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Stripeycat
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16 Jan 2014, 6:32 am

I went to a talk for undergraduate students in the biology department at my university about doing a PhD. The talk was by the head of postgraduate studies and something he said upset me. I recorded the talk, and I’ve typed out part of it here. The bold part is what upset me.

Quote:
You need to be very bright … that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be the most top-performing first-class degree student. I have had experience of - not my own students but people I’ve worked with – where the person is so intelligent they can hardly operate on a normal basis. You also need things like common sense and the ability to manage your time ... you need a mixture of skills to be good at a PhD.


To me this sounded like a stereotypical autistic or Aspergian person. ‘Can hardly operate on a normal basis’ is pretty much the definition of disability that I use, and saying it’s supposedly caused by intelligence suggests autism to me. Do you think this interpretation is right?

It upset me because it feels like they wouldn’t want me to do a PhD at the university because I’m Aspergian. Or that he’s dismissing my value as a top-performing student just because I’m Aspergian and I struggle with some ‘normal’ things like coping with change and dealing with other people. Am I overreacting?



Norny
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16 Jan 2014, 7:14 am

Personally I'd say the interpretation is incorrect because that definition would only encompass the highest of the 'higher functioning' end of the spectrum. This provides a sort of contradiction however, as if they were unable to live properly as a result of being too intelligent then they'd be low functioning? I'm not so sure how this works. That aside, a lot of the difficulties (such as sensory issues) aren't caused by intelligence.

EDIT - Also no, I wouldn't say it's ableist. I'd say it's probably just a biased view concerning part of the Autism Spectrum.

EDIT II - On second thoughts perhaps an autistic with obsessions so intense could be described that way, but is that really intelligence, or just being knowledgeable? I still don't think that intelligence could be said to be the actual underlying reason for the problem stated. Intelligence isn't what causes an obsession, and knowing a lot about something doesn't necessarily mean that one is intelligent. I can't really think of any other way to go about this.



Last edited by Norny on 16 Jan 2014, 7:27 am, edited 4 times in total.

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16 Jan 2014, 7:15 am

I would be more offended at the "You need common sense" part. That doesn't exist. There is no common sense hardwired into our brains.

Anyways, I do see what you mean. The truth is, if you are that intelligent and can still do your work, he might be jealous. Either that, or he might think being so into your work and having no social life is unhealthy. It sounds like he's going with the "You need work-life balance", but that's not true.

Guess what? Those intelligent people who can hardly operate on a normal basis? Maybe they can't. It's probably NOT normal being as intelligent as his co-workers. If he only wants "normal" operating people, it seems like yes, he may be ableist here.

I would ask him what the hell he means by that. Does he mean being able to bath? Being able to drive? Being able to cook? Being able to have a social life? If I was your mentor while doing a PhD, I would want you to be intelligent and interested in the work. If you had the ability to be that way and do your work, nothing else matters to me. I'm there to help you, guide you, and teach you.

Have you thought about going to another university?



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16 Jan 2014, 7:19 am

I'm pretty sure what he meant are those people who are so intelligent in one area, that they can't function normally in other areas. Have you ever seen autistic people that are brilliant in physics, yet can barely hold a conversation with other people?

The thing that comes to mind are "idiot savants", even though that term is obviously horrible. People called them that because they could only function well in a few very specific areas. It's because these people were judged by their appearance, and by what they lacked, instead of how amazing they were.



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16 Jan 2014, 7:21 am

So what the guy is saying is that you don't need to be the stereotypical "absent-minded professor" type of person to do a PhD.

I don't see anything wrong with that. It's true. He's referring to people he has met, and worked with, very possibly as colleagues. It's reality that many very highly intelligent people are somewhat oblivious to what other people would see as normal, ordinary activities, and are seen as eccentric.

I don't see that he is referring to disability at all here.



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16 Jan 2014, 8:45 am

No, I do not consider it ableist.

(Thanks for including the whole context of his remarks - it is quite helpful to know that.)


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16 Jan 2014, 8:49 am

Stripeycat wrote:
I went to a talk for undergraduate students in the biology department at my university about doing a PhD. The talk was by the head of postgraduate studies and something he said upset me. I recorded the talk, and I’ve typed out part of it here. The bold part is what upset me.

Quote:
You need to be very bright … that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be the most top-performing first-class degree student. I have had experience of - not my own students but people I’ve worked with – where the person is so intelligent they can hardly operate on a normal basis. You also need things like common sense and the ability to manage your time ... you need a mixture of skills to be good at a PhD.


To me this sounded like a stereotypical autistic or Aspergian person ... Am I overreacting?

You are over-reacting. I have also met many people who are simply "Too smart for their own good", but who otherwise seem normal -- no stimming, good social skills, physically co-ordinated, and able to function in overly-stimulating environments.



Stripeycat
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16 Jan 2014, 10:04 am

bleh12345 wrote:
Have you thought about going to another university?


There is another university I know of that does research in the area I'm interested in, but I think realistically I need to stay at my current uni because it's near my parents' house. I live with them and they look after me. I think my anxiety and depression would mean I'd struggle to cope on my own. And I have friends here and doctors that I'm comfortable with and these are things I've spent a lot of time and effort to gain, and I don't really want to have to start again trying to find them somewhere else.



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16 Jan 2014, 10:10 am

Hey, that's fine. I was just asking because usually, for a PhD, people visit several universities before they decide on one. Well, hey, I think a simple way to fix this is simply asking him. You could ask hey, I have autism, and here are the things I struggle with, and here are my strengths. Do you think I'd be a good fit for the program?

