The marginal people


Alice and her friends answer questions that you don’t want to ask your preceptor, peer, or colleagues regarding your career in science. Send your question to Alice’s attention at .

Dear Alice,

I just don’t feel like I belong here—so much so that I’m considering bailing out and doing something more appropriate for a person of my station. Not that I feel that much more comfortable back home. 

Can you help me?

—Hank

Dear Hank,

Welcome to the Marginal Club. There are more of us than you suspect. Marginal Club members are those who have left one social group and are just joining another social group. These social groups can be based on region, culture, race, etc. We are not part of the new group, but we are also no longer a part of our previous group. We are somewhere in between. Going back is not the answer, because you are no longer the person you were. Your old friends already see you as different. We are the marginal people.

Be yourself. Be able to laugh at yourself. Knowing that there are many members of this club should make you feel less self-conscious. Soon enough, you will find that you have more things in common with the people around you than you thought. I happen to love squirrel gravy and could even trade recipes with you.

You have a lot going for you. First, you have made it to a faculty position. You would not have been hired if they did not think you would fit in. There are quite a few outstanding scientists who grew up in your region. In fact, many people like a soft southern accent. Here are some suggestions to help people get to know you and to make yourself more relaxed in social situations:

  1. Have you considered that others may feel uncomfortable around you because they don’t know whatare interested in? Or they may feel uncomfortable because they’re not sure how to approachin a social setting? That’s almost certainly true—and if you feel more relaxed, the people around you will relax, too.

Finally, remember that science is an egalitarian pursuit. You are judged by your intellectual prowess—by the contributions you make—and not your accent or where you came from.

—Alice

Learning to lead

STEM study: Women twice as likely to be hired as comparably qualified men