Identity

Kate Clancy’s blog, Context and Variation, has been in my Google Reader since early grad school. I have always been in awe of how much of herself (both personal and professional) she shares online, so when I read the posts from Kate and Scicurious introducing their Science Online session exploring online identity, I marked it on my calendar to follow along via Twitter. I had a pretty light morning in lab that day, but if you missed it, you can read the wrap-up/Storify from Scicurious here. (I found Sci’s transitions between the tweets super helpful in grasping more of what went on in the session).

When I first started thinking about identity, I didn’t immediately think of my online identity. I am pretty new to being a science communicator online, and so far, especially since I’m pretty sure that only my parents are reading, I haven’t struggled much with my online identity.

Instead, I thought immediately about the challenges I’ve had throughout grad school feeling as though I am being honest about all of who I am. In the Storify from Scicurious, she mentions that the #scio13ID session had in attendance more women than men, a higher concentration of minorities, and more academics than in other sessions, which makes me think that it’s not just me who sometimes struggles with the question of how we portray ourselves in the different arenas of our lives.

In academic science, we often celebrate a scientist’s obsession with a research question to the exclusion of all other things about him or her. The biggest impact this aspect of science culture has on me, though, is that I feel the need to carefully control how much people know about me. I am proud of my time as a women’s Ultimate Frisbee player and coach, but I don’t shout about it at work. I love dyeing and screen printing fabric, but I doubt my labmates know it. I read fiction voraciously and am a member of three book clubs, but I limit literary conversations with my boss to what I’ve read in the scientific realm.

All of these parts of me (science, Ultimate, fiber arts, reading, etc.) combine to make up my identity, both as a scientist and as a person, but I still don’t feel comfortable confessing that I don’t spend all my time in lab or thinking about science. This discomfort is one reason I have always found Kate Clancy’s online identity to be surprising and inspiring: she shares many things about herself with readers/followers, while maintaining what seems to be a successful professional life as an anthropologist. I readily admit that I can be sensitive to criticism, but I bet I’m not the only one who keeps parts of her identity from scientific colleagues.

Along these lines, the concept of personal versus private definitely came up in the #scio13ID session. Participants talked mostly about sharing personal details to give weight to their writing, while keeping private things that should be. In terms of academic science, I and other young scientists don’t need to share every aspect of private life to feel as though our whole selves are being acknowledged. It would be nice, though, to feel as though we won’t be penalized for having interests, commitments, and passions outside the lab.

I am so thankful for everyone who tweeted from the #scio13ID session and especially to Kate Clancy and Scicurious for including those of us who weren’t physically present in this conversation. As I move forward in my career, at and away from the bench, off and online, I am going to keep in mind both the role that I play in how my identity is perceived and how my identity can work for me.

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