Written By Dr Felicia Fullilove
Doubt….the most dangerous feeling anyone pursing a goal can experience. “Am I good enough?” “Am I smart enough?” “Will I fail?” All of these are questions I have asked myself during my pursuit of my bachelors’ degree and Ph.D. To be honest, I still dabble with doubt as I navigate my career. Doubt is dangerous because it can prevent you from applying for that scholarship, fellowship, job or grant. Doubt is dangerous because it is an intangible feeling that can steal an opportunity from you. Doubt is a friend to no one.
Let’s be frank, as a Black Women in STEM, the numbers are not in our favor. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the latest NSF report on PhD’s awarded in the United States. (NSF Tables) In 2015, women made up 46% of all Ph.D’s awarded in the US. Of that 46%, 3% were black women. Out of roughly 55,000 people who received a Ph.D in 2015, 1660 were black women. This means, more often than not, you will be the only face in the room that looks like you and that fact alone can contribute to your feelings of self-doubt.
The question is not whether you’ll experience doubt; the question is how will you handle it? How will you overcome it? How will you foster your #blackgirlmagic? While there is no one-size fits all answer, these are my keys for overcoming doubt and fostering your #blackgirlmagic:
1) Acknowledge that you are magical. This may seem silly, but it is true. The numbers (see above) say you shouldn’t be where you are, but you are. This is not by accident, you are where you are because you have worked hard and have the intellectual savvy to accomplish every goal you set.
2) Believe that you belong and that you matter. REPEAT. YOU BELONG. This is sometimes a hard point to get across, especially when no one in your research group understands you or dare I say, respects you. People will doubt your abilities; prove them wrong by constantly excelling.
3) Create, Find, Join a support group! This is key! My core group of friends are the reason why I have a Ph.D. today. These friends will be the people you run to in times of despair, they will celebrate you, support you and always buy you a drink when you need it. Note, these people may or may not be separate from family. Personally, I found during school and even now, it was difficult to explain my frustrations in lab/work to my family, they just did not get it. They had never worked in STEM and did not understand my frustrations. This did not, however, mean they did not support me. How might one, find a support group? Join a campus organization that focuses on minorities in your discipline (or create it). Organizations like NSBE, NOBCChE, MCNNARS, SACNAS, etc are great for creating supportive communities.
4) FIND A MENTOR or MENTORS. This is also a major key. A mentor is someone who will make sure you are up to par professionally. Whether, this is an individual that can review your resume, discuss your professional goals with, or just keep it real with you. A mentor is key in helping you identify any deficiencies you may have and how to overcome them.
5) Finally, acknowledge that you are HUMAN and invest in self-care. Studying and working can be overwhelming. And while you may believe that your best work is achieved last minute (read procrastinating and stressed), take a break and take care of yourself. Whether its taking a bath, reading a book, taking a step back may help with re-focusing and eliminating any thoughts of doubt you have. I would also suggest investing in some professional therapy. Throughout my journey, I found it is good to talk to an unbiased professional about your feelings of self-doubt. Remember, mental health matters and it is a crucial component of self-care.
In all, doubt is inevitable, but it does not have to control your life or well-being. Hopefully, these steps will help re-enforce the fact that you are capable of achieving every goal you set for yourself. As always, continue to exude #blackgirlmagic
Dr Fullilove is a lecturer in Chemistry at Spelman College and graduated with a PhD in Chemistry from Emory University. She is interested in all things STEM and mentoring younger women in STEM
Follow her on Instagram @drquin