Feminist Fight Club

5 09 2017

An Office survival Manual (For a Sexist Workplace) by Jessica Bennett

Feminist Fight ClubThis is one of those rare books that I couldn’t even wait until I finished it before I ordered not only my own personal copy but also copies for my friends.

It’s irreverent, hilarious, witty, sarcastic, and above all practical and helpful. It lays out the many self-sabotaging and self-defeating behaviors and thoughts of women that accentuate the age-old stereotypes and thereby result in the vicious circle of widening the chasm between the sexes in the workplace. It talks about all the implicit ways that both men and women indulge in that contribute to the problem. It provides sensible tips and advice on how to tackle these damaging tendencies.

It highlights the pervasiveness of gender discrimination at work and points out that today’s sexism is not overt but seemingly very subtle and imbibed in countless  “normal” behaviors. Nonetheless, it’s not less damaging. We still do have a wage gap, glass ceiling, and other ways of limiting the growth of women in their careers. Women are interrupted more than men when they are talking, more likely than men not to be given due credit for their ideas and work, judged harshly/negatively compared to men for same behaviors etc.

Even if we think of ourselves as very progressive, the deep rooted stereotypes and cultural notions are assimilated in many seemingly harmless and often times subconscious reactions and behaviors. Everyone needs to consciously work on their own implicit  (and otherwise) biases in order to be able to address this issue and bring out the change. Because gender parity benefits one and all. It frees everyone from the boundaries of the stereotypes, because that’s what stereotypes do – they confine us all – men and women. Men need not limit their actions in order to conform to the “macho-man” stereotype, which sometimes involves significant cost to one’s own conscience, morality, humanity, and others. They need not bear the burden of primary financial and career responsibility solely on their shoulders and instead share that with women. Rising above the stereotypes is a challenge but not insurmountable. They do have their purpose as shortcuts but it helps to evaluate them and make conscious choices instead of succumbing to them blindly. Knowledge and awareness is power.

Men can not only help by not engaging in detrimental actions but also by stopping other men from acting so and/or supporting women. Likewise, women can help themselves as well as each other through a network of support.

I found at times that the tone of the book is too brazen and bold, but that may just be my cultural conditioning restricting myself from accepting such a tone from a woman, as well as applied to women. 😛 Also, I felt that some tips sounded more like “how to be like a man”. And it seemed that the culture associates most successful tendencies to be “masculine” and the less successful or even detrimental behaviors as “feminine”, at least in the workplace. It’s a dismal realization. There is even a chapter in the book titled “What would Josh do?”, which encourages women to emulate the tendencies of a successful male in certain situations. This is not ill advice at all. But I hope for a day when distinctly feminine behaviors also connote success, strength and professionalism. Currently, in case of transgressions or slips from ideal work behaviors, women are judged more harshly and often those actions get ascribed to the entire gender (and how women are inferior/unsuitable/out of place) in contrast to men, in which case, they’re only mere transgressions or “he just being a man” (a good thing).

The book evoked in me lot of emotions. I found myself surprised by some insights and facts (from studies), nodding in agreement at many places with the arguments, cringing while recalling my own self-sabotaging behaviors, inspired by the support available and the ray of hope to change the status quo.

Anyone who cares about gender discrimination at workplace should definitely read this book. I think that any workplace that likes to combat sexism can start by

  • Recruiting more women
  • Offering women same pay as men (very important and I think very doable. No, please don’t blame it on negotiation skills)
  • Educating all employees on various contributing and exacerbating tendencies and how to avoid or work around them

Here’s to empowering one and all! 🙂

Advertisements




Impostor syndrome

14 06 2017

I’ve been hearing about impostor syndrome a lot in recent times. I don’t mean that the tendency itself is a novel phenomenon by any means.  It had been first described in the 1970s by psychologists Suzanne Imes, and Pauline Rose Clance. It’s just that the term or label has been gaining lot of popularity and attention. People are trying to understand the concept, discussing it, acknowledging its prevalence in their own and/or dear ones’ lives and forthcoming with personal stories and experiences about feeling like a fraud. It may seem at the outset a little like indulging in self-deprecation in order to get attention, when one reads all those “confessional” tweets and revelations, but most likely it isn’t the case and the issue runs much deeper.

