This post was contributed as part of our long-standing WOC Wednesday series. That series pre-dated our more recent #BLM Guest Post series. I continue to solicit guest posts for both series; payment is $150. Poetry/art and profanity is welcome. Due to large response new submissions may not be posted until August/Sept.
By: Jacinda C. Abdul-Mutakabbir. Dr. Jacinda Abdul-Mutakabbir is currently an Infectious Disease Pharmacokinetics/ Pharmacodynamics (PK/PD) Research Fellow at Wayne State University under the tutelage of Dr. Michael J. Rybak PharmD, MPH, PhD. In addition to the completion of the PK/PD fellowship, Jacinda is also completing a Masters’ Degree in Public Health with a focus in Public Health Practice. Upon completion of her PK/PD fellowship Jacinda will be entering an Assistant Professor position at Loma Linda School of Pharmacy in Loma Linda, CA. As an emerging practitioner, her primary research interests include translating her in vitro research, focusing on multidrug-resistant bacteria, to improve patient treatment strategies in vivo. Her dedication to improving public health has been recognized by the United States Public Health Services, as she was the 2017 recipient of the USPHS Outstanding Service Award. Additionally, her research has led her to be recognized by the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases one of their 30 under 30 outstanding young scientists, for their ECCMID 2021 31st annual meeting. Dr. Abdul-Mutakabbir continues to be an active member of several professional organization including the American Academy of HIV Medicine (AAHIVM), Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), American Society of Microbiology (ASM), and the Society of Infectious Disease Pharmacists (SIDP).
What Black Girls Do When Impostor Syndrome Peeks Through
By: Jacinda C. Abdul-Mutakabbir
These last few weeks have been, for lack of a better word, heavy. It has been a heavy time for every Black person living in America. I’ve given to countless “Jail Bailout funds”, I’ve shielded my eyes every time I saw a video of a police shooting of an unarmed black man on the internet. I’ve cried so man tears thinking of the uncertainties I face every single day. I’m uncertain of my husband’s safety, my father and brother’s safety. I’m uncertain about my own safety, plagued with the fact that at any moment my life can be meaninglessly taken. I’m faced with the harsh reality that despite holding a doctorate degree and almost 20 years’ worth of education, my life won’t matter. It’s been in these last few weeks that I’ve truly come to terms with the harsh reality that despite doing everything right, despite following every rule, Black lives are viewed as dispensable. In a country that has founded itself on being “the land of the free, and the home of the brave”, as a black woman, irrespective of the degrees and accolades that I hold, that is not the America that I’m allowed to live in. I’m not allowed to wear the pretty rose-colored glasses.
So, given the harsh climate of the last few weeks; I have been heavy in prayer, heavy in grief, and heavy introspection. During my journey of introspection, I have begun to think about my next steps, and ultimately my impending transition into academia. Interestingly, my thoughts have continued to center around feelings of inadequacy, which are unfortunately, feelings that I can easily identify.
On one particular day, a day I would classify as being a “darker” one, I felt my chest begin to tighten and I immediately thought back to my most pivotal collision with feelings of incompetence.
It all started with an email. My fellowship mentor sent an email out on a random Friday afternoon telling myself and my three other co-fellows to apply for a recognition list. The European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) has an annual conference, however in 2020, they would be celebrating their 30th International meeting. In celebration of this milestone, ECCMID announced that they would be selecting 30 international outstanding young scientists to be featured on a 30 under 30 recognition list. To be honest, I had no intentions of applying for the 30 under 30 list. In my head there was no way that I could be selected from a huge pool of international scientist to be included in this list, it was virtually impossible. Well, fast forward to Christmas Break 2019, I’m restless with too much time on my hands, so I decided to go ahead and apply. Just to cross it off of my “to do” list, right? There was no way that I would selected for the 30 under 30 list, right? Well, fast forward to January 16th, 2020 I get an email from ECCMID in regard to the 30 under 30 list. It wasn’t until this moment that I realized I didn’t know when those that were selected for this list would be announced, that’s how sure I was that I wouldn’t be selected. I remember scanning the email and just knowing that it was rejection. I had to read the email two additional times to realize that I had actually been selected for the recognition list.
