Introvert working in the office

Beyond the Noise: Introverts in STEM Fields

If I were to describe my introverted personality in a few lines, this is it:

  • I am an introvert who likes to talk.
  • I need solitude to recharge.
  • I trust no one to do my work for me.
  • I like working on my own, within my schedule.
  • I like to be bossy at times and be in control.
  • I am not good at jokes. But sometimes, I let out gems of humour.
  • I live in the present.

I feel like I belong in my current job as a physicist in training because of these qualities. This is different from my previous career in the finance sector.

Some Stats

Do you know the percentage of introverted minds in the tech workforce in Silicon Valley? They are the people who drive innovation from the shadows. According to Myers & Briggs, there are 16 personality types, eight of which are considered introverts.

Can we say that 50% of the STEM folks are introverts? Hmm… we can find out together. 

Imagine a world where, hypothetically, 40-60% of scientists and technologists are introverts. Society often applauds the charismatic and outgoing. But, introverts, who likely make up at least half of STEM professionals, are quietly changing our world. Among these are legends like Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Alan Turing, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk. Their introverted natures were key to their groundbreaking contributions.

Quiet people have the loudest minds.

Let’s explore how these quiet individuals contribute to technological progress. Join me as we learn how you, as an introvert, can excel in communication, teaching, and leadership. I’ll share insights from my own experience to show you the way.

Let’s delve into embracing our introverted nature, breaking down myths, and uncovering effective communication strategies. We will examine how being introverted can be a strength. This is true in both personal and professional areas, especially in scientific fields.

Common Misconceptions

Introverts are often misunderstood. People think they are always shy and don’t like to talk. They think introverts always want to be alone and aren’t good at communicating or leading.

But that’s not true. Introverts have many strengths and different ways of looking at things. Despite needing time alone, introverts can still have meaningful social interactions. They might not like big parties, but they can talk for hours about something they love or know a lot about. They can even make funny jokes!

I’ve looked into what scientists say about introverts.

Being an introvert is a mix of genes, environment, and personal experiences. Both introverts and extroverts process information and react to their surroundings in their own ways. This is because of how their brains and minds work. Let’s find out more.

Mental Health

It’s not surprising that introversion and extroversion can affect mental health. But what caught my eye is a study on how both types respond to not getting enough sleep. This lack of sleep is a big factor in a person’s physical and mental health.

Research shows that extroverted people have bigger declines in their focus and alertness when they don’t sleep enough. On the other hand, introverts seem to be more resistant to the negative effects of sleep deprivation on attention and alertness. [1]

Introverts also do better than extroverts on thinking tasks, even when they don’t sleep enough. This difference is especially noticeable in people who tend to worry excessively about things, which is called neuroticism.

Being neurotic can sometimes get in the way of daily activities. Studies show that there is a stronger connection between being neurotic and being introverted. [2] This connection is something to keep in mind. When you catch yourself in a state of excessive worrying or overthinking, learn to recognize the situation first. Try to look at the situation from a third-person perspective. Is the situation as bad as it seems? (Of course, therapy sometimes is the way to go if neurotic behaviour gets out of hand. But that’s an entirely different topic.)

Information Processing Differences

Introverts and extroverts process information differently. Extroverts are better at tasks like remembering information briefly, multitasking, and responding quickly.

Introverts are better at tasks like focusing and remembering for a long time. They are also good at thinking deeply to solve problems. [3]

Introverts as thinkers. Self-talk is normal! 

Introverts show increased brain activity in certain areas when thinking freely, according to a study on cerebral blood flow. The areas affected include the frontal lobes and Broca’s area. This suggests that introverts are likely engaged in internal dialogues and deep thinking. These mental processes involve remembering the past, planning for the future, and solving problems.

The study suggests that introverts have more pronounced “self-talk.” Whew, that’s reassuring! And I think I am weird when I realize I’m talking to myself 🙂

For more information, see the study by Johnson et al. (1999) in the American Journal of Psychiatry.[4]

Introverts As Leaders

Maggie Farrell researched introvert and extrovert leaders and found that introverts have several strengths that make them effective leaders. They are cautious, good listeners, and use their quiet nature to make thoughtful decisions. Introvert leaders excel at creating environments where proactive employees feel heard. They include team input in decision-making and improve collaboration. We should not underestimate introverts in leadership roles and recognize their potential to lead well.[5]

My Personal Story

Enough with the dry research stuff! Now, let’s get personal and see what role my introverted ISFP-A personality played in my professional and academic life. (You can take this free personality test at 16personalities.)

My introverted nature has guided me and been a close companion in my journey through the STEM field. When I first started in finance, I found it overwhelming to constantly interact with others. It drained the energy I needed for deep, analytical work. It wasn’t just that I preferred quiet, but I found my best thinking and problem-solving happened when I was alone.

