Daily Archives: February 26, 2014

Empowering photography

While reading about affirmations as a tool to empower minorities to perform better in higher education, I recalled a similar social project in Finland. It was called “The loveliest girl in the world“. This project run by Miina Savolainen used photography to change self image of girls in a children’s home.



The participants had rough backgrounds and life stories, with very little to affirm them as beautiful, special, or accepted. The photography project cast them as the main character, them selves, in a scene they created with the photographer. From the comments of the participating girls, I got the vibe that they saw themselves differently after seeing the photos. They felt special and more whole. Their self image was greatly improved.



This type of affirmation could work especially well in self image issues. Could this be used in dissolving identity threat?  Maybe students could interact in the form of portrait photography on campus with other students. They would work together to produce a portrait photographs of each other. The portraits would have to present the person on a deeper level than just a mug shot would. This would incorporate interactions between diverse students, and work as an affirmation when best sides of each individual are explored.

(As a side note: maybe “selfies” are a way of self affirmation? Maybe we should encourage it up to a point?)

Do you want to ride a unicorn?

A recent article in chronicle of higher education on the perils of scientists in academia caught my attention immediately. It reflected my feelings on academic career “nicely”. The main data graph is attached to the end of this post for anyone brave enough to look.

Press and academic publications have been piling up messages on dwindling grants, too many PhDs, and dissatisfaction in working conditions. The data indicates that over 40% of primary investigators surveyed are encouraging students to leave the ship, 80% expect to see more discouraged PhD students and Post-docs, and over 20% have encouraged students to leave US for their next career step.

To lull oneself into the false security of this happening to just starting level scientists is foolish. The piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education gave stark examples of even established scientists leaving the field, or the country, to survive. No wonder I feel like staying in academia seems implausible, I am not good enough, and landing a tenured position seems as likely as finding an unicorn under the lab bench.



Some days leaving science and finding work at a grocery store seems like the easy way out. But then I see my PI and she seems to find the unicorns and ride them with success. What made her able to do that? Was it just a completely different environment ten or so years ago? Sure. But maybe it is actually about the ability to see the unicorns in the first place, that allows her to ride them. The current financial situation, which will change, makes it just harder to see these magical creatures. And maybe the people leaving academia have found that they would rather ride a Pegasus with wings, or they see the unicorn elsewhere.

Possibly the goal of our higher education is first to consider the existence of unicorns and then finding ways to get to them, where ever they are. Or maybe the stress has just made me delusional… I have finally cracked an it manifests as hallucinations of unicorns.