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Lucie de Nooij | NIKHEF | The Netherlands

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Physics and prejudice

Last weekend I met some 40 new people. When meeting new people, I find it almost impossible to not be biased. In the Netherlands all primary school teachers are well-dressed girls. People from Russia can drink massive amounts of vodka. Men in the financial sector are handsome and rich. Doctors are stubborn and save lives. Physicists are nerdy men.

Luckily, I am not the only one who has prejudices (I always love it when I can use a Jane Austen-word in real life) every now and then. When having the socially accepted introductionary talk, it is OK to make a joke about expected behaviour of your partner of conversation. “So you are a doctor? I feel much saver now.” This will may withdraw a polite smile, as doctors probably hear that kind of remark more often than they want.

But how do you react if the person in front of you does something completely a-typical? For a not so random example, what to say if a blond girl works in high energy physics for a laboratory you read about in papers and in Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. I have heard many things: “Wauw, you must be much smarter than you look like”, “Isn’t that a male-thing?”, “I always found physics pretty horrible in high school”, “What does your boyfriend think about that?” and “If you would have been my physics teacher in school, I might have liked it”. The last one was nice. Over the past six years, remarks have gone from rather negative (“all your colleagues are nerds then?”) to rather positive (“interesting, no really!”). From that I guardedly conclude that our image is improving.

At the end of this weekend a Russian lady, who did not drink vodka by the way, told me that I had changed her view on nuclear physicists. Always happy to help!

it is a funny comic; but why are there only men in this picture?

it is a funny comic; but why are there only men in this picture?

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