Column: Undercover academic
Unnatural selection is alive and well. Just look at academia; for decades now we have been selecting our academics for very specific characteristics and survival mechanisms. The wary and unconventional are sifted from the intellectual talent pool at every step.
This culture is most often described in terms of the hostile environment faced by females but it is obvious that the traits weeded out of academia are not gender specific. Who would choose the stereotypical self-sacrificing life of a scientist? Is a burning research question really sufficient to make us forgo some professional perks that our former classmates take for granted? Are we really happy to work in a system that seems to select for the most intellectually aggressive, and weeds out the capable but uncertain? What does the ideal system look like?
We can start by acknowledging that you don't have to follow the 'traditional' career path to contribute. We shouldn't frown on people who have taken more circuitous routes into research. We should welcome people from alternative backgrounds because their different perspectives will make a difference to the questions we're trying to answer.
A bit more diversity would be a great thing in chemistry.
The Undercover academic is a university lecturer in the UK