Who Am I?

Exploring your identity.

Batwoman and Kate Kane

Juggling Multiple Professional Identities

I’m a big fan of Scicurious, the Physiology and Neuroscience blogger for Scientific American, so I was delighted to see today’s post on identity. Scicurious dissects the new Batwoman, whose real identity is Kate Kane, a lesbian discharged from West Point before the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy was repealed in 2011.

No matter how badly Batwoman would like to be in a serious relationship, exposing her various selves is risky. Letting her nemeses know who she really is puts her, and her loved ones, in jeopardy. Batwoman keeps people at a distance in order to protect herself, not because she is a lesbian, but because she is a superhero. Yet this protective distance also prevents Batwoman from getting close to others – and expressing her real identity.

Scicurious points out that we can learn from all superheroes, because like us, they have things to hide – or at least different identities which they must juggle. Kate Kane’s reluctance to come out to others as Batwoman is comparable to the struggle that many people who write for the Internet have with how much to reveal about themselves, and to whom.

Disclosing all aspects of ourselves, be it our sexuality, political views, religious beliefs, etc., can mean we invite attack from those who feel compelled to condemn others who are different. But sharing information about ourselves can also be an opportunity to serve as a role model for other scientists – and to find a wider audience for our work.

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Consider the following example. The research of Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Ph.D., on the effects of yoga in reducing anxiety with high school student musicians, is compelling from both a theoretical and practical applied perspective. Dr. Khalsa, an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, has certainly earned a requisite Ph.D. degree to conduct empirical research.

Yet knowing Dr. Khalsa has been practicing yoga for 40 years and is a Kundalini yoga instructor has me think he also appreciates deeply which aspects of yoga may be most beneficial in reducing anxiety, so that his multiple identities as researcher and yoga practitioner enhance, rather than detract from, his expertise. I suspect his background also means he is better able to communicate his findings to multiple audiences, such as mind-body scientists, high school music teachers, high school music students -- as well as yoga teachers and yoga students.

So just as Kate Kane and Batwoman know all too well, recognizing when, and when not, to reveal our multiple identities may be a matter of knowing when broadcasting one of many identities can trivialize our message (e.g., sharing details about our family’s weekend plans, mistakenly thinking our audience will find us more endearing, rather than making small talk by asking people what brings them to hear our presentation) compared to when bringing more of our identities to the table can widen our audience, reveal the diversity of scientists’ backgrounds, and inspire others with similar characteristics to pursue a career in the fascinating world of science.

Scicurious will be a co-moderator of the ScienceOnline2013 Conference’s “We are who we are? Who are we? Issues of Identity and the internet” discussion on Saturday February 2nd, which you can read about and join here: http://scienceonline2013.sched.org/event/ba5593b8feb95880f448df579508cf66#.UQaeZaXA-ao

For information about Dr. Khalsa’s research, please visit his website: https://sleep.med.harvard.edu/people/faculty/240/sat+bir+singh+khalsa+phd

 

Kristine Anthis, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at Southern Connecticut State University.

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