To be a minority in STEM………

Having just one week left of research, I’m filled with conflicting feelings. Most of what little data I have is somewhere between mediocre and trash, and the goals I laid out at the start of summer remain largely unfulfilled. Yet, for the first time in my life, I’ve been feeling like someone who belongs in the world of physics research.

I initially blamed my under-performance on this newfound belonging. It appeared as though I had overcome impostor syndrome: the urgency of fearing that I would never be a scientist was gone, and with it my academic fervor. My spot in academia seemed less precarious now that I was meeting other scientists, conducting research, actually understanding academic articles. Suddenly I didn’t feel as though I had to prove myself.

Torturous though impostor syndrome may be, I was looking back at it like it was the only redeeming quality I’d ever possessed…. And that’s when it hit me. My impostor syndrome never left– it just got a new look. All summer, I’ve been subconsciously convincing myself that the only thing that got me to where I am is fear. I saw no way to achieve my goals without that fear, so I slowly gave up on them. My dreams are too big, my brain too small. I’ve been self-sabotaging my research.

Even with an encouraging research mentor, even with a healthy list of accomplishments, even with solid grades, I still couldn’t see the extent to which a few prior negative experiences were influencing my mindset. I got through two books about minorities in academia before I realized what was going on. The big lesson I’ve learned through X-SIG thus far is that we need to be doing more for minorities in STEM. While I gave up on myself as a researcher, I still had a curiosity about the ways in which my identity have affected my performance in physics. If this curiosity weren’t there to begin with, I may not have stumbled upon terms like impostor syndrome or stereotype threat. I may not have noticed the voice in my head saying that I was inherently lazy and inept. And I may have let this summer be the beginning and end of my research career.


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