Girls in STEM: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Tik-tok. Tik-tok. I anxiously watch the clock as I remain seated for the rest of my class to show up. Am I even in the right class? Can I even do this? What if this is too hard for me?

I check my schedule again for the umpteenth time. Physics 30. Room 2153. Yep. I was in the right spot.

I scan the room. 44 empty seats.

I tap my foot restlessly. I arrived early on purpose, but I had no other choice, really. The seats at the front always get taken quickly and I needed a seat at the front. Sure, I was studious and dedicated to the class. But more importantly, if I sat at the front, I would not have to worry about seeing my classmates. Just the whiteboard. Just the physics.

If I couldn’t see my classmates in the first place, I wouldn’t feel different from them. I wouldn’t feel like I didn’t belo—

Here they come. They sensed my doubt as their cue. They started filing in, like ants exploding from an anthill, taking up the seats. My eyes dart around the room as they take control of the first row. My precious first row.

No, stop! Those seats are for people like me!

I feel my heart jump up to my throat, pounding under my mouth. The pressure builds up as my eyes surge water and my dam of certainty and confidence starts to crumble.

I wait for the class to settle down, and reluctantly scan the room. 45 filled seats.
41 boys.
And, 1, 2, 3…

I point a finger at myself. 4.
4 girls.
The rest of the girls sit scattered at the back of the class, surrounded by male peers.

There it is again. That ocean of self-doubt slowly surges upwards. The room fills with the chatter of my classmates, oblivious to the internal battle I was fighting. Doubt and insecurity threaten to consume me as I sit there, feeling like an outsider in my own pursuit of knowledge. The lack of representation and the overwhelming presence of male peers intensifies my uncertainty.

I am not supposed to be here. This is a boys’ class, what was I thinking? That I, a girl, would have the mental capacity to learn physics? How can I be successful if I am not even confident in my own abilities?

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

According to Randstad, STEM is an ever-growing field, with women making up less than 25% of the workforce. That is a daunting statistic for young women. But, we have to remember, that only you know what you are capable of. Gender cannot determine our aptitude to pursue a specific career. It depends on our determination, intelligence, and ability to problem-solve. So, here are five tips for when your confidence fails.

Join an Affinity Group

Affinity groups offer a supportive community of like-minded individuals who share common experiences and challenges. They provide a safe space for young women to connect, share insights, and seek advice. The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) emphasizes that these groups foster a sense of belonging and help combat the feeling of isolation often experienced by women in STEM.

Find a Mentor

Seeing a successful role model who has overcome similar obstacles can ignite your belief in your own capabilities, enabling you to embrace your passion without reservation. A mentor can help dispel the confidence gap and pervasive stereotypes surrounding women in STEM. Mentors can provide insights, strategies, and encouragement to help young women navigate these challenges.

Welcome New Opportunities

By stepping outside their comfort zones, young women can explore different areas of STEM and gain exposure to diverse disciplines. Immersing themselves in these opportunities, they gain practical skills, technical expertise, and a deeper understanding of their field. This competence not only enhances their confidence but also strengthens their competitiveness in the male-dominated STEM landscape. The Dream It, Be It program allows teenage girls to explore careers and create action plans to help them on the path to career success.

Failure is Your Friend

In STEM fields, experimentation is the bedrock of progress. However, stereotypes often reinforce the notion that women are less capable in STEM fields, leading to self-doubt and hesitancy. Remember to embrace your mistakes! This resilience becomes a powerful tool for navigating the challenges and biases you will face in the future. Understand that each misstep brings valuable insights and lessons.

Celebrate your Successes

Take your time to acknowledge and celebrate your achievements, reinforce your skills and worth, reminding yourself that you belong in this field. Each milestone reached serves as a testament to your capabilities and fuels your motivation to persevere. Moreover, celebrating success not only uplifts individuals but also highlights the need for equal recognition and representation.

Marukh Zafar is a high school senior who is eagerly looking forward to embarking on her journey as a first-year engineering student at the University of Calgary. She is a passionate advocate for women’s empowerment and gender equality who believes in the transformative power of education. Using her personal experiences and dedication to social justice, she wants to break down barriers that hinder women from pursuing their dreams. In her free time, she enjoys exploring the outdoors and spending time with her family.

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