January 3, 2011

Unattached Musings

This is, *ahem*, a serious post. Somewhat unusual for me, I suppose, but I've been feeling rather moody all day (whether this is due to the comment we're about to discuss or to the fact that I'm back at school after a phenomenally luxurious break is currently undetermined) so this post gets to bear the brunt of it.

What set it off was a conversation with a certain Nyx regarding a certain Warburton (I'm currently trying to ignore the fact that it's entirely possible that Warburton will read this and recognize the description of himself...I'm still adjusting to the fact that people legitimately read this thing). Warburton is one of the many individuals who have emailed me in search of RSI assistance (my last count is 26 total); his email was one of the more memorable, though, as it was about four pages of sleep-deprived babbling, followed by an offer to play scrabble. I spent a couple of days pointing and laughing at the email, the read it closely enough to work out what he was asking and try to respond to that. After we had worked out that he was not, as I originally suspected, completely batshit crazy, I gave him Nyx's email because she wanted a scrabble buddy. She reportedly stayed up way too late talking and playing scrabble with him, and they reportedly had a bit of a nerd cred contest.

Nyx defines nerd cred as indie cred for nerds. Indie cred does have a wikipedia entry, so I suppose this is legit. I define nerd cred as "that thing I am always trying to get more of. Bryant probably defines nerd cred as "that thing I have so much of that I don't bother trying anymore." Bryant has an amount of nerd cred comparable to the level of indie cred held by a band that only its members have heard of. Warburton's nerd cred, from what I can tell, is more along the lines of the band that doesn't exist yet--so, basically, dude is a completely, ridiculously smart. I'm exaggerating a bit, but for the sake of the analogy, it is at least somewhat funny.

As I was saying, Nyx and I had a conversation on the way to school (it should be noted just how terrible I am at sticking to a serious topic). She said Warburton has more nerd cred than me. I agreed, saying that he should get into RSI as a result, but one never knows. She agreed with me, and I said that I wonder sometimes how I got into RSI when there are all of these awesome people out there. She gave me the look that said that I was missing some important point.

"You're a girl," she said, as if that was all the reason that was needed.

I can't find it on the website (so maybe it's not true) but I recall being informed, multiple times, that for those selecting an RSI class, affirmative action is not used. This is how we end up with 1.5 minority students and only 1/3 girls (I just checked flipped through my summerbook at counted the American students--30%. I cannot imagine it would be that low if affirmative action was used). The website does say that students are selected "solely on the basis of their accomplishments and intellectual potential," but this was in reference to costs rather than gender/race/what have you, and I'm not the sort of person who will seriously quote out of context.

Regardless, it hurts. It hurt when Dino said the only reason I was selected for SHP at the end of freshman year, when he was not, is that I was a girl. Because obviously my test scores are lower, or the same--I couldn't possibly have a greater level of scientific knowledge beyond the biology that I will freely admit he is better at. It hurts that when I am sitting at the top of my AP physics class (well, I'm not certain my grade is actually the highest, but that's because I'm being lazy and not working as hard as I should), class that has 25 boys and 2 girls (though I grant you the vast majority of these guys are jocks who probably should not be in the class), and people continue to think that I got into college because I'm a girl, that I had this opportunity and that opportunity because I'm female and not because I am a very intelligent person who has spent years working my ass off.

But I'm a secure individual. I know that shouldn't bother me, because satisfaction rests within the self. I believe that I am both capable and deserving, so it shouldn't matter what others think. The only reason that it should bother me is the same reason that the previous sentence says "believe" instead of "know." I am not as certain as I think I am. Nyx's words troubled me because she is among my closest friends, and is one of those I've known the longest and know the best. It makes me wonder: if my best friend doesn't believe in me, who will? And if she doesn't it, is my belief in myself unwarranted?

This is the insecurity that gnaws at me. It continues to live partly because most of the things that people regularly dispute can be attributed to affirmative action, so I can't quite tell myself that they aren't true--but I can't totally blame an outside source. Much of it is a case of "imposter syndrome", the feeling that, no matter what I've achieved, I've cheated somehow, and one of these days, someone is going to notice that I don't deserve my current position. It's common, from what I can tell, among women in the sciences, and I'll discuss it later, but I went on a huge tangent below, and I think that a discussion of that idea deserves its own post.

The insecure feeling is similar to that which troubled me when Kathrya assumed I wouldn't land something because I'd be competing against international students, and they'd all be better--though in that case, it bothered me less, because I'm well aware that the best of the rest of the world is substantially better than me. I'm well aware that a lot of students in this country are better than me--but in what I've dedicated myself to, the number is damn small. There are probably tens of thousands with my grades, but if you throw in research and everything else--there are a number that do better, but from what I can tell, there are a few hundred of us that are about on par with each other (maybe closer to 1000 or so, I'm not entirely sure), maybe a bit more or less--though I'm getting stuck on this one, because while it's easy to make sweeping judgements, I don't know what everyone else is capable of, and I still don't know precisely where I stand.