So, what is it exactly?

As per Wikipedia, impostor syndrome is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Clearly, it implies that a person feels like a fraud despite the concrete evidence of his/her skills and achievements and often attribute their success to serendipity or other external factors.

What causes or contributes to such feelings?

Societal and parental pressure to achieve seems to be the biggest culprit. New challenges also may cause impostor feelings in some people. Women and minorities tend to be more susceptible to impostor syndrome than others. Showering a lot of undeserved and untruthful praise during childhood can also lead to impostor feelings later in life. (APA article – Feel like a fraud?)

People often perceive impostor feelings as manifestations of other seemingly related concepts like self-doubt, lack-of confidence, low self-esteem, perfectionism, insecurity, seeking validation or approval etc. I’ve have had people use these different terms and concepts in some capacity while trying to explain the phenomenon of impostor syndrome. It’s important to differentiate impostor syndrome from all such things though, if one ever has to identify or diagnose it with any conviction and not get those other things mixed up with what actually is impostor syndrome.

Here is my token effort towards trying to untangle these different concepts from impostor syndrome. Beware that this is neither going to be a complete scientific evaluation of the relevant body of knowledge out there nor a philosophical rambling wondering about life’s bizarre nuances.

  • Self-doubt – Impostor syndrome is a special kind of self-doubt, with overpowering and all-encompassing fear about one’s inadequacy. (APA article – Feel like a fraud?)
  • Low self-esteem – Impostor syndrome is more than just low self-esteem. It’s the inability to give credit to yourself for your abilities.
  • Lack of confidence – This could be due to several reasons, including lack of skill. But impostor syndrome doesn’t happen when you lack an ability. However, it is observed that most people are impostor syndrome while try to learn new things.
  • Perfectionism – This is complementary to impostor syndrome. People with impostor feelings tend to do things perfectly and push themselves too hard to meet their own high expectations. (APA article – Feel like a fraud?)
  • Seeking external validation or approval – This is another complementary behavior to impostor syndrome. People with impostor feelings definitely crave for external validation making it difficult for them to recognize their own expertise.
  • Insecurity – Impostor syndrome also involves negative feelings about oneself, which are inherent to being insecure. But achieving actual success despite these insecure feelings, mostly due to the other optimistic beliefs they hold sets these people who feel like a fraud apart from those with just “insecurity”, most likely without any achievements to their credit. (Huffington Post – Do you suffer from Impostor Syndrome?)

So, impostor syndrome is a bit of all these things but the real differentiating characteristics are

  • High-achieving individuals and
  • Inability to internalize their accomplishments

Do you have impostor syndrome? Ask yourself these questions to find out: Quiz. Here is an interesting analysis on relationship between impostor syndrome and confidence: Impostor Syndrome Is Not Just a Confidence Problem. There is lot of helpful information out there online on how to deal with this syndrome and overcome or at least quiet down that voice inside you that tells you that you are a fraud. (HBR article- Overcoming Impostor Syndrome).

Catching yourself in the act, recognizing your abilities, and seeking support help a lot. But the idea is not to succumb to Dunning-Kruger effect, which is exactly the opposite of impostor syndrome: feeling of unwarranted superiority. A tendency to overestimate their abilities and correctly assess their inadequacies. 🙂

imposter syndrome





Buddhism and modern science

9 06 2017

two-sciences-of-mind-10

The Buddhist doctrine of “not-self” is a tricky concept to comprehend. It proclaims that the idea of self, what one thinks as oneself, doesn’t exist. That means, the “I” or “ego” doesn’t exist. As per Buddhism, self is something that can be controlled. What we perceive as a person or a self can be thought of as a conglomeration of five aggregates – form, feeling, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. Buddhism asserts that since each of these things can happen and exist outside of one’s control, none of these things can be the self and hence there is no self that exists. This follows that there is no single author of our actions and there is a sense of impermanence attached to everything we think as self.

