Fit is an invidious word. Or it might be, in academia, if we gave pause to how we used it. The idea of someone ‘fitting in’—being right, correct or smoothly part of something bigger—runs against cherished notions of autonomy, individuality, innovation. And yet time and again, it slides seamlessly into what we say and do, binding us better than any spider’s silk.
My first academic encounter with fit came with a PhD supervisor who called me chap for three years. That followed a beginning in which I chipped away at the repeated declarations that I was ‘not a bad philosopher for a girl’ by the counterargument of gloriously technical writing. The strange thing about this experience was that I didn’t think anything about it at the time: this was just something that I knew I could manage through hard work. The worst thing is that I still feel that I was lucky.
At least I got the chance to prove myself.
Research on the recruitment and retention of talent is with few exceptions depressing reading. For a sobering start, step slowly through Lauren Rivera’s microscopic dissection of how elite firms blithely, habitually close their eyes to talent in recruiting US university students. Follow that up with an article or two on how the application of a Western, clearly male name on a curriculum vitae leads to a higher recruitment rating than a non-Western or woman’s name; or the Newsome report for the Royal Society of Chemistry which notes that women STEM PhD students are more likely to dismiss an academic career as unappealing than their male counterparts; ABS and parliamentary reports that show that proportionally more women are casuals than men; and then top it off with the sadly frequent stories from disciplines like my own in which professors have engaged in inappropriate and inexcusable conduct towards their female students. Welcome to the dark side of ‘fit’ …