Introverted Scientists, We Are Not Alone – Basic Research

By Fernanda Gervasoni

The academic environment forced me to investigate an extroverted aspect that was not in my nature

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In a conversation between friends, after regretting that I became a super antisocial person, one of them said, “You are not antisocial, you are an introvert”. I didn’t even know what a real introvert was, I only knew extroverts who are more recognizable. Introversion always sounded a bit bad. So I researched the term and almost felt like I was hugged.

In the scientific world, people who find it easier to express themselves, who know how to sell their fish, stand out, more expansive, didactic, and talkative people – these extroverted people. On the other hand, it is not that difficult to identify the quietest and shyest who stutter at times and are insecure as they try to demonstrate the importance of their work. It was only after thinking about the dichotomy between intorversion and extroversion that I was able to take a closer look at introverts.

In the early 1920s, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung distinguished between two types of disposition in humans, extroverts and introverts – the former are fundamentally more interested in the outside world, the latter in the inside world. And that generally defines several characteristics of these personalities – the extrovert is more talkative, likes being with people; Introverts prefer silence and appreciate solitude.

But how does it affect us scientists? When we think of scientists, the first thing that comes to mind is that people in laboratories, in lab coats and goggles, are huddled with a pipette and test tube – after all, people who would take the risk of saying they are quieter and more shy. But the scientific milieu is far from a world of calm. Today, scientists not only need to do research, collect and publish data in high impact journals, but also need to be able to give lectures and present their data to a scientific community in a very positive way, mostly not very friendly and quite competitive. Not to mention the urgent need to get the science out there to a public bombarded with “information” devoid of evidence or argument. Scientists cannot limit their data to the scientific world. This media environment seems inhospitable to introverts.

The academic and scientific environment forced me to investigate more and more an extroverted aspect that, in principle, did not correspond to my nature. That was good, it taught me to emphasize the importance of my research. On the other hand, in the talkative world we live in, I have had to suppress many qualities of my introverted side, aspects that could be useful for my research.

Introverts need to connect with themselves in order to seek their creativity and understand their problems, which are often revolutionary for the environment. Without moments of silence, they cannot achieve such an achievement. Susan Cain’s book, The Power of the Quiet, speaks a lot about this need for introverts to be able to work out their ideas and act. As well as reporting on her experiences, the author also quotes many scholars who were introverted and achieved great things, such as Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and Carl Jung himself, who always reserved quiet moments to study their ideas question and elaborate.

By reading this book, I have been able to see more of myself and others, and accept that introversion is my natural tendency. I was able to identify what kind of socialization is expected in different media, outline personal strategies to minimize the disadvantages of this disposition and ease exposures or at least make them emotionally less costly.

Developing an extroversion, even if it went against my nature, brought me many successes that would not have been possible if I had adapted to introversion, and that’s why I say from experience that nobody needs to be one or the other. Embrace your nature and explore it outside of your comfort zone.

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Fernanda Gervasoni is Professor of Geology at the Federal University of Goiás.

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