There is crying in science. That’s okay.

People cry. Scientists are people. Therefore, scientists cry. So why is it that scientists and academics can get so freaked out by a colleague or student crying?

I cried through my entire defense. I was completely embarrassed by it at the time, but, fortunately, my committee carried on without making a fuss over it. I think several things contributed to me crying in that situation. First, I was stressed. For me, crying is very much a stress release (though, fortunately, generally holds off until after the stressful situation is over – just not in this particular situation!) Second, I had just finished giving my talk, which ended with the much longer acknowledgments that are typical of defense talks. That included acknowledging my father. My father and I have always been very close, and he was my field assistant for two summers when I was a grad student. Then, while I was finishing up, he had a major stroke. So, his attendance at my defense talk was a huge, emotional event. It was very hard to keep it together after talking about him. Third, my defense started out with the chapter that I was least confident in, which was a strategic mistake on my part.* Fourth, I’m a woman. I love this piece by Ben Barres on women in science. Barres has a somewhat unusual perspective on this, as someone who is transgender. Most relevant to this post is that, in the box on his personal experiences, he says:

There was one innate difference that I was surprised to learn is apparently under direct control of testosterone in adults – the ability to cry easily, which I largely lost upon starting hormone treatment. Likewise, male-to-female transgendered individuals gain the ability to cry more readily.

Or, as one of my mentors put it when I discussed my defense after the fact, “If we’re going to have more women in science – and I hope we will – we’re going to have more crying in science”. The Barres piece came out a few months after my defense, and those lines made a huge impression on me when I read them.

I was thinking about this again recently after seeing some tweets where a woman scientist who cried at a meeting was told that she needed to not act like a teenage girl. Clearly that is not a supportive response. But it reminded me that this is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about. I also think about this whenever I hear a colleague say that students cry in their offices to try to manipulate them. I’m sure that happens sometimes, but I’d guess that, much more often, the student is mortified about having cried in front of his/her professor. And this topic comes up sometimes when I’m meeting with grad students and postdocs (most often while traveling to give seminars). They generally seem to be shocked to hear that I cried through my defense.

As is probably true of most faculty, I have had students cry in my office. As far as I can tell, it seems to be mostly caused by frustration, anxiety, stress, or embarrassment. When it happens, I generally make sure a box of tissues is within arm’s reach for the student, reassure them that they shouldn’t be concerned about crying, and offer that we can take a break and resume the meeting another time if they’d prefer. As many people know from personal experience, once you start crying, it can be very hard to stop. And, if the person is focused on just trying to stop crying (and on embarrassment about crying), it might not be the most productive meeting. Though, at the same time, I always wonder if this sends the message that crying is wrong or unacceptable. Part of me wants to treat it the way my committee did – just ignore it and continue on with the meeting. I want to be compassionate and understanding without stigmatizing crying, and it can be hard to figure out what approach will best accomplish those goals. (Thoughts and suggestions would be very much appreciated!)

The other thing that can make it tricky to figure out how to respond is that, as was the case with me crying at my defense, the crying may be partially (or entirely) related to something going on in one’s personal life. This again makes it tricky to figure out whether to reach out to the person to check in to make sure things are okay, or to ignore it (to hopefully send the message that crying isn’t a big deal). Plus, if the person cried in a (semi)public setting, I want to avoid having the person be smothered by well-meaning people checking in on them. Still, I tend to err on the side of checking in. I don’t want someone who is going through a rough patch to feel like no one cares. In these cases, I try to reach out in a way that makes it clear that it’s totally fine for them to ignore my email, but that I’m happy to meet if that would be of interest to them.

In the end, I hope that we see more crying in science – because, as discussed above, that will probably mean that there are more women in science. But what I most hope is that people stop viewing crying as someone being immature or emotionally manipulative, and instead view it as a natural form of emotion that simply indicates that the person is passionate or stressed or concerned or tired or anxious or frustrated – or, more simply, that they are human.

 

 

*This chapter wasn’t the first chapter in my dissertation, but the first chapter had already been published, so wasn’t discussed much.

