These Science girl tears I shed  |    By Furaha Asani   |

She is a PhD researcher at the Department of Infection and Immunity, University of Sheffield. Furaha also writes for African Hadithi, an online magazine. Here, Furaha shares with us her take on Tim Hunt and “the girls in science”.

Furaha Asani

Furaha Asani

Furaha writes:

If you’re active on social media then you wouldn’t have missed the ‘distractingly sexy’ hashtag that was trending recently, in a humorous backlash to Sir Tim Hunt’s sexist remarks. Just to refresh your memory, at a conference held in Seoul, South Korea recently, the Nobel laureate stated:

Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry.

Few days later he resigned his post at UCL amidst severe online backlash.

Yes, he has had an illustrious career, and indeed has people backing him now, and opposing his resignation. Some argue that UCL have not handled this situation appropriately, and the backlash has been disproportionate.

While I will agree that UCL could have handled it better, I also feel that his ‘apology’ probably did him no favours either. It has been said that he was initially trying to be ironic, and missed the mark.

Personally I found his blanket statement about us ‘girls’ to be offensive. As a female scientist, let me tell you three things (see what I did there?) that I took exception to.

Behind this containment level 3 door I am distractingly sexy. Promise

Behind this containment level 3 door I am distractingly sexy. Promise

First of all, I have worked with people who have dated other people within their labs. From what I can tell so far, this has never taken away from output quality. Of course cases may differ, but then again dating a co-worker is not exclusive to the science lab. Workplace attraction is probably commonplace, and many people are handling it quite professionally, as should be the case.

Also if pining for someone/falling in love with everyone in your lab is distracting you from your science, then that’s on you bruh. As long as the work environment is innately a ‘level playing field’, it is surely up to the individuals engulfed in passions to keep themselves level-headed also.

Second, cheekily referring to women in the lab as ‘girls’ seems a tad dismissive in this context. No ‘girls’ work in my lab. The females working here are all women.

Last, and the reason why I took his comments so personally. I have, on several occasions cried due to my work, mostly in private. At least three times over the years I cried in the lab, and once, was rather soothingly comforted by my colleagues and a co-supervisor. None of them belittled me. They understood that for me to shed tears at my place of work (which is usually considered unprofessional) meant that the matter was not light. Sometimes my tears were due to frustration, other times just because I had received bad news during working hours. I’m also pretty sure many male scientists will tell you that they have cried sometimes. We are all human, and having the occasional cry does not make us any less able as scientists.

Science can be frustrating and tear-inducing. Ask any scientist. Particularly those doing a PhD. And for the record, my ability to assimilate constructive criticism is my responsibility entirely. If however someone is exceptionally mean to me and I cry as a result, I won’t apologise for it. I wouldn’t have gotten to this stage if my tears were a hindrance to me, or anyone in my surroundings.

For me the bottom line is this: as long as I comport myself professionally, and foster mutual respect in my work area, then I will continue to freely exhibit human personality characteristics, which may or may not include crying once in awhile. I abhor this implied idea especially when it comes to females that particular fields are only for fembots, whilst others are only for ‘softies’. Also, that tears are a sign of weakness, or only shed by women. My track record and work should speak for themselves, not who I may currently be crushing on, or my tears.

Women are just as invaluable to and useful in Science as men are. They should receive just as much encouragement to embark on STEM careers. Hopefully this entire episode has further fuelled this fact.

Feature photo credit – Laurence Simon/Creative Commons | Other photos Furaha Asani