Who gets to be an expert?

A. Shinde
3 min readMay 6, 2021

What type of professional gets to stay in a field and establish expertise?

Hearing stories about people being in a field for decades just hits me in the gut in a very specific way. This is something I doubt I will ever have a chance at achieving. Depending who I say this out loud too, I might be told, “Oh, but you’re still young.” Maybe. If I stay in the field I’m in now until I retire, I could have that experience.

Sure, I might be in the physical sciences and instrumentation fields for the entirety of my career, but to really be deemed an expert in a field you need to be able to stick around in it for a while. You can’t depend on funding that has an end date, or a company that might let you go, or a field that was built on hype that fizzles out, or a toxic work environment. There are many reasons people are driven out of the field they want to be in, or are never allowed in it in the first place. Who gets to make those decisions and who has the power to change that?

As of 2019, I was an expert in scanning droplet cell high throughput electrochemistry. I built up my expertise over almost 6 years, published over 20 papers and received 2 patents on a one of a kind instrument that not many people know how to use or build, but many people were excited by it. It was called the “workhorse” of our project. The instruments were touted about during lab tours to government officials, visiting scientists, and famous philanthropists; all the while I quietly did my work without being acknowledged, without advance notice that lab tours would be going through my work space, and sometimes my colleagues that were giving the tours did not even know my name or assumed I was a grad student or post doc. And I play the part of a quiet lab rat.

During one particular tour to a group of old white men in suits, I had to quietly squeeze through them saying, “Excuse me, excuse me . . “ to get to my instrument to do my job. My job that was seemingly so impressive to them. It infuriates me that I wasn’t loud and claiming my space and announcing my name to every tour. I eventually made sure that lab tours were announced ahead of time and limited to groups of 5 people . . for “safety reasons”. It boggles my mind that I had to state this and it wasn’t obvious to others. Our lab was a wet chemistry lab with strong acids and bases, and strangers were just able to walk into my space and stand around my instruments.

I am very proud of the work I did and science I contributed to. But the impressive work I thought I was doing was meaningless if I couldn’t leverage that to a new position. I had to be unemployed for 17 months because certain employers and hiring managers were impressed by my resume but could not imagine me doing the job they needed me to do. That same lack of imagination does not apply to everyone. Why am I not given the chance to stay in the field I want to, and become an established expert? Where are all the people impressed by my work when I need a job? Where are all the people who say they are looking for creative problem solvers, people with patents and publications, people with hands-on technical skills? They apparently want to interview me, but not actually hire me. What is the gap between a final interview and offer? Why am I told I don’t get an offer because something was missing on my resume that they’re looking for, but they took the time to interview me anyway?

Am I only being interviewed to give an appearance of a diverse candidate pool? Am I the only woman or personal color getting a final interview? Is there ever a way to get an honest answer about why I didn’t get an offer? These are all questions that will never be answered.

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A. Shinde
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I’ll be writing about my job search experiences as someone with a PhD in Physics, focusing on my job search in 2019–2020.