97 thoughts on “There is crying in science. That’s okay.

  1. Nice commentary, Meghan. Thank you for sharing your moving personal story. You offer a reminder that as humans we can have multiple levels of experience (physical, emotional, mental, personal, professional, spiritual – for example) at the same time. Personally I find it refreshingly authentic when the efficient, by-the-book presentation and presence so often demanded by society/professions crumbles away and reveals some spontaneous humanness. I have had customers come into my store and start crying . . . not over their broken cell phone which overtly brought them in . . . but over life’s heartbreaks and personal hardships. I find a offering a little privacy, some listening and then eventually directing back to the objective issue hand (broken phone in this case) to be helpful.

  2. This made me smile and tear up 🙂 I bet every single woman in STEM has had an embarrassing experience of having cried in front of someone they wish they hadn’t. I’m an assistant professor at a research university, and when I started my PhD (in a top lab with a heavy-weight male advisor), I promised myself I would never cry in front of him. I did, once; and I choked up in a committee meeting once too. I was so angry at myself I felt like I had let all 3.6 million women in the world down. Thanks for writing this so openly and honestly!

    • My advisor had a knack for realizing when I was on the verge of crying, and allowing me to wrap up the meeting quickly. I greatly appreciated that as a student!

    • So I have just come back from a meeting with my grad adviser where I started crying because I felt I wasn’t delivering enough. And although he was really good about it and offered me tissue, I feel so so embarrassed about it now. Reading this makes me feel a tiny bit better!

  3. Thanks for sharing that Meg. There is much crying in science, from women and men. I, a man, bawled my eyes out on at least two occasions during meetings with my PhD supervisor – snot everywhere; sobs interrupting my attempts to form coherent sentences. I was absolutely mortified, yet paralysed in my ability to stop. I once told this story in a departmental coffee room and was asked “Really? I can’t believe you – a guy – admitted that”. Crying happens and it should be unremarkable in itself, yet for some reason it isn’t. I think it’s important to highlight that men cry too, and that it’s equally ok (even though physiology may make it more likely in women)*

    *I hope people will indulge me here. I am a white middle-class male with every advantage in life who is shouting “What about the men?”.

    • Thank you for sharing this story! Yes, it’s important to recognize that men cry, too, and that should be okay, too. Unfortunately, there’s an even greater stigma when men cry.

      And the phenomenon of being unable to stop crying once it’s begun is amazing, isn’t it?

    • Stu – I like to characterise my crying in Luc’s office as a ‘single manly tear’, but that’s pretty much because I wrapped up the meeting and got the hell out of there before the waterworks came. Luckily I think I held it together (just about) in the mock viva you were in the panel for, but that was definitely another low point…

      Meg – thanks for writing the post – “frustration, anxiety, stress, or embarrassment” would certainly sum up a large proportion of the emotions felt during the PhD process for a lot of us, I imagine…

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this, for writing something every woman in STEM knows to be true but is usually too frightened to discuss. As a PhD student currently battling some serious medical issues, I have cried in the department more times than I can count (including once hiding pretty epically from my male supervisor out of embarrassment).

    In general, I prefer that people — particularly men and/or people I don’t know very well — ignore my tears and either carry on or discretely offer me the opportunity to take a break. (This is also the strategy I’ve employed so far for my undergrads for all instances of tears save one, where a female student broke down in my office ostensibly over some stats and we ended up having a heart-to-heart and eating a bunch of Christmas cookies.) If my friends or female mentors, though, want to check in, though, goodness knows a little support goes a long way…

    And if it makes you feel any better, Meghan, a friend of mine got a horrendous bloody nose five minutes into his thesis defense — not only did they have to stop the defense so he could take care of himself, he then had to go through the rest of his defense with his white shirt absolutely covered in blood.

    • Thanks for giving your perspective on what you prefer! It’s good to have some dialogue about this, because, as you said, usually it’s not discussed.

      And I very much hope that no grad students were walking by when your friend walked out of his defense with a blood covered shirt! I can only imagine what they would have thought upon seeing that! I heard that the people who were new grad students when I defended were all intimidated by the (incredibly nice, incredibly helpful) committee member of mine who just happened to be the person to ask the question that got me started crying.

