Sunday Morning, CBS

Karen D. Alfrey alfrey at rice.edu
Sun Mar 21 13:30:06 EST 1999


In article <280E4B06768 at bio.tamu.edu>, "Julia Frugoli" <jfrugoli at bio.tamu.edu> 
writes:
|> 
|> 2) do you have any insights you'd like to share (on or off the newsgroup) as
|> to why/when you became interested in science?


I can't point to a specific moment -- as far as I can tell, I've just been
this way since birth.  As I think about it, though, I realize I have two
very dominant personality traits that led me toward science:

1)  I like knowing stuff and understanding how & why stuff works.  As a kid, 
I read encyclopedias for fun & pulled up every big rock I could find looking 
for interesting new life forms underneath.  When I got sick and had to stay
home from school, I watched educational shows on PBS.  Pursuing a career in 
science just seemed like a natural way to know stuff for a living.  (I guess 
I might also have made a good reference librarian....)

2)  I get a kick out of going against the norm, messing with people's 
expectations.  Though I don't remember it, my mom tells me that in Kindergarten
I wanted to wear dresses every day.  When she asked me why, I said, "Everyone
else wears pants."  Maybe I *would've* been a reference librarian if I'd been
born a boy....  Not only does this help me cope in an environment in which
I'm always outnumbered, it motivates my work, too -- I live for providing
new evidence that shakes people out of old modes of thought.

As far as people helping me along my chosen path, I was very lucky to have
had some math and science teachers in jr. high and high school who showed
complete confidence in my abilities -- though in retrospect, a student with
more of an interest in her social standing might've responded differently
to being used as an example....

Hmmm, maybe there's something there.  The issues of competition vs cooperation
in science have been discussed in this forum -- males are usually seen as more
competitive, females as more cooperative, and science has traditionally been
viewed as a highly competitive enterprise.  At what grade level does science
turn into a competition?  For me, it was 9th grade -- the first year our
science program was "tracked" into general and advanced (and also the first
year I really got to do science instead of just memorizing definitions).  
Should high school (and college) science be more cooperative?  It probably
has become somewhat more so in the ten years since I graduated.  Julia, if
you're involved in speaking to high-school-aged female science students, you
may want to emphasize the importance of stereotypically "female" skills like
oral and written communications in the scientific process, as well as giving
them a sense of the collaborative aspect of science....

I've gotten a tad long-winded in this little stream-of-consciousness narrative,
but I hope there's some useful stuff there.  On a slightly related note, I
recently caught the tail end of a special on Barbie dolls (in honor of her
40th birthday, I think).  The interviewer asked a little girl of about 6,
"What does Barbie do for a living?"  After a moment's thought, she responded
with a big grin, "She works with computers!"

Somehow, that gave me tremendous hope for the future.

Karen Alfrey
alfrey at rice.edu




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