Wednesday, August 16, 2006

the politics of... ooooh feeling good.

I may be a day late and a dollah short on passing this link along, but check out this great post on the Politics of Knitting in Public. The thoughts here really hit home for me, as a science grad student. I often wish i could knit during weekly seminars. I'm not bored by them, but its more that knitting would help me pay attention better. I know for a fact that when my hands are busy knitting, its easier for my brain to remain focused on a conversation (or presentation or movie). There are many studies that support this, and any teacher of students with ADHD would agree.

And yet, there is no way that i could actually knit during seminar without being frowned at. The professors would definitely think i was not paying attention, was a less dedicated student, or didn't care about the topic. i try to pay attention, but usually end up distracted and end up fidgeting with my coffee cup for 40 minutes out of the hour.

The same goes for down-time in the lab. Every scientist knows that you have lots of little waiting periods throughout the day. 10 minutes here spinning samples, 5 minutes there waiting for a buffer to mix. Its not enough time to do something else, but would be the perfect time to whip out a sock and knit a row or two. But that is WAY frowned upon. People would rather see you browsing web comics or playing sudoku than knitting. Because if you're knitting, you are obviously NOT paying attention to anything else. blah!

thoughts from other knitting scientists? How is the culture at your school/job? How could we change it?


At 8/16/2006 3:57 PM, Blogger K8 said...

As a former grad student, I used to bring my knitting with me to work while I waited for reactions to run or samples to settle. I occasionally brought it to seminars, but only took it out if I could sit near the back and hide it. My lab mates thought it was great, and a few times people would ask what I was doing. I don't think I ever got a disapproving look, but I didn't do it too often.

I do agree though, most of the time knitting isn't distracting to me. If I'm working on something simple it actually helps me focus a little more and keeps my mind from wandering as much.

At 8/16/2006 7:08 PM, Anonymous grumperina said...

If I have an extended period of time between experiments, I retreat to the library (of a neighboring Department where no one knows me) and knit there. If it's 10-15 minutes, I have, on occasion, knit in the stall in the bathroom. It's gross, but if I've had my share of comics and sudoku for the day, it's the best I can do. So I totally hear you. I have no suggestions about changing this perception of knitting, unfortunately. Sigh.

At 8/16/2006 7:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an ex-grad student (in the trenches for 8 years) and a lab scientist, I can completely understand/remember the frowning upon of things like knitting. I think part of it has/had to do with the kind of odd geek/macho environment, where you were supposed to live and breathe your research - but also not actually be "girly" enough to do a traditionally feminine craft.


At 8/17/2006 10:39 AM, Blogger Trista said...

I'm sneaky about it, but I knit in lab during incubations... if I'm there after five. Since it's after the work-day proper, if I'm caught I don't care.

There have been many a seminar where I wish I had my knitting. I actually take goofy notes to keep paying attention... otherwise my mind wanders quite a bit. I'd also like to change people's minds about my ability to pay attention with yarn in my fingers.

I agree... must be the 'macho' culture.

At 8/17/2006 1:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Knitting in the lab and seminars? Probably not. Yes, it would be nice to fill those minutes with a few sock rows... yes, it would be nice to have knitting with you throughout those seminars... but if you want to be taken seriously, it probably gives the wrong impression.

Ironically, I have a friend and colleague from Romania who worked in a lab there and she told me that people often brought handiwork because due to shortages of chemicals and whatever there was not much else they could do some days.

I suppose we could be glad we aren't in that situation.

I'd be a bit reluctant also to have my knitting at the actual lab bench knowing that my labcoat has picked up a few holes... my jeans, too, sometimes...

At 8/17/2006 3:24 PM, Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I am a cognitive psychology grad student who spends a lot of time in an fMRI control room running experiments (usually about 1 1/2 hours of sitting and waiting per experiment x up to 30 subjects a study). Since I usually just gab with the tech anyway, I brought in my knitting to gab and knit at the same time.

My tech not only thought it was a great idea, she even asked me to teach her! So now we both knit in the control room whenever I'm down there.

I also once had a small seminar class on giving talks and presentations, which ultimately turned into each of the students giving a 30 minute talk throughout the semester. After checking with my classmates, I started bringing my knitting to class (as did others). However, I don't think I would attempt it in a larger class or during one with faculty teaching.

At 8/18/2006 2:20 PM, Anonymous June said...

I learned to knit in grad school and was not shy about pulling out a project as a PhD student. (I was a fairly unskilled knitter during my MS and truly could not multitask with knitting at that time.) When I was a PhD student, I:

A) brought knitting to every lecture class. (I was an active participant in small-group/discussion classes, no time to knit then!) I tape-recorded all lectures and transcribed/translated each one as a study aid, kicked ass on the exams (I'm a good test taker), and no one said a word about it to me. Apparently, I did get a few glares from one prof, but I aced these classes, what could he say?