This philosophy is in line with the scientific view of the mind in that there is no central CEO that is in charge of one’s thoughts, emotions, or actions, but rather there are several modules within the brain that act together or in isolation depending on the stimulus and situation. To be precise, there are seven modules of the mind representing: self-protection, mate attraction, mate retention, affiliation, kin care, status, and disease avoidance. There are submodules off each module. This modular theory of mind is developed by Robert Kurzban, and is thought to have been shaped by natural selection.

Whatever we think of conscious self is basically a public relations representative, presenting a coherent picture to the outside world as both beneficial and affective, a tendency described as “beneffactance”. It is a term coined by psychologist Anthony Greenwald in 1980. Even if we are not always aware of the motivations behind our actions and decisions, we present ourselves as otherwise to the others and also self.

If more than one module is at play in a given situation, for example in the case of whether to engage in an extramarital affair, the modules corresponding to short-term and long-term implications may “argue” with each other, weighs costs and benefits, until one clearly wins. The reason we are aware of this internal dialogue is because the conscious self – the PR representative – needs to justify the actions to the society. It may not even be the real reason. Many of our decisions and thoughts are not consciously made. For example, consider the experiment done by Margo Wilson and Martin Daly, in which men who were shown pictures of attractive women preferred to have smaller amount money of right now vs a larger amount in future. This shows that the time discount rate of a particular person is not constant and can be influenced by various environmental factors. It is obvious from such studies and findings that our minds are unreliable and transient, which aligns with the impermanence view of Buddhism.

Now, let’s consider how this “not-self” and “modular view of the mind” manifest themselves in the Buddhist practice of meditation. Meditation can be of two forms – concentrated and open monitoring. In the concentrated mode, you focus on a particular thing, say breath, or a mantra etc. deflecting all the other distracting thoughts. In open monitoring mode, which can also be referred to as mindfulness meditation, one just observes all the thoughts that come to mind, but without pursuing them and without judging them.

When you are in the mindfulness meditation, the default mode network of the mind is triggered, in which several modules vie for your attention through feelings in response to the many thoughts that come to your mind. The default mode network gets activated in the mind when you are not focused on anything in particular. As you practice your mediation, and learn not to feed the thoughts that arise in your default mode network, and be detached to the interplay of the various modules, the default mode network quiets down. While the focused mode meditation is effective in quieting down the default mode network in the first instance, given the fact that you are focusing on something in particular, it is the mindfulness meditation that provides the sustainable change.

We operate with various biases acting on us. For example, without any conscious thought or decision, we attribute the good things that our friends do to their good nature and their bad deeds to external influences. And it’s the complete opposite in the case of our enemies. These are the frames that we create in our minds. Studies have proven that we are even biased about our own biases. We genuinely believe that we are less biased than others. Mindfulness meditation enables us to be aware of such mental frames and by doing so to influence and change them.

Over time, you will be able to carry forward the objective, less attached, and mindful stance to both things inside and outside your mind from your meditation practice into the daily life. This essentially means that by re-framing your mind or choosing your reaction or “no reaction” to your thoughts, you can bring a significant change to your perceptions.

Disclaimer: This write-up is my submission for an assignment as part of Buddhism and Modern Psychology MOOC on Coursera. 

Image credit: Lion’s Roar





My MOOC journey – 3

5 06 2017

Part 1   Part 2

I do take some technical, skill improving courses, which I cherish too. But I don’t take them too often. Especially not when I’m already bogged down by regular work. My areas of interest in this aspect include data science, statistics, machine learning, data analysis, visualizations…. You get the idea. I like the ones offered by John Hopkins University as part of the data Science Specialization, though I must admit that the two statistics related courses are a little too hard to follow.

Out of my fun stuff, the following are the best:
• The Science of Happiness (series of posts)
The Science of Everyday Thinking (edX)
Life of Happiness and Fulfillment
Besides being fun, these are truly life-changing and influential. I gained lot of insights from these MOOCs.

I also loved Understanding Memory: Explaining the Psychology of Memory through Movies from Wesleyan University that I have taken recently. It explained lot of memory related phenomena as portrayed in movies. It was educational and entertaining. I enjoyed this course much more than the similar course – Marriage and the Movies: A History from the same university which I took a couple of years ago. It could be because of the choice of movies or the professor.

