Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why don't women ask questions?

Time: Today afternoon
Place: Klaus Computing Building, Georgia Tech- Parallel Computer Architecture Class
Context: Long argument between a guy and the teacher about why a particular cache coherency feature is essential to make that protocol sequentially consistent (Ya, ya Greek and Latin not only for the rest of you, but for many in the class :P) It is a conversation with one or two more guys pitching in once in a while- some normal guys, some of the other kind, you know, the kind who are always asking doubts in class and answering the teacher's questions etc etc
Most students are trying not to chat with their neighbors and looking at their notebooks or mobiles or at the prof and hoping he will somehow end this argument and move on to the next topic..

At this point...

Anonymous girl voice: Adding to his question, sir, if you just did this ........ 

80% of the class turns around and looks at her as if she is a Martian who directly landed in Klaus Building. 

Note that the same 80% was looking at their own notebooks or the professor and nobody ever looked at those other guys who were discussing so long, even the normal ones, who probably spoke for the first time today.

And that got me wondering. When was the last time you heard a woman ask a question in class? Or at a monthly meeting? Or any public gathering? I remember how, in Intel India, me and my teammates used to discuss why very few women ask questions in meetings. And I can't remember girls asking serious doubts in class EVER in my undergrad. (Serious doubts here imply questions that involve some logical argument and goes AGAINST the teacher's line of thinking. And makes you argue with the teacher. The only kind of doubts I ever heard from girls was- "When should we submit the assignment?", "How long should the answer be?" or "How much weight-age does this chapter carry?"
I know I sound like I am biased here, (which is quite against my general tendency) but I have been thinking about this since afternoon. And I really can count the number of girls, who I have seen asking serious questions, by the fingers in one hand. Yes, it is THAT dismal!

In fact, thinking about this further, I remember one pattern which I observed at work. When a manager, or a higher authority made some kind of rule or decision that you didn't quite agree with, some of the men I knew used to fight. Not fight in the sense of shouting. But assert their opinion and disagree, argue and be firm with their decisions until something else happened (or they realized this was not going to work). This kind of thing could be so detrimental to their career, at first sight. But then again, maybe it isn't, if you look at it closely. Maybe that is how men eventually get what they want. Anyway, my point is I have not seen a SINGLE woman fight against bureaucracy or stupid decisions or any other kind of enforcement the way men did. Women crib about this kind of stuff a lot, they express "mild" disapproval, and they do argue with peers and sometimes direct managers. But they don't fight. Or if they do, they give up too easily. I know I have worked for a very short time and have met very few people, and so, I might be committing a fallacy here by over-generalizing. But no, as I said before it is not just work. It is everywhere. From not wearing "real" casuals to work at a "no dress code" company to being afraid to be normal in front of a teacher to not asking questions to drawing margins in notebooks and underlining answers with red pens.

Seriously. Why do women always play safe? Why don't women ask questions? Why are women generally afraid to be assertive and more ready to submit to authority?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Why soliloquies?

I am taking this psychology course called "Experimental Analysis of Behavior". (Interesting to note that I haven't found any Indians in the class - maybe Indians are too "brainy" to study something like... um.. well... the "science of the mind" :P) Anyhow, it is an awesome class because we discuss a lot of interesting questions and there is so much to debate about (ya, totally my kind of thing and I'm LOVING it!). Add to that an amazing professor who is very sensible and makes the class so much fun etc etc... Anyway, what usually happens is we discuss some questions in class and often they are too deep for me to think about in an hour and a half with someone else voicing his thoughts about them as well. So I thought I should think about them later again, and maybe write my thoughts down- and that's how I ended up writing this post. Hoping I have enough time to do this, I intend to discuss some questions from my class and put down my thoughts on them and maybe let you wrestle with them yourselves too....
Disclaimer: A lot of the theories/concepts mentioned here are just based on my own readings of these topics and may not be the latest scientific view on the matter. In fact, if you know of new scientific evidence against any of this, do let me know in the comments section. 
Also please view this article as a purely biological/objective discussion of the topics and do not read any religious/other belief-oriented interpretations in it.

So, one of the things we were discussing in the first class was "What is behavior" Sounds simple enough, but when you think about it- you end up with questions like- Is questioning behavior? And is thinking behavior? Apparently, they both are, and so, any pattern of actions, covert or overt can be considered to be behavior (and maybe I will let you wonder whether that is valid or not, and why so).
But what is more interesting is- How come we came to have covert actions in that first place?? And here, I don't mean actions like secretly looking at your neighbor's answers or stealing his pen. By covert actions, I mean actions that cannot be observed, like thinking and deciding and.. ya, you obviously guessed it ... soliloquies.
Let us think of just the last- a soliloquy. How did it happen that man, of all animals developed a tendency to talk to himself and that too, as a part of thinking... (Clearly, I am assuming here that the crows cawing outside your window are not really saying "To be or not to be" in crow language! :P) In fact, how did it happen that man alone began to think and theorize and debate and philosophize and ask questions from "How to cook food" and "How to build homes" to "Why am I here" and "Who brought me here"  and "Is there a God"? How did it happen that man alone started to make these grand theories about a master creator and complex rituals to please him? And mathematical models of economic theories of an abstract theoretical concept called "money"?  (Click Read more for more...)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Year, New Place

