Neuroscientist Dr. Wendy Suzuki took offense to recent comments by Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt about women scientists who become emotional and cry. Not only did she find Hunt’s words to be inappropriate, but also Suzuki believes they represent an outdated culture that expects scientists to carry themselves without authentic emotion. Science is like any other beloved livelihood; it’s built upon the passion of the men and women involved in it. There’s no reason, says Suzuki, that emotion should be subdued. It’s okay to cry when you’re happy. It’s okay to show your frustration when things go wrong. Suzuki’s new book is titled Healthy Brain, Happy Life: A Personal Program to Activate Your Brain and Do Everything Better.
Wendy Suzuki: So there’s a very recent event where a senior male scientist resigned because of very controversial remarks he made about women scientists being crybabies. There are situations that become very, very emotional in a lab. You have worked so long on something and something happens and it’s destroyed. In my opinion, you’re allowed to cry. I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman. That is a reason to cry. People are passionate in science. That’s the ironic thing. People are so passionate about their work. They spend all of their waking hours working on this yet, they’re not allowed to cry if something goes wrong or something bad happens or even if something good happens. I cried when I learned my paper got into Science magazine. I can still remember that. And I think that women, not all women, but some women are more open to that. It’s a movement that has not really started yet, but needs to start about bringing more positive emotion. By positive emotion I mean real emotion, authentic emotion into the practice of science. Because, as you know, the stereotype is closed, you know, unemotional. It’s just data. It doesn’t matter. But the truth is that all scientists are passionate about their ideas and what they’re doing and that leads to passionate emotions that could include crying or laughing or celebrating.
And I know lots of scientists that do show those emotions, but the stereotype is and perhaps the old guard is that shutdown kind of thing and the squelching of any show of emotion. So I certainly have had emotional situations in my lab where I had to say difficult things to people and there have been tears shed. And I have to say that I’ve had a journey myself in learning how to deal with that. At first it’s like, "I don’t want you to cry because if you cry I will cry," and that’s terrible so I tried not to have them cry. But my approach now is, "Look, that’s natural. If you need to cry, you cry." It’s just part — it doesn’t show anything weak or strong. It’s just part of the emotion that’s coming out. And I understand that because I’m saying something that may be difficult for you to hear. And I can see that. And, you know, my tagline is: Scientists are people too and we have emotions. And I think we need to acknowledge that. So I think it’s appropriate that that scientist step down. I think that represents something that we need to move away from in science and embrace the fact that scientists are people and they have emotions and that we’re very passionate people. And so crying can happen. I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman.