; in practice, it is like any other human endeavor, fraught with exasperating bureaucracy, flagrant nepotism, and irrational personal animus. And like all fields of human endeavor, there are techniques to employ to succeed and ways to gain a competitive advantage.