Yes, I have arrived in Atlanta and classes have started. I did want to write while I travelled and in my first week, but then my laptop got screwed up and I couldn't type entire posts from my mobile.
In any case, Atlanta is a beautiful city- lot of trees, though right now most of it is barren. But I can already see how it will look in spring. On a related note, this is the first time I am actually visualising seasons. We learn a lot about seasons in primary school, and "autumn" and "spring" are words we hear in 2nd or 3rd grade. But we never see them in India. Chennai had only summer throughout the year- harsh, bearable, mild and finally-some-showers were probably the only seasons I knew there. Kerala had the reverse- only rains throughout - you could just name the seasons as Summer rains, Monsoon rains, Winter rains, some-sun-in-between. I am not sure if it is still the same though. Bangalore was a little better. Summer and winter were clearly demarcated- Summer was definitely warmer and winter definitely colder. But again, I never saw barren trees in Bangalore. So, yes, right now I don't see any green for the most part here, even though this city has too many trees. And it is cold (it was -4 the day I got my college ID! )

There are a lot of other things I observed. Tiny things. Not-so-tiny things. Unrelated to each other.
  • This place is soooo silent. The pin-drop silence that teachers talk about in primary school and never achieve. Initially, it was a little irritating. Now I am getting used to it.
  • I never get used to vehicles driving on the right. I have to keep recalculating this consciously. More importantly, I always turn on a light switch when I want to turn another off. The on-off reversal is even harder to get used to.
  • Nobody writes cursive. (I mean, except Indians and some other international students). It is very funny to see adults, big professors write individual letters, simply because my mind is conditioned to thinking individual letters imply you are in kindergarten.
  • The receptionists here smile in a way that looks natural (Even if it is really plastic). Unlike our Bangalorean McD and Pizza Hut waiters who try to smile and say "Hi, how may I help you?" but end up appearing just what they are- artificially trained people expected to smile at you. I wonder what is missing.
  • Chili means 'beef'. (In some particular places. But it could mean chilli of course). It is among the funniest things I ever knew (thanks Pranesh and Kowshik, for telling me!) . But anyway, point is every other dish has some meat in it (As we are all told!) And you have to be reallly careful, if you want to remain veg. I can now see why most people start eating non-veg once they come here- it does require a lot of self-control if you are tempted to eat. But if you want to stay veg, you can. It is not as impossible as many converts claim. Of course, in my case, the temptation doesn't even exist, so I'm safe. Just that it gets tiresome to keep telling people- 'Sorry, I'm veg'. 
  • On a related note, there is way too much alcohol around here. Way. Too. Much. Again, not something to worry about (unlike the way the 'chosen lot' who went to the US about 10 years ago used to scare everyone else.) In fact, I am sure Bangalore had a lot too, just not on a comparative scale. And there were fewer dishes with actual alcohol in them (unlike here, when people say rum-soaked they mean it!) Just that if you are someone who is tempted, and who is not good at resisting temptation, it is hard to avoid here. And it is tiresome for me to keep telling people "Orange juice please". But wait a minute, did I say way too much? Strike that out. What am I saying? Not so much that they have a state-sponsored TASMAC here yet...
  • Most professors like interactive classes. In 5 of 6 classes I attended, teachers emphasized and re-emphasized the importance of class participation. (And they try their best to make the class interesting.) Contrast it to the teachers in undergrad who believe that a student must silently take notes and listen and ask only relevant and quite obvious questions, that too without interrupting the lecture, and stay awake like a robot however badly or uninterestingly the teacher may be teaching. In fact, 3 of the six teachers themselves mentioned "I do not know everything. I might be wrong." or "I might learn something from you". Again, contrast it to the teachers who pretend they know everything and who resent doubts. (Yeah, I am over touchy about that topic. Maybe I will write a separate post on it.) Always wanted to. Anyway, the attitudes of teachers here-- I'm loving it!!
  • On a related note, people really don't bother what you do in class - text, fb, sleep, walk out, ANYthing. Again, contrast it to teachers who used to shut the door of the class and take pleasure in punishing students for talking in class. Which, in turn, gave way for the "Kadhal Konden" Dhanush style scenes where the student answers the teacher's question leading to a thoroughly embarrassing situation for the teacher. In any case, point is the studies is completely driven by the student's own interest. Which is as it should be.
There are probably a lot more, I will try to add them as and when I remember..

And yes, I know you have probably heard most of these before. Even I had. But when you experience it, it is very VERY different. Anyway, I am reading this interesting book called "Don't shoot the dog". It is part of my coursework (Yippee!). And there are some interesting parts in it which I wanted to post about.. Let's see if I manage to do so soon...

P.S:- 1. All my Atlanta posts will be tagged "Gone with the wind". I hope it is obvious why.
2. Nobody told me "pudhu varsham, pudhu ooru, pramadam" or "naye saal, naya shahar" yet! So I am telling it myself in the title! :P