When I switched to physics, I fully embraced my introverted side. Here, deep concentration and thoughtful analysis were not only accepted but necessary. The quiet of the lab felt like a safe place where my introverted mind could thrive. This change wasn’t just a career switch but a way to align my professional world with my inner world.

During this transition, I discovered that being introverted in STEM is not a disadvantage but a unique advantage. It allowed me to dive deeply into subjects without distractions or obstacles.

My journey shows how introverts are often seen as misfits in a world that values extroversion. But, they can find strength and success in the fields of science and technology.

Balancing Family Life and Work

I used to be an admin assistant and was always busy talking to people, which made me tired. I wanted to be alone when I got home, so I didn’t spend as much time with my family. I felt bad about it, but I needed time alone to recharge.

Now, I’m a scientist, and I spend my days alone with books and code, which suits me because I’m introverted. This change has made a big difference – I come home feeling energized and excited to spend time with my family.

It shows that finding the right job can help introverts balance their work and personal life. Becoming a scientist has not only been a career move for me, but it has also made my personal life more satisfying. It proves that it’s important to have a job that matches your personality.

Conclusion 

Researchers have often tried to provide stats on introverts. They looked at introverts in society and various fields. Yet, the reports vary. As a physicist, I learned to trust the numbers only if the evidence is conclusive. So, I cannot answer the earlier question. It asked how many in Silicon Valley’s tech workforce are introverts, remember?

But who cares how many? What counts is that we learn to use our given personality types. We must learn to present ourselves and share our voices well. 

I’m a scientist in training. A big part of my job is to communicate my research to others. I’ve given a number of presentations on different topics, from my research results to discussing the work of other researchers in my field. I’ve also been to conferences where I had to interact with fellow researchers and present my findings on a conference poster. 

Communication is also a part of being a teaching assistant for undergraduate physics courses. This experience taught me a few things about my introverted personality and communication. It taught me what works best for me when working with students.

By embracing our introverted qualities, we can become effective communicators, teachers, and leaders in our own right. Here’s how:

Start by preparing well and rehearsing your speech. (I even recorded myself sometimes while practicing a presentation. It makes spotting what to improve in the next practice round easier.)

Develop a comfortable approach to speaking: learn the power of body language and practice eye contact. It will be uncomfortable at first. But don’t spook people, though 🙂 Blink occasionally! (I am still working on this one.)

When speaking to groups, focus on the message you want to deliver. If you’ve prepared well, this should not be a problem. Also, if you know someone in the crowd, it helps to make eye contact with them. This can help with confidence when you speak.

Use your introverted strengths in planning and preparation for smooth lesson delivery.

Favor small group activities to foster inclusiveness and deeper engagement.

Capitalize on one-on-one interactions for personalized teaching. Create moments for quiet reflection, which benefits you and some of your quieter students.

Embrace your unique teaching style, reflecting on and refining your methods continually.

Leverage written communication to articulate your ideas clearly.

Choose networking opportunities that match your comfort level. These include smaller, focused events and online platforms.

Commit to continuous learning and self-improvement. This will enhance your leadership skills in a way that respects your introverted nature.

Wrapping It Up

In conclusion, introversion in STEM is not a barrier but an asset. When recognized and harnessed, it can lead to big impacts in your personal and work life.

That’s all I had to say for today. If I met my younger self of 5-6 years ago and gave advice, I would say to focus on my strengths. I would say to double down on learning to communicate well and write clearly. I am still learning. 

I hope this helped. Thanks for reading!

Julia

References
  1. W. Killgore, J. Richards, Desiree B. Killgore, G. Kamimori, T. Balkin, Journal of Sleep Research
  2. Taylor, Daniel J. and Robert M. McFatter. “Cognitive performance after sleep deprivation: does personality make a difference?” Personality and Individual Differences 34 (2003): 1179-1193.
  3. Simpson, Cydney (2007) “The Relationship between Extraversion-Introversion on Memory Task Performance,” The Huron University College Journal of Learning and Motivation: Vol. 45: Iss. 1, Article 17. Available at: https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/hucjlm/vol45/iss1/17
  4. Johnson, D. L., Wiebe, J. S., Gold, S. M., Andreasen, N. C., Hichwa, R. D., Watkins, G. L., & Boles Ponto, L. L. (1999). Cerebral Blood Flow and Personality: A Positron Emission Tomography Study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 156(2), 252–257. doi:10.1176/ajp.156.2.252
  5. Farrell, Maggie. “Leadership Reflections: Extrovert and Introvert Leaders.” Journal of Library Administration 57 (2017): 436 – 443.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *