Monday, June 22, 2009

Internet identity and anonymity

I had a nightmare recently that I had accidentally written something not bland-as-paste here, and then someone confronted me with angry violence. Yikes! Neither of those things has actually happened.

I can see the appeal of an anonymous I'm-a-woman-in-science blog. I read many of them (e.g., Ambivalent Academic, YoungFemaleScientist, unbalanced-reaction, See Jane Compute, Professor in Training, Average Professor, FemaleScienceProfessor, and the memorably-named BitchPhD). They seem to be an opportunity to vent anger and frustration, and receive support, without repercussions. They also provide a forum to voice one's own doubts, distance oneself from them, and laugh soundly at them, then proceed with surmounting those barriers that stand in our way. We are women in science! We stand in the breeze and let our capes and hair blow in the winds of change!

Reading these women's accounts of their graduate school, faculty, industry, and personal trials and tribulations is heartening. It makes me feel like I'm not alone, as stereotypical and silly as that may sound. (There are many women in my program and female faculty in the department!) It gives them a chance to vent about colleagues, departmental politics, funding problems, research techniques, and a thousand daily annoyances, large and small. (I vent vicariously, and covet their freedom to rage, rage against the dying of the light.)

It also gives them a chance to provide, and receive, social support. How to deal with a biased supervisor? It's in the blogosphere, discussed in detail. A blow-by-blow account of the two-body problem? It's out there, covered in the US and abroad. It has been reassuring to discover from these anonymous women (and many non-anonymous senior faculty/students at conferences) that everyone suffers from impostor syndrome. And though I am loathe to admit it, I too doubt my own abilities and deserving placement in graduate school every so often.

But blogging anonymity is a fickle thing (see also). Even the anonymous can face sudden recognition; ironically, the more popular an anonymous blog becomes, the more likely it is that the anonymity will be compromised (more readers, better odds that someone who knows you in real life is among them; also, more incentive for someone to "unmask" you).

Although I appreciate the women out there blogging anonymously/pseudonymously, and occasionally envy their ability to rant against the barriers that block their way, I don't want to be one of them. Because the internet is too public a place to write my major failures and frustrations. I would not put them on my resume, and I will not put them here. What I have gleaned from many conference sessions on success as-a-woman/in-graduate-school/both is that, although we all appear successful and inwardly feel like impostors, we're somewhere in-between. Ultimately, I don't mind disclosing my research hang-ups and daily aggravations, but you have to earn that right in face-to-face combat. If I can't be anonymous, neither can you.

At least we can be sure that we won't misinterpret each other's tones that way.


This post's theme word: pseudandry, "the use of a male pseudonym by a woman."

This post comes a week after that great internet non-anonymizer: there are now pictures of me, with face clearly identifiable, available publicly online. I had tried to avoid that for as long as I could, but I suppose it's inevitable.

1 comment:

George said...

Wow so many cool blogs I didn't know about! Thanks!

I love how the wikipedia entry for impost syndrome says
"It is typically associated with academics and is widely found amongst graduate students."