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Losing the doubt: How scientists can make the change from “aspiring” to actual

Losing the doubt: How scientists can make the change from “aspiring” to actual

June 24, 2018 0 Comments

Neuroscience Prize 2016

Women don’t give themselves enough credit.

Studies have found that women perceive themselves as less competent in comparison to their male peers, especially in the sciences. This confidence gap is a significant disadvantage for women in the workplace – and is likely the reason we have fewer women graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math.

But women have been working hard to overcome our history of negative self-perception. Recently, women on Twitter have started changing their handles and adding their academic credentials to their name with the hashtag #ImmodestWomen. This is part of a movement to demand that others – especially men – recognize and respect their title.



Women need to recognize their achievements

Acknowledging your accomplishments as a woman in STEM can be challenging. The imposter syndrome is a valid issue that many women experience in their careers. I often see young women with Twitter bios that list “aspiring” before the name of their chosen career, as if they are afraid that they might get called out if they don’t add that little word of doubt. But many of these “aspiring” ladies are very clearly putting in the work for their career every day without giving themselves recognition. In fact, until recently I was one of those women.


Sarah Olson - Science Writer


I am a science writer, and I recently changed my Twitter bio. Sitting in front of my laptop, I took a deep breath and deleted “aspiring”, then saved the update. It was fine to list “aspiring” during my first two years of college while I explored the field, but after two travel fellowships and a handful of science writing publications, then launching my own science-themed blog, I suddenly realized I was no longer “aspiring” – I was an actual science writer. I write about science every day, both for my job and for fun. Because I am still in college, I felt like an imposter claiming to already be a science writer. Now, I embrace it.

What does it really take to go from “aspiring” to actual? In my opinion, it takes competence and confidence.


Fashion Surgeon


Step one: Become competent in whatever you do

Competence is relatively straightforward. Do you want to be a science communicator? Then share science with others. Do you want to be an artist? Make art. Do science. Do whatever you need to do, but you need to do the thing every day, or at least as often as you can. You will become much more than competent with time and practice. You just need to focus on doing the thing.

As a science writer, that means I write about science every day. Five days a week I go in to my summer internship as a science writer for a university and write about research and news. On the weekends, I blog about science books and do creative science writing. If I miss a day or two now and then, it doesn’t matter. I’ll make up for it the next day. Remember – over time, competence will transform into expertise.




Step two: Learn to be confident in yourself

While confidence is much more difficult to learn, I think anyone can manage it by breaking it down into a simple formula:  

Confidence = being yourself + believing in yourself

Being yourself means embracing your individuality and feeling proud about what makes you who you are. It can be difficult to learn because many of us are afraid of judgment. Being yourself is a vulnerable thing. But vulnerability is also one of our greatest tools for connecting with the world. Your greatest contribution is being you; no one else has your unique perspective or personality.

Maybe you are approaching a method of research from a new angle. Maybe you want to find a creative way to share your science with the world. If you trust yourself and your passions, you will find your own ways of doing these things.


Women in STEM wearing science dresses from Shenova Fashion 

Being yourself also means embracing your own style.

This is one of the reasons I love Shenova Fashion. They encourage women to express themselves and their passion for STEM by embracing their individuality. If that means wearing a gorgeous science-y dress that shows off your interests, then go for it. When I am wearing an outfit that I can be myself in, I feel much more confident. I think many women feel this way because clothes help us express ourselves and share our style.

The other aspect of confidence is believing in yourself. It can be hard to share your passion with the world if you don’t think you will accomplish anything by doing it! I see many “aspiring science communicators” on Twitter. If you are on Twitter and sharing your science with your followers, whatever their number might be, then congratulations – you are an actual science communicator.


Cara Santa Maria wearing Neuroscience Retina Dress 


Part of believing in yourself is sharing your story.

Where you come from and the experiences that shaped you are not things you should be afraid of sharing – they help you tell your story. I don’t attend a big-name university and I struggle with having to work full-time to put myself through community college – often this leaves me in an awkward position between “student” and “adult”.

I have had to learn how to not be ashamed of where I come from even though I worry about being judged. If your background is untraditional or you are nervous to share your story because of how others will react, learning to be confident by sharing your story can help you overcome this.

So I propose a new hashtag: #stempowerment.

It’s the radical idea that we can empower each other by encouraging others, sharing our stories, and celebrating our diversity. We could all use a little help on the path from “aspiring” to actual.


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