7 answers

Did you ever feel like you had to prove your worth and capabilities in STEM to your peers and/or colleagues? How did you go about doing so?

Updated New York, New York

As a STEM student (civil engineering major), I am constantly reminded about how important it is to stand out from my peers, whether in grades, extracurricular activities/leadership, internships, etc. I feel like going into a STEM education, I've only began realizing how competitive STEM fields are becoming, and that it seems like a basic requirement to have something(s) that apparently proves your worth, capabilities, and knowledge to show to other people. Personally, that takes away some of my enjoyment in being in STEM, because I find it distracting at times, but I wonder how everyone else handles this notion, if they relate to it anyhow. I welcome answers from everyone, including students, professors, and professionals. (Thank you for reading my question as well!) In particular, I am especially curious about the perspective of those who come from minority/underrepresented backgrounds, because I feel that in that area there are also some variations to consider about. #college #career #stem-career

#stem #women-in-stem

7 answers

Alexa’s Answer

Updated Portland, Oregon

It’s such a good question, and I especially appreciate that you’re highlighting that those from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM aware going to have a different take on this. I have been working in STEM (first as an engineer and now as an engineering manager) for about two and a half years, and I feel that I need to prove my worth every day. In my experience, that drive can become consuming and has never made my life better or made me a better engineer. There are always going to be people who have strengths that I don’t have and I can’t set myself up to try to beat all of those people. I try to turn my drive to prove my worth into just being there best engineer/manager I can be on a daily basis. That means I try to make choices that are best for the business, I work hard, and I seek feedback from my peers and my managers regularly and I adjust my behavior accordingly. I make sure I’m important to the business because ultimately that’s what matters. I try not to compare myself to others, but I compare me to past me and measure my progress that way.

Thank you for your response! Have there ever been periods of time where you felt that you weren't progressing as quickly, effectively, etc. as you have been in the past?

Irene’s Answer

Updated Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

Hi Clio,

In my experience competition between STEM students can become quite toxic and it's hard not to let it get to you, specially if you feel like you are starting from a "worse" place but in reality if you are learning and getting involved with the field that you like you'll end up in a good place without sacrificing the other areas of life.

I did my undergraduate in Electronics Engineering and there were less than 10 women in my whole year, so I was always a bit afraid of my classmates thinking that I was less capable (which was fairly justified since they were a lot more forgiving when another guy made mistakes), my way of 'proving' myself was through academics, so I always got great grades no matter the cost, in the end this was worst for my life-quality and my career in the long run, because I sacrificed experiences and didn't take as many risks. For my Master I did a 180 and started doing things that I truly liked, I ate better, had more friends and managed to learn more (and still kept good grades for a scholarship).

So my overall advice would be to ignore all the external stressors and do your best for yourself. Do things that you like, don't sacrifice your life-quality and take risks (internship, classes) even if you could do other things that would get you certain recognition. You don't have to prove yourself to anyone else, even if it feels like you do now.

Hi Irene, thanks so much for your answer and advice! Actually, I'm very happy to be part of an engineering program with a fairly balanced gender ratio, because I can only imagine how intimidating and out-of-place it would feel like to one of few women in a STEM environment. I really do respect you for that :)
I have ons and offs with caring about and working for excellent grades, because I enjoy working at internships much more than my actual study in STEM in college (Personally, I just have never been fond of studying growing up, and engineering is likely the only field I could persevere in despite that out of passion,) I would also like to feel that I don't have to prove myself to anyone else, but I also understand that sometimes certain opportunities are only given to a select few of people, which puts me (and others) in an awkward position especially as a student. But I will keep what you've said in mind. :)

Leonardo’s Answer

I didn't compare myself with my peers in college because I couldn't compete lol. I chose to do computer engineering so I was learning how to code while all my classmates were coding since middle school. I just made sure to do my best and not be shy to ask for help.

Also realize that college is the really really early stages of your life/career. You have like 30 years after college to "catch up" or "beat them".

My general philosophy is you can overcome most obstacles and achieve any goal with hard work.

Sometimes I forget that college is just a starting point, because I have a compulsive tendency to just do my best for everything that I get interested in. It's not that I'm interested in 'beating' people, because I find that to be a very arrogant and mean perspective personally, it's just that the goals my interests bring me to end up aligning with that approach and it's also very discouraging for me to think about. But thank you, I will keep your response in mind. :)
Also in retrospect. I realize there is lot of opportunity to have a successful job or career without being ultra competitive. If you do reasonably well in college, you will get a job that allows you to live comfortably. Also realize that for specific opportunities it is a competition, what if there are only 2 spots in a city you want to work in for a certain company and there are 10 applicants? Why is viewing the experience as a competition discouraging?
This might sound odd, but to be honest, I feel like if I 'win' that kind of competition, I have stolen the opportunity from equally if not more qualified peers.
When determining a "more qualified peer" you have to think about the company's needs as well. Academics is one dimension. Culture fit is actually more important. It's easier to teach someone a new skill vs changing their attitude. There are many hard and soft skills that are assessed. Trust a company's decision that you were the right hire. As for the other candidates, there are plenty of other positions for engineers.

Maureen’s Answer

Updated Portland, Oregon

I've absolutely felt that way! And felt and still feel incredibly intimidated when I see others excelling. I learned that I can give myself permission to slow down, and think through problems at my own speed, and that I don't have to work the same way as everyone else, or stand out in order to be a valuable contributor. My company greatly admires contributors who are consistent, thoughtful, and who can advocate for the business needs, or customer needs, above their personal needs. Do work that you are proud of, no matter how simple it is, and use that to find people to work with who value that as well!

Thank you for your advice! Yes, I would like to have that attitude as I join the workforce after college.

Zach’s Answer

Updated Portland, Oregon

Yes, I have definitely felt this in the past. I think the best way to think about this is that, if you are spending lots of time worrying about how you compare to your peers, you might not be as focused on getting better at your skills. If you just keep focused on learning, and improving from where you are personally, then the chances are that it will just work out that you end up beating your peers. I wouldn't put too much weight on how you are performing in college, since there is plenty of time to perform in the work place, and people can drift apart over time as jobs and interests change. Some people move away for work too, and so the feelings you have about your peers in college may not end up mattering in the long run.

Thank you for reminding me to think about the long term, as in many cases certain feelings and thoughts about things go away and/or decrease in importance after some time.

Jereena’s Answer

Updated Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

First of all, I would like to highlight that pursuing STEM education is an individual's choice. There is no need to prove your worth to anyone including your peers or colleagues, rather you should be rigorous about your work and learnings which will ultimately bring you success, and visibility among your peers. There is no pressure to stand out in any crowd, but remember Darwin's theory of Survival of the Fittest, which is happening and will be the future. So, do not focus on how to stand out rather try to learn, be curious about things, and success will be all yours.

Adelle’s Answer

Updated Gloversville, New York

Yes, I have felt that throughout my entire career, but I think that can be a good thing. I recently read a book called "Brag" by Peggy Klaus. It talks about how you can let others know what you have accomplished. People don't know what you can do or what great things you have done unless you tell them. It's ok to "toot your own horn" and share with peers, managers, and other stakeholders. I meet with my manager weekly and share my accomplishments with him at that time, and I will forward to him any emails where I get "kudos" from others.