  5. I think this is another place where the gender divide – in terms of our expectations of men vs women – is stark and deplorable. So often, when a woman cries at work she is seen as “over emotional” or “hysterical” or appalling speculation is made about her hormonal cycles. Whereas a man who does is seen as passionate and invested.

    My boss recently took a new job, at at his final meeting choked up thanking us for a wonderful collaborative relationship over his six years in the office (that I was there for two of). Everyone laughed a bit, and gave him some shit about it, but no one disrespected it. But I’ve seen a different reaction – from men and women alike – when a woman cries at work. She’s seen as fragile, or unstable.

    Now, obviously I think, no one should allow their expression of emotion to derail the work environment. We should keep emotions appropriate in the workplace. But tearing up, or blowing off steam, or celebrating? These are normal emotions that should not be proscribed in men or women.

  6. Very much appreciate this. I’ve cried in front of advisors, labmates, and even an undergraduate advisee once (!) and am inexpressibly grateful when people just let me go along with whatever it was that we were discussing (or trying to discuss) without getting derailed or otherwise messed around by my crying. In cases when I’ve managed to *not* cry in very stressful situations, I’ve been really grateful to the people (one memorable time, a certain committee member) who have taken the heat off for long enough to let me pull it back together.

    That said, sometimes sympathy is even worse at making the crying happen–thus, it’s great to advocate for less stigma surrounding crying in academic/science-focused situations. Thanks 🙂

  7. Hi Meg,

    I thought that this was a great post and it made me start thinking about the means of coping with and actually addressing stress (academic, personal, financial, etc.) in academia and graduate school in particular. I don’t know if you, Jeremy, or Brian would be willing or able to tackle this kind of a post down the road or if you could get a guest post but I think that it could be really valuable – especially for your grad student readers – to have a post along those lines. I took a look back through some other posts and I found the word ‘stress’ used a lot on this blog.

    Talking with other grad students in STEM fields, there seems to be a prevailing mindset that 1. everyone is stressed out, 2. ‘you just need to deal with it’ and 3. in extreme cases there is a feeling by some graduate students that they are being pressured out of an academic career due to certain feelings and levels of stress, that they ‘shouldn’t be part of the system’. I agree that graduate school and academia is stressful but I think that there needs to be a greater effort towards reassuring graduate students that coping with stress in a productive way is a very necessary part of the experience.

    Simply assuring people – especially younger graduate students – that feeling stressed is normal and encouraging them to find the best way of operating under stress can go a long way.

    Thanks, great post as always,
    -john

  8. Great post Meg.

    As some other commenters have suggested, in a lot of situations asking someone who’s crying if they want to take a break is a good approach.

    At Calgary, candidacy exams and thesis defenses have a neutral chair. One of the chair’s jobs is to tell everyone at the beginning that if the student needs a break, the student just needs to ask. The neutral chair also asks the student partway through the exam/defense if they need a break or if they’d prefer to just continue.

  9. Pingback: Tears in science | RESULTS TBD

  10. Thank you so much for this post! I recently defended my MSc, and cried through the second round of questions (also stress related and because of a question that brought up some personal issues). I was mortified, and apart from the chair of the examining committee kindly asking if I wanted to take a break, everyone else pretty much ignored it and the defense went on.

    I also recently had a meeting with my department chair through which I cried (we were discussing a very distressing situation). When I apologized for crying, she assured me that people cry in her office all the time, had tissues at the ready, and made it clear that there was nothing wrong with my reaction.

    I think it’s really important that established people in science like you, with this post, and my department chair, acknowledge that crying is normal and human. It is really helpful.

  11. Thanks for this, Meg.

    All of my current lab members, and much of my former lab, are female. Some of them have cried on occasion (others never). I have not found that this correlates with fragility or fortitude over the longer term, where it matters.