B) knit during lab meetings. I stayed with the same PI, same lab, same project for my MS and PhD, everyone already knew at what level my brain functioned. I asked questions at the same depth and offered suggestions at the same rate with and without knitting. My boss never mentioned knitting - as a guess, he probably didn't like it, but he never told me to leave it at home or not bring it to work. In his wisdom, he probably knew I would not react well if he said anything because I was damn touchy back then. Well. Still am.

C) would sit at my desk during short breaks from the bench (incubations, centrifuge spins, etc) and read papers while knitting plain vanilla socks. I think that I read somewhat more slowly if I knit while reading, but the comprehension level is about the same (either I get it or I don't).

However, I never let my desire to knit interfere with my professionalism. I was a student pursuing a degree, aiming to conduct experiments that would move the field forward, etc. It was clear to anyone who spoke with me or saw my work that I was dedicated to my project (albeit extremely frustrated by it), and knitting ALWAYS took a backseat to the science.

My work is a little different now, and I don't bring the knitting to meetings or knit while I read materials for work. (I, um, do stop to read blogs sometimes.) I understand how nonknitters may labor under the perception that knitters are not paying attention. I think it's wise to be sensitive to the thoughts of others (even if they are wrong), particularly to those who may have influence over your future.

When you are older and established in your career, you can act however you want and tell people to kiss your ass. While you are a junior colleague with little professional credibility, it may be wiser to toe the conventional line. That's my advice.

At 8/19/2006 2:50 PM, Blogger Martha said...

Just follow my example and join a lab where the PI, his wife, and half of the lab knits!

At 8/21/2006 11:31 AM, Blogger fillyjonk said...

My experience is maybe a little different, as an ecologist.

There's not a lot of "enforced downtime" on research; you can sit and sort biomass samples all day long without any downtime. So more often, when I was doing research in grad school, I'd either work until I thought I was going to DIE (and then I'd take a break and go for a walk, or get a cup of tea, or something - but I had to be out of the lab or I'd scream), or I'd work until it felt like a reasonable "end of the day" and then go home.

I've become a more accomplished knitter recently and only in the past few years got the hang of knitting and reading. But now, when I'm reading journal articles or reviewing textbook chapters or stuff like that, I knit. I even knit in my office, but I'm a tenured prof now. And they can't kick me out for knitting. (I think...we haven't seen the latest update of the "standards and policies" notebook).

I don't knit in meetings because I'm afraid it would make me be taken less seriously. Although there are some meetings that turn out to be a giant waste of time of everyone, other than the person who's enjoying hearing himself talk.

I wouldn't knit in the rare instances I was doing some kind of chemical-using lab (like staining mycorrhizal samples or whatever); I'd be too afraid of getting stuff on the yarn. I ruined one of my favorite blouses in the lab one day because Someone Who Shall Remain Anonymous didn't adequately clean up a (weak) sulfuric-acid spill.

If I had grad students (we don't really have a grad program), I'd have absolutely no problem with them knitting during downtime...but then, I'm a knitter myself.

At 8/23/2006 2:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You sound like a kinesthetic learner. Since we only comprise approximately 10% of the population we take the brunt for being too hyperactive as it were. We process information and stay focused through tactile actions or by keeping something else moving. I remember bringing a scarf project to a 2-hour meeting. Who can sit still for 2 hours anyway right? I managed to stay awake, ask intelligent questions and make head way on a birthday gift yet I was reprimanded since knitting is “out there” and I’m not respecting the speaker?
. Yet the five individuals who were napping, the one guy playing chess on his PDA, the doodlers and the gal texting her boyfriend were not reprimanded at all. So now I bring a snack and obnoxiously chew gum since it is one of the few things that keep me awake during these long required meetings. Or next time I’ll nap with the other group. I suppose management can’t fire everyone. Good luck out there!

At 8/27/2006 4:59 AM, Blogger Cie said...

I've had just the same impulses these last couple of weeks! I'm a orthoepist (pronunciation linguist) and, when I'm not writing transcriptions, most of my work is on the phone, either doing research or advising on pronunciations. I always have a little circular-needles public-transport-friendly project with me and, if I'd knitted during the lulls or the work that's all hands-free listening and talking, it would be off the needles by now. The thing is, I know I'd still be concentrating and my work wouldn't slip, but I'm pretty sure my work colleagues would think it wasn't on. So so far I've resisted, but you might just have inspired me...


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