However, any of these people would be qualified, overall, for RSI. These are the people that will do research at Caltech, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford (though a smaller number of them will end up at other schools). I don't really know what separates those who got into RSI from those who didn't--RSI is literally too small of a program to accept all of the qualified applicants, particularly if we take to heart MIT's constant statement that it, too, cannot accept all who are qualified--but regardless, there are more people sitting at the level of "totally awesome" than there are people at RSI. And at this point, I no longer remember what the purpose of this discussion was--something along the lines of being the best here, but not the best everywhere, which doesn't totally make sense. My 1000 estimate of people who are really into research--well, that's not a very conservative estimate. I would probably be better off with a few times that. And if "the best" includes that many people, what really qualifies me to say that I or anyone else is the best? If we make our definition broad, we pick up people who are good at many things. If we make it narrow, we discount the most intelligent.

I think I just made a point, but it has no relation to anything else I've talked about. I wanted to say something about affirmative action, I think. About how horrifically bitter Gretchen is because, from what she can tell, being an asian female puts her at a disadvantage in the college process. About how worried I feel that I've been receiving things I haven't deserved, even as I am fuming over the fact that others don't believe I deserve them. So where does it help?

It helps the statistics. It makes schools have the right numbers. And as I said before, with the huge numbers of the best, you could quite possible fill an MIT class with asian females and have the whole class be amazing. You could probably do the same with white Europeans. I don't know enough about the numbers to say if one could do the same with blacks, or with hispanics--I have a feeling that there aren't enough total people in research positions already. You could probably fill a class with people capable of succeeding, but it's quite likely that they wouldn't have had the same training. Just like I wouldn't have had the same training if I hadn't been accepted to the programs I was accepted to--because that's what enabled me to be one of these best people.

I feel like my reasoning is going in circles. The problem is that any equality in receiving an opportunity can go two ways--you can try to equalize people based on what they've had access to, and accept based off of that. Or you can actually take the people who have done the most, sum total, to be the most qualified. It's confusing, and I don't totally get it, and I'm tired, and I have a feeling that I'm going to offend people, and I'm a bit annoyed about the fact that I'm no longer anonymous, so I'm probably going to offend real people.

*insert curse word here*


Ginny said...

I wonder if it's my I-only-really-have-grades-and-not-much-else or my lack of a preferable status (and colleges' open acknowledgement that they do not like my status) that is giving me "college grief" right now. Probably both.

Gretchen said...

Besides for the content, which is too much stuff to leave as a comment, I am offended you neglected to tag me.

But as a side note, I'm three pages into my litx!!!

Gretchen said...

And as far as your physics class goes, you need to put that in context. You've openly admitted your class is full of jocks who honestly speaking, shouldn't be in AP Physics.

Tea said...

Clarifications made.

Anonymous said...

The only reason that RSI even asks about gender is to do roommate assignments in the dorm. If the dorm were all singles, RSI wouldn't even ask.

That being said, certain girl behaviors -- like getting good grades and not being an ass -- certainly improve anyone's chance of admission.

Julie said...

OK, incoherent and disorganized rambling coming:

Now, from my point of view (my summer program flat-out says it does affirmative action and had more girls than guys, though that may also be because it's a very bio-heavy program. We also had half a minority student, but it's a smaller program, so I don't know...), I do suffer from Tea's "impostor syndrome." Also, I feel like people like Warburton (and even Livny and Bryant and Micro) give a twisted idea of what smart actually means. The feeling that one is worthless and being given extra opportunities comes a bit from being intimidated by others. The feeling of being intimidated and being second-best is a completely different issue, though. You, however, got into RSI because you deserved it. You beat the other applicants; just compare yourself to other girls! I didn't get in, even Casey, whom I consider to be the smartest person my age I have ever met, didn't get in. At least I'm pretty sure she applied, going to Exeter and all. I didn't know that, and I'm actually very confused as to why, Dino didn't get into SHP; I mean, I consider him academically superior to Archie and Helga. Also, why do all the jocks take AP Physics? Did they take Bio, or Chem?

Finally...I hate, but can't escape, the fact that unfair advantages are a part of life. My parents say to take advantage of them. I don't notice on a daily basis that people discredit girls' accomplishments, but I believe it. Even my parents think I'm getting into college because I'm a girl. No offense to Ariadne and to all the Penn and Duke legacies, but...they all got a boost too. I fume over people getting what they don't deserve. I fume about me getting what I don't deserve, because of being a girl, and other things as well. I hate it when people say "If you're not xxxx, then who is?" and "If you're not going to get into xxxx, then who is?" I hate this false feeling of superiority that people try to make me feel. I just want to be on even ground. As of right now, if that does mean that no women succeed in science, then unfortunately so be it. Try harder. Fairness...is difficult.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion. I think this has strayed away from the whole affirmative action thing and more to a liberal vs. conservative issue.
Liberals - Help those who haven't had access but supposedly have potential (ie. social services)
Conservatives - Help those who have show their ability to succeed (ie. tax breaks)
[I tried to keep this as unbiased as possible; sorry if it seems like favoring one side or another]
This is discussion that can never truly be resolved because people on both sides will always exist and there is no way to generalize one way over another. We can only try to find a balance in between, which will never be perfect.
PS. As the previous anon said, RSI does not base admissions on gender (MIT does, but if you got into RSI, you're definitely would have gotten into MIT even if you were a guy)