    Usually, crying in a meeting seems to be a stress response to things that are going on outside of our meeting; I am pretty sure I don’t directly induce the crying, at least in most cases and never consciously. When a student is upset, my approach is generally to smile as reassuringly as I can and be patient. That’s how I address the balance you bring up, between not wanting to be cruel, but not wanting to stigmatize being upset. Usually, the crying and the associated embarrassment pass, and I find we are able to have productive conversations about whatever the source of the trouble is. In a few cases, it becomes clear that conversation is not going to be possible or immediately helpful, and we’ve broken the meeting and rescheduled. (As an aside, by having a weekly scheduled meeting, it’s not a big deal if we miss one, which usually comes up because of travel or heavy workload).

    The thing I guard strongly against when a student is upset is a panicked or patronizing response. It happens to all of us, that feeling of being overwhelmed, and we respond differently to it, so I try not to act as if their crying is a huge imposition on me. The thing is, whatever is upsetting is the most important thing to figure out. If an advisor is more concerned about talking about edits to a manuscript than about what is troubling their student, that is going to show clear through. So as I see it, the solution from the advisor’s perspective is to actually care about your students as people and I think the rest follows from there.

  12. I think the bottom line is as scientists we put our hearts and passions and yes self worth all in and we spend too much time with each other not to have normal human emotions emerge. Indeed it would be terrible if they never did – it would mean we’re all robots. Or not invested in what we’re doing. I’ve been around for people bursting spontaneously into song or dance, temper tantrums, and etc. Its all part of being human (and pretending we’re not human usually doesn’t work out well long run)..

  13. I have actually had a “no crying policy” in my office for years (Meg: Possibly your old office?). Reminding someone of this mid-cry while handing them a box of tissues has cracked a smile on the face of many tearful students.

  14. I did not realize there was so much crying in science… I haven’t seemed to encounter as many crying experiences as many of you. But I agree overwhelmingly, be yourself at all times! You only get to be yourself once!

    I can only recall one time when this happened to me in science. I was afield with an undergrad assistant. Unknowingly, he asked a question of me I could not answer without the recounting of a very tragic death in my family. I could have refused to answer him & just changed up the discourse, but I thought it better to engage him. I hadn’t spoken of the tragedy in years, so when I got into it, the gushers were a flowin’. Our relationship grew from the experience, and we became lifelong friends in part because of it.

    Meg’s topic, though, is one I try to discuss with colleagues and employees frequently. In my view, political correctness has in many instances stifled the human experience in the workplace. There are times I have found it absolutely nauseating. There are times I have gone so far to express that an institution or supervisor stepped WAAAAY over the line in critiquing a person’s verbiage or actions within the context of PC gobbledygook.

    By way of example, I sent out some very heartfelt thank yous to my committee members after passing my doctoral written & oral exams. I did not cry. I did not quote Old Testament chapter & verse. I did not attach MP3s of Kenny G tunes. I just thanked everyone from the bottom of my heart. My mentor… a person (God bless her heart) enveloped by the trappings of PCism, criticized my for “expressing emotional themes in the workplace”. When push came to shove on this issue, I finally told her I was not going to sacrifice my personality for her sense ‘professionalism’.

    In my view, anyway, being a professional is being competent & productive. You should not sacrifice who you are for anyone’s sense of “PCism gone bad”.

  15. Thank you for writing and sharing this article. I often feel it is completely necessary to be unemotional in my meetings with my male advisor, lest he see my emotions as a weakness. However, stifling emotions can tend to make them even more strong, which sometimes results in tears when you least want them. I haven’t figured out yet how I most want to be approached in these situations, but I can tell you the handful of things my PI has done that have not worked- including, but not limited to, suggesting I go to therapy. Science is an exciting roller coaster ride, filled with extreme highs as well as extreme lows. When you add in every day life stressors, it shouldn’t be a surprise that sometimes things become overwhelming and need to be let out.

    • While not meaning or wanting to demean your adviser, “Therapy” is another one of those PC catch phrases thrown about in the workplace like hashbrowns at the local Greasy Spoon. And I dare say anyone evidencing behaviors as intimidating as having the effect of stifling the natural and healthy emotions in others is more than likely the one in need of “Therapy”. Just my two cents worth… .

  16. I was caught off guard first time a student started crying while we were discussing issues related to the course. What I learned from that experience is that you should always have an idea of private space very nearby where you can go, if students wants privacy. Like previously mentioned it’s always a juggle between “it’s perfectly normal” and student feeling very embarrassed. What I’ve figured out is the best way to advance is just stay calm, very explicitly say something along the lines that it’s okay to cry and then ask if they want to take a break or continue.

    In the field these issues seem to come up more often and they might involve alcohol so they get a lot more messy. That’s why I try to keep on top of things and make sure there’s enough rest, relaxing and outlets for dealing with issues on field courses.

  17. The transgender story is so helpful. It is hard to figure the level of distress of somebody who displays it so differently. For me, really crying is the absolute top. I cried when I visited my grandmother dying from cancer in final stadium, screaming despite maximum dosage of morphine, I was 14 – the last time I cried in front of people. Then twice while having serious breakdowns that involved the feeling that somebody I was powerless against was trying to break me – so basically an existential threat. That’s it. In 20 years.

    So when somebody cries, I instinctively assume the worst and respond emotionally accordingly. I need to tell myself ‘no, she may not be as devastated as I think she is’. I guess this also means that I may have problems noticing nuances above ‘crying threshold’ :/

    At the same time I find especially women but also men telling me I’d be so cool and confident in times when I am seriously stressed out. Only close friends seem to notice. This may sound advantages, but not always. You can get in serious trouble when advisers think you would be unresponsive in difficult situations – I found on several occasions that advisers pulled all strings to ‘make me realize the seriousness of a situation’. In other words they did everything to stress me out even more – one yelled at me and called me an addict, another basically told me I was to blame for how shitty his career was at the time – while I was fighting to keep it together and stay functional so I could finish up the respective projects I was working on.

    I never thought bad about somebody for being weak. This reminds me that they may actually not even be weak in the first place.

    Thanks for that.

    • I have found at times ones needs to be the beacon in the storm, as it were. My last supervisor… and by last, I mean last- never to be another one (I run my own organization now) was never to blame for anything that went awry…. Yet, she was the source of all the chaos. She frequently insisted others publicly take blame for her blunders. She frequently disciplined underlings for her mistakes. All this was done as a ruse to conceal her almost ubiquitous incompetence as a scientist and supervisor. It was, simply, insanity. So when you mention supervisors calling you an addict, and blaming you for their failings, lemme tell ya, I can relate.

      The way I dealt with all of that was to adopt what I call the six Cs of survival: Cool, Calm, Collected, Confident, Coherent & Competent. I never relented, not once. I kept working, I kept producing, I kept succeeding… all the while this PI plagiarized, fabricated & falsified. One can get the impression there is no escape while the Titanic is being ripped to shreds by ice bergs. But the thing I always reminded myself of was, I was not the captain of her ship. Only she was bound to go down with it, not me. I kept my boat afloat even as the PI was goin’ down the proverbial drain.

      Of course my psyche was impacted by all the shenanigans. In working through that with a psychiatrist, I was initially stunned when she suggested I just jettison the idea of working for anyone again. Her take home message was “Honey… professional life can be and usually is like walking over hot coals, so go do your own thing.” Well, she was so impressed over how I had flourished, that she resigned from her gig as a staff shrink and set up shop for herself.

      Success often means rejection of those supposedly more competent than yourself. But remember, sometimes brass buttons are polished with lard instead of luster.

  18. Thanks all for sharing.
    Still, in the end I hope to see less crying, because we are less stressed or concerned or tired or anxious or frustrated and overall more happy scientist ;). Out of passion is always fine.
    Somehow it is fascinating that the only occasion (besides funerals, weddings, etc.) were crying for all is totally excepted are sport stadiums/events

    • Yes, it would be great to see less crying if it meant that we were less stressed! And good point about crying being totally accepted at sporting events!

