My name is Mariah Loeber, and I run femstem.com on my lonesome. It’s a website meant to be a hub for girls and women worldwide* to catch up on some exciting science news, and to get to see and interact with women in STEM. We have interviewed scientists of all ages, from kids to adults, on what their aspirations are, what their current job entails, how they got their own science bug, and what advice they have for people who want to join STEM themselves.
I have been doing this for over a year now. When I first started, I was a freelance writer who had recently lost her (not-well-paid) job. I wrote for a startup that fell right on its head due to bad marketing and general unprofessionalism. I started FemSTEM soon after with the help of my family members to keep my writing going and to see if I could make something of it. Quickly, I gained partnership in the wonderful Melissa C. Márquez of the Fins United Initiative and caught the eye of almost 2,000 twitter followers people since.
I gained a new day job as well in that timeframe. This time, in technology instead of writing.
I work with industrial-sized printers and copiers all week. I have to repair them when they break down, I have to replace their parts and consumables, and I print manuals, power points, and numerous other items for big companies, small start-ups, and the average Joe. Every day, I have to communicate to customers how the printers work, why I can or cannot complete the job they’re asking me to do, and troubleshoot their problems as well as the ones I run into on my end.
It’s an entry-level job, sure. However, it is a technology job through and through. Yet, sometimes I definitely feel like “I don’t work in STEM, how can I possibly write about STEM?”
Imposter Phenomenon (or as it’s commonly deemed: imposter syndrome) is ‘a feeling of phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement’. The term was coined in the 70’s by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, but it had been a common feeling before it was given a name, and it’s a common feeling now as well.
I’m definitely not alone in feeling that I’m under-qualified for the role I put myself into. In fact, according to a 2016 article in Slate, there’s been over a thousand personal essays and trend pieces on the topic. Pretty much everyone has gone through this phenomenon at some point in their lives; it’s a form of insecurity that we all deal with.
Just because Imposter Phenomenon is common, doesn’t mean that it’s easy to deal with.
It’s not. There have been many days in the past year where I have seriously thought about closing down FemSTEM because of my own-perceived lack of ability. I found my job with printers about four months after I started FemSTEM. I thought that entering into the world of technology would make me feel better about writing topics on STEM, but it didn’t improve my attitude towards myself and my accomplishments with this website.
I’ve managed to do a lot with the website in a short period of time, including working with a bunch of amazing women who have accomplished so much in their careers and have such an infectious passion for their respective areas of STEM. On top of this, not a single person has yet to attack me for the site, negatively comment, or make me feel like I don’t belong in the community for whatever reason. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a group of well-meaning and encouraging people behind this project.
Which means that, in my case, my case of this phenomenon is entirely self-induced. So — how can one deal with this insecurity?
It takes a lot to combat this, and I cannot say that I’ve come across anything that is anywhere near fool-proof. It takes a lot of letting the incorrect thoughts come in, and go right out. Letting them happen, but not taking the time to dwell or meditate on those negative thoughts. It also takes reminding yourself of your accomplishments. That doesn’t mean bragging, but celebrating your own accomplishments and successes is not equal to being boastful, and that’s something that’s important to remember.
While there are a lot of tips and tricks on the internet on how to combat Imposter Phenomenon, there’s no cure. Though it’s more commonly referred to as a ‘syndrome’, that’s an inaccurate term. It’s not diagnosable as a syndrome would actually be, and as such, there’s no real treatment you can apply to the so-called ‘syndrome’.
This means that this is something we will all have to deal with in times to come. There’s no real way around it; it’s just something that we have to learn to deal with in our own way.
When it comes right down to it, though having a career or job in STEM may present itself to be an advantage when writing about STEM, it’s not a requirement. The requirement is that you check over your work, research the facts as best you can (talking to experts when possible is a huge plus), and when you’ve presented something incorrectly, taking the criticism your receive in stride and work on how you can prevent that the next time.
I’ve learned a lot in the past year, and I can say that I’m very proud of FemSTEM and all it’s become. I know though, that despite this, I’m still going to deal with the negative emotions that come along with ‘Imposter Syndrome’. That’s okay, as long as I keep on learning how to deal with it and to not allow it to cloud my judgment.
*As of right now, all of our articles are in English. In the future, we’d like to hire translators to make this more of a global outreach.
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