Becoming Human: Anthropology (Open2Study) is yet another introductory course that I enjoyed a lot. This is my first serious attempt to learn about anthropology. This course has complemented my earlier isolated ventures into evolutionary theories, paleontology, biology etc. through reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History and Helen Fisher’s An Anatomy of Love. I absolutely loved both the books.

Intro to Psychology course from Udacity had been a wonderful experience too. Despite being content heavy, the interactivity and the engaging lectures made it worthwhile.

How much do I actually learn and retain from all these MOOCs? To be frank, not much. Especially from all those introductory fun courses I take. But they are definitely helpful and expands my thinking and general knowledge. I find that when I supplement the specific topic or area with additional reading – an interesting non-fiction book or random articles, listening to podcasts etc., I can easily make the connections and feel the synergy arising out of all the past learning experiences.

I believe that true learning involves discomfort and a little frustration. If everything seemed easy and does not require any effort, one may not be truly learning much. The journey to really learn something involves getting over that discomfort by focused studying and deliberate practice. There are no short cuts to learning. Sure, there are smart ways and right ways to learn, but none that would eliminate the process of climbing the learning curve.

The 2 courses by Barbara Oakley on learning – Learning How to Learn and Mindshift – are really ground-breaking MOOCs in many aspects and require special mention. Widely popular and immensely practical and useful, they provide lot of tips, techniques, and insights into the art of learning, thinking about careers. (How to Learn: The right way, Learning Challenges, Learning). She advocates the growth mindset in Mindshift with respect to surmounting our mental blocks as to our abilities, choosing multiple career skills etc.

How do I typically choose my MOOCs? Just through simple and plain old methods. Browsing the platform catalog and recommendations that come through email. 🙂

Which platforms do I like more? As you might have guessed already (totally evident from stats from Part 1), it’s Coursera. With numerous offerings and choices, it’s like a huge shopping mall. The mobile app is very convenient. I also like the edX platform, the way the course content is arranged in the UI. Open2study is pretty basic and it doesn’t have a mobile app.

My List of MOOCs

My Fav moocs

Image credits: Open2Study, Coursera, John Hopkins, Prevention





My MOOC journey – 2

2 06 2017

Part 1 Part 3

So, how did it all start? I don’t recall how I came to know about Coursera but I distinctly remember my exhilaration at discovering such a platform. My first MOOC was “Model Thinking” from University of Michigan. By any stretch, it’s my first taste of international academic teaching and I was thrilled. I was really impressed by how well the complex and otherwise models related to social science are explained and demonstrated. And then I took “Networked Life” offered by University of Pennsylvania and then Computing for data Analysis, an R programming course from John Hopkins. Ever since I explored lot of courses and many platforms.

Out of my over-enthusiasm, I sometimes enroll in multiple MOOCs simultaneously, which was fine in the beginning when there weren’t too many options to pick from. But these days, with the plethora of offerings available out there, one can’t risk being impulsive anymore. I need to pick and choose carefully, and also time them appropriately to accommodate my regular life’s demands so that I can enjoy the learning without getting stressed or burned out.

Focused learning is so exhausting, I really welcome the break of “no MOOC months” after a stretch of intensive courses, like the one I took in 2014 after my data science courses from John Hopkins. Also, I catch myself if I’m being over-ambitious by taking on too much and don’t hesitate to drop from the courses. Most of my unfinished courses are drop-outs rather than discontinuation due to expectations not being met.

My main motivation for going on a learning spree is more to broaden my knowledge base rather than to deep dive in any particular discipline or skill. So, I can usually manage at least a couple of light-weight MOOCs at the same time. I derive most pleasure learning about new topics- just introductory courses, without requiring much effort beyond watching the video lectures and taking the quizzes. I like it when I tend to come across same studies, theories, concepts across seemingly different disciplines. I clearly enjoy the cross-discipline synthesis a lot. For example, studies like Milgram’s prison experiment on effects of perceived power, Sheena Iyengar’s jam experiment on choice, pantyhose experiment on our hidden biases etc. have been referred to in seemingly varied disciplines like neuro-economics, philosophy, social psychology, science of happiness, scientific thinking and more.