  19. Thank you for this post, Meghan. It’s such an important issue. I recently wrote about a slightly different kind of crying in science, and also about viewing emotion and subjectivity as actual assets in scientific work (up at On Being: http://www.onbeing.org/blog/the-stepping-stones-of-integrating-emotions-into-practicing-science/7360). Though I don’t say so explicitly in the article, I completely agree that there is a component that has to do with women (or at least the feminine) in science. Also, appreciate Andrew’s point above that *not* crying is okay too. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment and the link! That’s a really interesting post. I just linked to it in the follow up I wrote to this post.

  20. Wow, this is something that I have always had issues with. I cry very easily, especially when I am stressed out. I am a graduate student currently and I have cried numerous times in front of my advisor who usually has tissues ready now. She actually sent me this article. I am glad to know that I am not alone with this crying thing, although I would still love to stop crying so easily. Its embarrassing and usually very hard to stop, and therefore I don’t say what I need to say. But still I hope that people/scientists learn that crying is ok. Mostly I’d love for them to just ignore it when I cry. Thanks for the article! 🙂

    • Several people have told me their advisors have shared this article with them. I didn’t foresee that, but I’m glad it’s helping!

  21. Fantastic post! Emotions in science is an incredibly interesting topic to me (a woman); especially because nearly all of my mentors, advisors, committee members, and superiors have been men thus far in my career. I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking, “Keep it together, keep it together.” during difficult points, which makes the situation that much more stressful for me. Not only am I attempting to deal with X, I’m also on the verge of tears (but pretending not to be). Luckily, my advisors (all men) are phenomenal individuals. I think the fact that they have daughters helps, but they don’t just check in on the state of my project, they check in on me. They frequently open up the floor to talk about anything, so when I am excessively frustrated/stressed I don’t feel the need to hold it in to the point of tears and I’m not too intimidated to go to them. Even more amazing is that they have asked me for feedback a couple of times after particularly difficult discussions, which was a learning experience for me as well. They asked things like: Did this help? Do you think it would help to do this again? Was I too harsh or insensitive when I said X? Do you think my comments were appropriate? Through them, I’ve learned to be a better communicator and that I should never stop learning to be a better communicator.

    • It very much sounds like you have been blessed with quality mentors… and ones that understand the relationship-building process. I learned years ago just how important it is to “open the floor up” and probe how previous interactions impacted others. I can think of a couple of instances where friends of mine who were considerably younger than me felt intimidated to speak up and assert something I had said or done offended them. Try as we might, it just is not possible to know everyone’s hot button issues. Once, a younger friend of mine expressed incredible frustration (after years of knowing him) that I “dominated” our discussions and he felt left out in many ways. I communicated I often felt like the only person in the room dealing with a vacuum of dead space, and that getting him to talk was often like pulling teeth. So here we had very different views of the same situation. The same things apply to families. For instance, the experience you had as a child is very different from that of a sibling… even though you stood side by side for nearly 20 years. I have found an effective way to get underlings to assert themselves, especially in stressful circumstances, is to give them the reigns from time to time. So for example, when working with lab or field personnel, I will usually take one or two days a week (after everyone is fully trained) and say, “Hey you- Amanda- you’re in charge today and I am your employee”. Changing up the dynamic this way has been very effective for me, to the point that employees feel at ease in communicating to me shortcomings.

  22. I cried in front of my advisor over a negative review that arrived just after some other bad news. I felt horrible and unprofessional. My advisor let me get myself together and then when we talked a little later I tried to apologize and he stopped me and said “I can’t say I haven’t shed tears over a review, there is nothing to apologize for”. He’s a silver back in the field and to hear him say that was so important. It was one of the things that convinced me I had a place in the field, if even HE had reviews that hurt like that maybe I wasn’t such a disaster.

