I almost feel like I shouldn’t admit this – it’s something all grad students are supposed to have (as far as I can make out), I had a talk about it in my first week and it’s come up since then too. I’m not belittling it, and I know it’s something a lot of grad students do suffer from, and it’s really horrible.
I know it’s really horrible, because I used to have impostor syndrome. And, don’t get me wrong, I still get feelings of crushing inadequacy. But – I don’t feel that I don’t deserve to be at grad school.
Yesterday, I was in a talk. There were about 40-50 people there. I was the only woman. This is situation normal in CS. Well, a little below normal – usually there’s one or two other women. I asked a question, there was an acronym I didn’t understand – SWEBOK, and I was told I should know what it was. A show of hands revealed that I was not (by far) the only one – when I got a chance to Google it later it turns out that it’s what you should know after working in Software Engineering for 4 years.
Anyway, I don’t let that kind of thing make me feel bad about myself anymore. I looked up what it was, and I won’t need to ask that question again. I no longer think having those questions is a sign of weakness.
So I used to have impostor syndrome. It used to bother me that I’d be the only girl in my group, one of few in my class. I used to get really angry because I felt that I needed to work twice as hard to get the respect of my peers. I used to get even angrier when I realized that wouldn’t win me the respect of all of them. And I used to think that I needed to give up part of who I am (the part of me that likes to put on makeup, consider my outfit choice, make time to go outside and to exercise) in order to be a geek, and that to be good at CS I would need to be a geek.
But I don’t care anymore. Being one of few women means that I’m less intimidated to speak to the other women that are there, and I’ve interacted with and met some cool people this way. Working twice as hard may not have got me the respect of everyone, but it got me the respect of those I respect in return – much more valuable, in my opinion. And it got me a good degree from the University of Edinburgh, into grad school here in Ottawa, and a good GPA. It’s got me valuable work experience, and a work ethic that will help me when I venture into industry (and learn the SWEBOK). I think that the way the industry is going, not being a geek will in fact work to my advantage.
Working recently, there was some sexism going on. Shamefully, the worst of it was from another woman. But so what? She was only holding herself back, not me – it’s irritating, sure, but I’m not going to get worked up about it. When my expertise is overlooked because my boss thinks the guy must be smarter it grates, sure, but if I have some insight, it’s not me that’s missing out – it’s the people who didn’t think I was worth listening too. Ultimately, this attitude of negating half the population (in fact, more than half their employees) will hold their business back, not me.
It’s taken a while, but I’m not an impostor in grad school, and I’m not an impostor in my field. And the biggest reason as to why? Because I’ve built up a network of people who respect me, who rate who I am and what I do. People I met through my degree, along the winding path that took me here to uOttawa, and here as well.
At the moment, I’m working really hard with the rest of the exec committee to get a chapter of Women in Science and Engineering going at uOttawa. Carleton have made a big success of CU:WISE and I hope we can emulate that. We’ll be running a lot of outreach, but what I’m most excited about is building a community where Women in Science and Engineering can get together, build their support network, and eventually say, “I Don’t Have Impostor Syndrome, Either”.