Ode to Silence

I titled this post in my head before I realized that Ode to Silence is a real poem, but I remember learning in high school that an “ode” is a love poem, and silence is undeniably one of my loves, so I felt justified in keeping it.

I self-identify as a textbook introvert. There are tons of posts and articles about introversion online (in addition to a recent favorite book, Quiet), but a lot of the descriptors in this post hit the nail on the head for me. 

I recently had a thought as I was reflecting on some interactions I’ve had with faculty members and other Ph.D. students: It seems like in academia (or at least in the department I’m in), being comfortable with silence is a must. I find myself fairly frequently sitting silently face-to-face with a faculty member. Maybe I’m just an  awkward person. Maybe my professors are too. Or maybe we’re just comfortable with pausing while we think. Today I asked a friend, also a student in my department, how the big neuroscience conference was that he just attended. His eyes bugged out a little as he told me, “Awesome, but as an introvert surrounded by 30,000 other people, I sort of wanted to go crawl into a corner. It was overwhelming.” In most of life, it seems like at least 75% of people are extroverted. Maybe that ratio is reversed in the environment I’ve chosen to immerse myself in. Is my perception a random and rare case, or is there something to it?

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4 comments

  1. Do you think that the introverted aspect of your PhD program is isolated only to your PhD in particular or to most other PhD programs? It seems that cognitive science is a very thought based program that eventually escalates into laboratory work which makes a lot of sense for attraction to introverted individuals. Additionally, do you think that cognitive science and other cognitive focused topics (psychology, neuroscience) attracts more introverts than other fields based on the belief that the fields might explain why individuals become introverts versus an extrovert?

    1. I suspect you might be right that cognitive science might be especially attractive to introverts. Some other disciplines that I could imagine are introvert-heavy are computer science, literature, and other humanities. Maybe fields like econ or more lab-based sciences are more likely to attract extroverts. It’s just an intuition, but something that would be really interesting to quantify!

  2. May I please ask what aspect of cognitive science your research focuses on? I’m currently a freshman in college and I’m very interested in studying cognitive science. However, my university doesn’t have a Cognitive Science degree. So I’m thinking of studying either Computer Science or Cognitive Psychology. I’d prefer studying Psychology but I’m a little hesitant about majoring in it because I’m in introvert and I’m not sure how important it is to be a people’s person if you’re majoring in Psychology. Do you know any graduate students in your Cognitive Science program who’ve done their undergraduate in Psychology but are also introverts? I would really appreciate any sort of insight on this.

    1. Hi Asma, I have no doubt that introverts can thrive in psychology, and I highly recommend that that’s what you pursue if it interests you! Most psychology programs have a lot of independent work, and even when you do work in groups, it’s a great skill. I have a personal theory that maybe psychology even attracts more introverts than other fields, as introverts tend to have “rich inner lives,” and might be more inclined to want to pursue an education about the mind. My undergrad degree was in cognitive science, but I took a number of psych classes and I didn’t feel like any were too far out of the comfort zone.

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