  23. Really great post, thanks Meghan. I think it is worth considering the fact that sometimes people cry because of unacceptable behaviour on behalf of the person they are meeting with. So, as well as considering whether someone might be crying because of personal issues, stress, things going wrong with their project etc, it would be good if people involved asked themselves whether they might have been a contributing factor. And if the answer is yes, maybe they should try and work on improving the behaviour that caused someone to cry: “Might I have acted in an angry/rude/condescending/bullying manner?”; “Did I fail to do something I should have?”; “What can I do to improve the current situation and prevent it from happening again?”. I was very lucky with my honours and PhD supervisors and they never caused me to cry. But many other students did, but often in the student rooms where the supervisor would have been unaware. And often they were crying because they weren’t getting the help they needed from their supervisor. In extreme cases they might have been waiting for a year for their supervisor to read a draft manuscript!
    I very rarely cry at work, but on one occasion I think it helped my colleague re-consider his behaviour. It was a phone conversation with an extremely difficult colleague who always thought he was right and couldn’t see other people’s point of view. At the start of the conversation I made it clear that I was nervous about discussing the particular issue, because a couple of us disagreed with the approach he wanted to take on a joint project. I explained our rationale. He then started ranting at me, and abusing me and the other person who was in agreement with me, saying we were stupid, etc. After a few minutes of this I started crying, and sat silently listening while he continued to rant. In the end he must have realized what was happening, and we ended the phone call. The next day I received an extremely nice email from him, apologising for his behaviour and saying how much respect he had for me and for what I was trying to achieve. I haven’t worked with him since that project, but I do hope that maybe he is a little less unreasonable these days.

    • Yes, these are excellent thoughts (and I’m so sorry you have a colleague like that!) In some cases, I’ve cried at work because I was so frustrated by feeling like I was being ignored or steamrolled. Related: I am more likely to check in on a person who cried if it seems atypical for them, since I think that indicates there might be something bigger going on (including problems with a colleague/mentor/supervisor).

  24. I cried once in a meeting with my undergrad mentor because I was so overwhelmed. She was very understanding and told me about the times she’s cried in front of her supervisors too. I hope to have a relationship with my future PhD advisor that allows that level of openness as well! We should all cry a little more in science- god knows we have enough reason too.

  25. Good to hear from and about you, Meghan. I don’t think that I have ever teared up over work. However, stories of achievement, overcoming great adversity, amazing athletic performance, some NPR segments, etc.

  26. I’ve been silently following this blog for a while but this post made me so happy I just had to say thanks!
    The first year of my undergrad honors thesis one of my study animals died (a endangered female markhor from our zoo who was nursing babies). After watching her herd everyday for several months I cried harder than I ever had before. Both my advisors, several other professors and many students saw me sobbing the next day. While my advisors were understanding, I hope someday crying isn’t so stigmatized that I don’t have to think of this as one of my most embarrassing moments.

  27. I can cry at the drop of a hat….later on in life I found that there is actually a profession that would have benefited from that talent- soap opera actress! That’s apparently how Meg Ryan got started. Bumming, did I ever miss my calling!

  28. A colleague of mine just had her defense some weeks ago and it seemed as if she was just building up through her talk to finally burst out in tears while reading the acknowledgements. I found it embarassing, not because she cried, but because the jury ignored it and started with the most awful questions, as if they made them on purpose to knock her down. It’s a tricky thing if you try to have your carreer as a woman in a male surrounding, which is the case for her and me. And when I left the auditory hall I was frustrated, nit because of the men who obviously have their difficulties with a crying woman, but because of the female part of the jury which was well integrated in the “group of men” and reacted to the crying as if it was a war declaration.
    Very nice post!

  29. Haha!! I cried at my defense too!! The moment that I ended the talk! Thank goodness my committee members and examiner were super understanding. Thanks for the post!

  30. Goodness, im pretty sure it has to be seen as an emotional outlet. I just wish that sometimes one (myself/mother/grandmother) could control said emotional outlet. All we have to do is look at each other. Is this genetics as well?

    Really enjoyed your post will be back to read more 🙂 thank you!

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  32. I didn’t read all the comments here, but many of them–I love them, and I love this post. It’s thought-provoking and kind of uplifting. I’m a female chem undergrad, so I don’t even have a clue about the graduate school experience… But anyway, I’m still not sure what I think about crying in front of professors, colleagues, or really anybody except close friends. I was raised to try keeping a stiff upper lip, and I had no idea that professors really saw students cry much. I guess I just have been deferring to my upbringing through the years.