MOOC word cloud2

So, what do I like in a MOOC? I like intelligently devised quizzes to test comprehension rather than testing the memory about specific studies or facts described in the lectures. I like them when too much content is not crammed into the slides and the course. Also, I would like enough repetition of key concepts, to ensure higher chance of comprehension and retention. I experienced such repetition in my recent course – Neuro-economics. For a person coming from a non-science background, the course introduced lot of terms and concepts, but strategic repetition of key terms (brain areas and their functions) helped me to progress through the course with more confidence. Pictures and animation definitely help. Cheerful professors and lively and engaging discourses also get me more involved. However, “too upbeat” kind of makes me uncomfortable. But it’s just a personal preference.

 





My MOOC journey – 1

31 05 2017

Part 2    Part 3

MOOCs have revolutionized learning in true sense. Though the true origins of MOOCs can be traced back to distance learning, they have undoubtedly gained wide popularity with the advent of Internet and other associated technologies. Ever since the inception of Coursera in 2012, they have become widespread and they have been in vogue ever since. And why not? It’s truly praiseworthy and remarkable that renowned educational institutions and pioneers in various fields have come forward to impart the knowledge and skills to everyone surpassing all boundaries. Several MOOC platforms sprang up offering completely free courses, while simultaneously adding more and more disciplines and courses.  And most of the MOOCs are still free, and at least let you audit for free. MOOCs have brought world-class teaching and material to the doorstep of anyone who can afford a network connection.

Coursera has started out as everything free, and later  introduced optional pay for verified certificate for most courses. And now, many of them are strictly pay courses, while some of them allow one to audit for free. Udacity was the first platform which introduced paid courses and nanodegrees designed by tech giants like Google etc. Likewise, statements of accomplishments were offered on successful completion of all free courses in the beginning, but not so much these days. However, most paid versions of MOOCs have affordable pricing, which provide authentic verified certificates.

Class-central, an aggregator of MOOCs across all platforms and universities, and provides a one stop place to find and track your interests and enrollments. It also provides helpful recommendations and articles based on popularity and student feedback. It is so easy to get lost in the ocean of MOOCs offered. And for beginners, it’s a very good avenue to start looking to get the sense of what courses are available out there.

For obsessive learners like me, MOOCs have proved to be a boon. I took courses from several platforms including

  • Coursera
  • Edx
  • Open 2 Study
  • Udacity

These platforms provide such a wide variety of courses, ranging from simple, introductory ones to more advanced courses as well. When I browse the ever expanding catalogs, I feel like a kid in the candy shop. 😛 I have completed over 30 MOOCs so far, but I’m not by any means a super MOOCer. This is over a period of about 5 years, so it’s not bad. 😉

2017-05-29_23-23-57

These are just the boring statistics. Stay tuned for the interesting reflection on my motivations, MOOC highs and lows, challenges, and more in the subsequent posts. 🙂





Wildflowers

29 05 2017

This year I could finally do a wildflower hike – a hike with abundant views of varied wildflowers that adorned the spring landscape. I managed to visit Henry Coe State Park during the brief span of a few weeks before the flowers could vanish in the rising summer heat. Wilson’s Peak trail in the park had been a good choice for the purpose. We saw a wide variety of flowers spread across the hills. We did the 9 mile loop. It had been an unusually hot spring day, which made the hike a little challenging.

IMG_6733

I have had my fill of California poppies, buttercups, dandelions in bright happy yellow.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The ample blues and violets, beautiful and buoyant,  complemented well the yellows, making the scenery a perfect sight. Lupines, fiesta flowers, Chinese houses galore.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Blow wives, milk weed, baby blue eyes and many more.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

California wild roses, geraniums, tree clovers, and other pinks and reds added just the dash of prettiness needed.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As you might have guessed by now, my general knowledge of flowers is cursory at best. Notwithstanding the lack of the semantic knowledge, I love the cheerfulness and colorful brightness of these wildflowers – free and happy. 🙂