I just realized, based on the others' responses, that I may have gotten the context wrong. Ugh. Yeah, I'm bad with things like this. So here I am, a clueless person, giving advice to someone. Hehehehe. I always get a bit paranoid people may not like me because of my issues, so I understand why you'd be concerned about what he said. However, maybe it was just more of an observation he made. *Shrugs* I just don't find any significant reason for him to even mention it, as it's not a bad thing.



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16 Jan 2014, 10:12 am

I'm not sure I have a good grasp of what 'ableism' or 'ableist' is, even though I've read about it to try and understand it.

Regardless of what this person is saying though, you ARE over-reacting. This is the head of post-grad studies at the university. You're an undergrad. If you would like to continue studying biology after your undergrad degree, it's supposed to be best, academically, to go someplace you didn't do your undergrad anyways.
Like, what this guy said doesn't even apply to you, you don't need to cross bridges you haven't reached yet.

As to what he's saying, well, yeah, it could be offensive. But it's probably true to a degree...social skills are required to function well in society. But it's nothing that you don't already know, right?
Besides which, I think academia is often a place where people who have issues with 'common sense' or the 'real world' hide to be productive, successful, and happy, contrary to what this man says.

The presentation is just 1 man's opinion, and should be taken as just that.


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bleh12345
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16 Jan 2014, 10:18 am

How is the OP over-reacting? They are posting on here and asking for opinions. The person gave context, and is just a little worried. As far as we know, the OP has not taken any devastating actions after this was said. If you are confused about the intent, it's a good thing to ask for advice. In fact, this is more in line with a rational action.



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16 Jan 2014, 11:43 am

bleh12345 wrote:
How is the OP over-reacting?

This:

Stripeycat wrote:
Quote:
You need to be very bright … that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be the most top-performing first-class degree student. I have had experience of - not my own students but people I’ve worked with – where the person is so intelligent they can hardly operate on a normal basis. You also need things like common sense and the ability to manage your time ... you need a mixture of skills to be good at a PhD.
To me this sounded like a stereotypical autistic or Aspergian person. ... it feels like they wouldn’t want me to do a PhD at the university because I’m Aspergian ...


When a person assumes that a general observation is "Ableist", is specific against Aspies, and is more specifically against the person, then that person is indeed over-reacting. Thus, "Not everything is all about you or people like you" would also be an appropriate observation.

bleh12345 wrote:
They are posting on here and asking for opinions.

Agreed. So when Stripeycat asked ...

Stripeycat wrote:
Am I overreacting?

... I answered in the affirmative.


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16 Jan 2014, 11:58 am

I don't know. That's still not over-reacting to me. Who makes this unwritten rule of what is responding, with emotions, too strongly or unnecessarily? When I've seen people told they are over-reacting, they usually have an extreme response, and don't ask for different perceptions.

It actually does sound like a stereotypical Aspie. I think OP was not understanding if the person meant that in a good or bad way, so it sounded as if someone who can't function on a "normal" basis would not be what they are looking for in that program. After all, I find no reason he would word that the way he did, using the word "normal", unless he thought it wasn't a good trait to have.

It sounds more like a miscommunication than an over-reaction. If the OP were to say they knew, for sure, this person was ableist, then I could see your point.

I'm genuinely asking, because I would have ended up wondering if the person meant that also. Maybe I think that way because it seems to not be elaborated upon? Which is where the OP could simply ask the person if their traits would be a good fit or not.



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16 Jan 2014, 1:51 pm

It sounds to me like the speaker has some insecurities regarding his own intelligence and feels threatened by anyone he regards as smarter than himself, so he has to denigrate their knowledge to make himself seem more competent.

But yes, the statement is ableist.

He's essentially saying "Yeah, there are people who are far more brilliant than me, but they're losers on every other level and I'm adequate across the board." :wink:



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16 Jan 2014, 1:57 pm

Fnord wrote:
bleh12345 wrote:
How is the OP over-reacting?

This:

Stripeycat wrote:
Quote:
You need to be very bright … that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be the most top-performing first-class degree student. I have had experience of - not my own students but people I’ve worked with – where the person is so intelligent they can hardly operate on a normal basis. You also need things like common sense and the ability to manage your time ... you need a mixture of skills to be good at a PhD.
To me this sounded like a stereotypical autistic or Aspergian person. ... it feels like they wouldn’t want me to do a PhD at the university because I’m Aspergian ...


When a person assumes that a general observation is "Ableist", is specific against Aspies, and is more specifically against the person, then that person is indeed over-reacting. Thus, "Not everything is all about you or people like you" would also be an appropriate observation.

bleh12345 wrote:
They are posting on here and asking for opinions.

Agreed. So when Stripeycat asked ...

Stripeycat wrote:
Am I overreacting?

... I answered in the affirmative.


After reading what the op wrote and not the comments yet, the first thing I thought was that he was over-reacting.

It sounds like they are looking for an intelligent person who is also grounded and has common sense, so can practically apply his intelligence. That is a typical things some colleges are looking for. Probably some graduate schools at universities that are into hard core innovative research do not care.

As far as over-reacting, that is good feedback to get. We all do it sometimes, but it can skew personal judgement and amplify certain negative feelings in a way that is ultimately not helpful, such as cause a rise in blood pressure and even stimulate paranoid feelings if it gets out of hand..Once you have over-reacted, if you have, which is obviously a matter of opinion, then to write here and ask about it is okay, of course, and different kinds of feedback helps us to understand things.

Further feedback---if this school is the best for you because of location and your support team in this area, just go there and do the best you can. It will work out. No, do not tell the person you are autistic or any of this stuff about you he may interpret as negative.. Just get in there and do the best you can. Do not dwell on this kind of stuff as it is counter-productive to your own survival--imo/.