    I *almost* cried, you know, had the watery, red eyes, and the quivering voice, once with a professor. Basically she was rather rude and intimidating to all of us baby chem students, and one day she made me so angry that I went and spoke to her. Ever since, she had treated me differently, and I have wondered if it was out of pity because I obviously couldn’t keep myself completely together, or if it was because she at least respected that I had addressed her.

    Anyway, at least now I know I am not a complete nut. Like I said, I’m still not sure about crying in academic or professional environments. I will say that I wish there were not this double standard about crying that other commenters have also talked about. So interesting! Thank you!

  33. Science is as much a lifestyle as it is a career. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to shed a tear now and then or to get angry when something goes wrong or to feel elated when things go well. I have cried at work twice (and I’m a barrel-chested guy). I have also punched cabinets in anger (when no one else was around) and, at other times, l have literally jumped up and down with joy. Mind you, these expressions have been few and far between, but they’ve happened.

  34. Ohhh man, I cry a lot when I’m stressed out. Although, it usually has something to do with the amount of math homework (I’m an undergrad in biological science) I have. Crying is definitely something that allows me to let it all out so to speak. I think it’s healthy to cry whether or not you’re frustrated or stressed.

  35. Thanks for sharing your story! As you said, crying is a natural response and we are doing ourselves a huge disservice by not allowing people to blow off steam when they need to. I also think we are doing men a disservice when we act like crying is unnatural for them. I haven’t done any research on this topic, but I do wonder if transgendered people find it easier or harder to cry after transitioning or taking hormones just based on stigma not on physiology.

  36. I’m so sorry about your father. I lost my pop in 2010 to The Cancer. I now find that I cry quite a bit. I’ve always been comfortable with showing emotions before, but now I’m infected with empathy.

    Crying helps to heal us and return us back into loving creatures. Creatures that are often not encouraged to emerge in “polite” society. The stigma is that it shows a lack of control, which is an illusion anyways, and a lack of control has translated into weakness. It’s the hard, cold and business-like way we’ve become. I’m sure the field of science pushes this status quo with greater fervor than most. It has the extra added requirement of being an impartial observer that only serves to disconnect us further.

    I don’t know you, but I am proud of you. Without ever meeting, I can connect to your pain regarding your father like we’re old friends. I’m proud of you for expressing yourself without shame and I’m proud of you for sharing that with us.

  37. Thank you! And I love that stuauld says crying in itself should be unremarkable. It does indicate passion, frustration and often fear of saying what you really want to say because it needs saying. It has very little to do with lack of professionalism. Some of us women do have that extra hormone thing too. Thanks for everyone who reassures the person and moves on with the discussion ignoring it for the most part.

  38. Yes not only women are crying, men can cry too. And I think it is natural, we need to cry. Even the first voice we hear from a just born baby is a cry which means everything. It is good for health also.

  39. FYI: we just deleted a sub-thread which included several inappropriate comments from one commenter. We also deleted a couple of appropriate replies, since it would’ve looked odd to keep the replies without the comments they were replying to. We approved the initial comment from this commenter, which meant that subsequent inappropriate comments were automatically published before we could block them, hence the need to delete the comments after they were published. This commenter has also been blocked permanently, because he/she failed to heed a request from me to adopt an appropriate tone.

    As regular readers know, we welcome vigorous debate, including comments that disagree with the post; see our About page for more on our comment policy.

  40. Tomorrow my husband defends in front of his committee, it has been a very long road, I know tomorrow will be an emotional day for both of us. We both may cry. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  41. Crying means that we care, and we mostly try to really understand when we see people who cry. Writing about it, and thinking about the effect it has on us, might make it easier to know how to respond. Maybe we don’t feel the need to run away from emotional situation, maybe this posts can inspire us to look at ourselves and how we respond to people who cry in ‘professional’ settings?

  42. Pingback: The Modern 24-hour Woman | channelingkate

  43. Pingback: Crying is allowed. | Deep Blue Conversations

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