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  • Writer's pictureKaylah Holmes

Mismeasuring Women in STEM: A Catalyst in the Imposter syndrome Phenomenon

Hey FemNeuro readers, my name is Clara Guillem! I am 23 years old and I’m currently a second year molecular biology PhD student at Vanderbilt University.

What were some obstacles or difficulties you faced pursuing this career ?

Getting to this point was extremely difficult and took a lot of hard work. During college, I often had sleepless nights watching the sunrise while studying for my next exam. I had to sacrifice some great opportunities. Once, an anthropology professor invited me to Thailand for the summer to participate in an archaeology dig site (anthropology was my minor and this professor really liked me) and I had to say no so that I could stay on campus and work on my biology research instead. Another big obstacle that I experienced in college was learning how to manage my intellectual disability (ADHD) without medication and still push through for my career.

How does gender discrimination play a role in your career path thus far.

Gender discrimination has played a huge role in my career so far. In college specifically I experienced a lot of subtle discrimination in my STEM classes, especially if I showed up wearing a “girly” outfit or makeup. I experienced many instances in which men would “mansplain” to me or tell me that I must have gotten an answer wrong because they had written something different, when indeed I was correct.

When was a specific moment you realized you were viewed differently in the scientific world because of your gender?

My college was holding a research symposium where everyone presented a poster and judges voted on who would win. I ended up winning based on my microbiome research, which was very exciting. A biology professor I had at the time asked how I felt about it. I told him I was very surprised that people were that interested in my research. He proceeded to say “I think it was the tan,” because I was tan from spring break. Even though this was meant to be a joke, it implied that my appearance, rather than my intellect, had something to do with me winning the research symposium. To this day I still wonder if certain opportunities I am given are based on the way I look rather than merit.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career thus far

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that imposter syndrome is real and especially prevalent amongst women (and POC). I struggle with it daily and am still searching for methods to help me feel like less of an imposter.

What advice do you have for girls who feel discouraged from pursuing a career in STEM because of their gender?

Do not let them win! Use the discrimination as fuel and motivation to be the very best you can be in that field! Report any discriminatory situations you feel comfortable reporting and do not let them quiet you.

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