Navigating Competition and Community Building

Girls in STEM Mentor jan Choudhury

by | 15 May, 2024 | STEM Untapped

So, you’ve done a few research projects and have now decided to do a few STEM subjects in school. This all eventually accumulates into a STEM degree. Congratulations, you’re now a Woman in STEM! Now what?

I’m still trying to find my way around what makes me a WiSTEM, and how I can use that as my superpower. The inner workings of the cogs are what excites me about this group and phrase that’s been formed, and I still sometimes have doubts about whether I feel like I belong. At the end of the day, we all live on one giant, floating rock, so a sense of identity helps us sometimes, and other times we want to remain anonymous and live freely.

Competition between women isn’t spoken about enough, though the idea of being in a community among women sounds empowering! So where does the line get drawn?

1. My personal experience with STEM
Late bloomers are usually associated with puberty, though I’m going to call myself a late bloomer to the world of STEM. For a while, I really enjoyed Law and Social Sciences, and was convinced I would go down this route as a career. This took a halt after I finished my GCSEs: I remember the summer of anticipation, and I randomly had the urge to learn something new. A language of sorts, but something where you could create your own destiny: Python. I spent that summer teaching myself this crazy new skill, and it felt so cool when I didn’t know that many people who also knew the same things as I did.

When I got to college, this all changed. I could’ve studied Computer Science, though I decided not to as I didn’t know whether I wanted to give up my Law dreams just yet. Then again, I didn’t study Law either: at degree level, neither one is needed beforehand, so I decided to stick to Mathematics as my only STEM subject.

2. Imposter syndrome
At that point, I became friends with a lot of people who studied Computer Science, and that was something that made me feel like I didn’t belong in STEM. “So you’re only taking Mathematics [and you’re studying Humanities?]” was a shock to some, and to others, the shock was “You’re taking Mathematics? I could never”. I never felt like I was really on one side, and the feeling of not being ‘Mathsy’ enough for STEM students and not being creative enough for Humanities students was something that made me question what I really wanted.

Imposter syndrome only really ever comes from within. Though sources of your thoughts are external, your thoughts are yours alone, and this can only hinder you if you let them. Sometimes competition comes from within – actually, most of the time it does. You need to let go of your ego and do what’s best for you. I’ve now found that out through my own self-development and doing what feels best for me: continuously meeting new people through coding camps and events, advocating for other young women to disrupt the STEM status quo, and looking internally to better my own wellbeing.

3. Competition between women
I’ve heard that it’s easier for men to become friends with each other than women. Luckily, I haven’t really felt this within the STEM space. It’s rather that some women think they’re better because they know more about something you’re interested in, or do better in school.

I’ve only had one experience before during a coding camp when I attended office hours for help on a concept I wasn’t grasping properly. The help that I got was actually just the notion of “we covered this today, you should’ve already asked earlier and known it by now”. I’d like to think this just happened to be that that person was just not feeling positive on that day, but when you’re supposed to support each other, it was a shock.

I often find myself helping other people to alleviate these things from happening to other young women. This started once I began participating more in coding camps and programmes, such as Talent Spaces’ Empowered Females in STEM programme, where I worked in a team to tackle an issue raised by Dyson.

4. Community-building: a tool of enablement
Through these experiences, I’ve connected with people on different networks, but mainly Instagram and LinkedIn. I didn’t post much on social media in the past, and I still don’t, but my main source of spreading my message is through stories. Using one account for both my personal and professional development has allowed me to keep in touch with people from events and get to learn more about them personally. For example, if we listen to similar artists, or enjoy reading similar books.

One way of building a community is to engage in activities to broaden your knowledge. This can be in both an academic and social setting, and the most successful case of this is Kode with Klossy’s coding camps. The alumni network is gigantic, and just the number of people who have completed it in the same year as me is crazy. Connecting with them has inspired me about what I can achieve in the future and it’s always amazing to see everyone pushing each other up.

I often find myself applying for things, and occasionally on a whim to see where it would get me. There’s no harm in applying, and the benefits are bountiful if you do get accepted! That’s the mindset that I like to have whenever I have doubts about whether I’m ever capable of participating in the first place. A Hewlett Packard internal report states that men will apply for jobs if they meet at least 60% of the requirements, though women are more likely to apply if they meet 100% of them – we need women to be more sure of their capabilities and building a support system around you definitely helps you when you’re having doubts.

5. Final thoughts
Competition can be healthy within reason, but ensure that you don’t push yourself. Reminder: you’re all here to, ultimately, support and uplift one another. If you ever do face harsh competition, try not to internalise any negative feelings and step out of the situation; it’s most likely a reflection of the person who’s projecting that onto you.

This can be combated by creating a community around you. Immerse yourself in the rooms you know you will be elevated in. It might feel daunting to go to events yourself, but the possibility of meeting new people and creating your own network with them can motivate you to become a better version of yourself.

Be yourself. It’s often overlooked, but also underrated
Don’t do things to please others. You’re living for yourself
Everyone is running their own race. You may look up to people now, but you may even get on their level of seniority down the line; just give yourself the time to grow

Related Articles

Q&A with Engineering Students

Our Youth Advisory Board sent some questions to Lucia and Alex to gain insight into what it means to study engineering; what university life is really like and how they transitioned from studying A-Levels to a degree. Lucia is a Mechanical and Electrical Engineering...

Fast-track access to expert innovation insight and thinking – OnTap When You Need It

Written by Nicole Phan

Nicole is an Economics and Data Science undergraduate student