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Successful Woman Computer Scientist Addresses Imposter Syndrome

Impostor syndrome is the frequent feeling of not deserving one’s success, and of being of a failure despite a sustained record of achievements. Highly successful people often experience it throughout their careers, especially when they are members of a group that is underrepresented in their profession—such as female scientists or engineers. In every job I’ve had in the last 25 years, I’ve been the first woman to hold my position—head of computer science and dean of science at the University of British Columbia, dean of engineering at Princeton, and now president of Harvey Mudd College. As my career progressed, so did the intensity of my feelings of failure.

Now I wake up most days with a voice on the left side of my head telling me what an incredible failure I am. But the voice on the right side tells me that I can change the world—and I try to pay more attention to it. My life goal in changing the world is to make the culture of science and engineering supportive of everyone with interest, ability, and willingness to work hard, independent of race, gender, sexual orientation, other interests, or anything else. For that to happen, we need more women, people of color, poets, artists, ballroom dancers, and football players to enter, succeed, and persist in all areas of science and engineering. The field I’ve spent the most time on is computer science, partly because it, together with mathematics, is my discipline, and partly because it’s the only area of science and engineering where participation by women has significantly decreased during the last 30 years.

Read more at Slate



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