A thank you letter to Tim Hunt

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Thank you, Tim Hunt. Thank you for successfully outlining the key feelings I have long held about what’s been holding back my scientific pursuits.

In his progressive and insightful words to young science journalists at a recent conference, Hunt, a Nobel Prize winning British scientist, said what has needed to be expressed for a long time regarding women in science: “you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry.”

Never have I felt so suddenly spellbound by a man I have never met in person. His words were sincere and yet so simple — he really gets it.

However, I can’t deny that his charming disposition was only offset by his devastatingly good looks. Hunt is something of a king among the silver foxes: with glasses, a hint of nasal hair peeking out, and an air of power that makes me feel like he will always take charge. Any sensible woman would become understandably overwhelmed in his presence.

But here I go again, getting distracted by old white men of superior intelligence with entitlement issues. I am barely making it through my current co-op position because I am so attracted to my supervising professor that I can never focus on the task at hand. But really, how can I help it? A girl acts in silly, irrational ways when she finds herself faced with a man of that caliber.

Hunt struck a real chord with me when he went on to explain that mixed-gender labs are disruptive. For a long time, I have been struggling to deal with the guilt I feel for distracting my male co-workers.

Promising young male scientists don’t deserve to be kept from their PhD just because they’re distracted by the more pressing matter of the other D. I have wrongly felt like I have a right to roll up the cuffs of my lab coat, or wear earrings that accentuate my neck while my hair is pulled back in a ponytail to keep it out of the saliva samples.

It’s too much. I am too much. And it is about time someone went out there pushed me in the right direction: out of the mixed lab and into an all female lab where I belong.

Being in an all-female lab will have other benefits too. Women, being the more kind and nurturing gender, will be more sensitive to their coworkers’ emotional fragility.

I can speak to that. Just yesterday, after a grueling nine-hour shift in the lab, I started sobbing when my supervisor told me to change the colours of my bar graph. I was embarrassed, but then my kind supervisor recognized that as a woman I could be experiencing PMS symptoms.

My period is not expected to start for another two weeks, but he is an internationally recognized and celebrated researcher, so I think it is fair to say that he knows best.

I hope that Tim Hunt continues to share his message of hope for all female scientists who have been held back simply because of their gender. I for one will continue to the conversation and become more aware of how my body can influence the rigor of any serious research in the future.

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