This should have been one of my happiest moments in my budding career. I should have been ecstatic that all the work that I’d put in was finally being recognized. I had put in long days, long nights, for over 7 years of schooling and while completing 3 years of additional training. The moment I found out the news, I called my mother. She was over the moon, but the first thing she asked me was “how do you feel about this?” I had to truly take inventory of my feelings after finding out the news. Finally, after about two minutes of silence, I told her that I felt like I was on the verge of a panic attack. I didn’t feel like I deserved the honor, I could think of about ten different people that in my mind were more deserving. Most of all, I just kept saying to myself “people are going to expect more from me”, “I’m going to expect more from myself”. So, with that thought in mind, I began over working myself, over committing myself, trying to find a way to validate the accomplishment.
Well, over working myself was only sustainable for a short time until I was sobbing nonstop in my car. I figured it was time to talk to my therapist about what was going on, so that she could help me make sense of what I was feeling. In short, she explained to me that I was experiencing “impostor syndrome”. She told me that despite my accomplishments, I was over working myself to avoid being exposed as a “fraud”. I couldn’t help but agree with her because that was exactly the way that I felt. I felt like a fraud, and at any point someone would expose the fact that I wasn’t an “outstanding scientist”.
The most significant thing that my therapist pointed out to me was that black women were amongst the highest number of individuals that suffer from imposter syndrome. Which makes complete sense. How often are we told that we are not good enough? How often are we the “only” or the “first” of our kind? How often are we compared to our other counterparts of different racial backgrounds? With that, I knew that I had to be vigilant in finding ways to overcome this feeling of “not being good enough”. I knew that this wasn’t something that I wanted to continually have an effect on how I viewed and acknowledged my success. So, I have a few tips on managing impostor syndrome, stemming from how I’ve managed my own:
1. Posting Positive Affirmations- My mother purchased a deck of cards for me from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. The cards were called “Girl Boss”, and they have a positive affirmation for each day of the week for an entire year. Although this may seem asinine, it helps to have a card scream at you “YOU CAN DO IT! YOU WERE MADE FOR THIS” I’ve found filling my workspace with positive affirmations to be extremely helpful in fighting off thoughts of doubt that seep in during the workday.
2. Learn to evaluate constructive criticism- As a professional, and a trainee I have received A LOT of criticism. Some criticism has been delivered more constructive than others. With that, I’ve learned when to, “take the meat and leave the bones.” In layman’s terms, to take what I feel is useful and leave the aspects that I feel are not. I have had to teach myself to see past the words that may hurt my feelings and make me feel less than; and focus on the root of the criticism. I ask myself, ‘is this something that would make me a better educator, a better person, a better researcher.”
3. Share your feelings with trusted mentors, a therapist, or friends and family members- It is helpful to confide in individuals that are invested in your best interest about what you’re feeling. I have several mentors; however, I have to be transparent and say that I mostly confide in black mentor, who is also a pharmacist, about my impostor syndrome. I find that it’s easier to discuss the impostor syndrome with her because she has had similar experiences. I also confide in my therapist regularly; I use her as a checkpoint. When I feel that I’m over working myself to overcompensate for the “fraud feeling”, I ask her to help me with finding tools that will assist me in rerouting the negative self-talk and thoughts that fuel those feelings. My family and husband are also extremely helpful to talk to about my feelings, they often are my largest pillars of support.
I’m here to tell you all, as I often reaffirm to myself, impostor syndrome is normal. Feeling like a fraud despite a laundry list of accomplishments is not uncommon. It’s okay to experience those moments, you aren’t alone in them. Especially given the current climate of the country. However, it’s important that you don’t allow them to define who you are and how you view your accomplishments. More importantly, when you have those moments where your chest tightens, and your mind is assaulted with thoughts of inadequacy; always remember that you are worthy, and you are deserving.
- Losing and Finding a Sense of Belonging in Academia – WOC Guest Post
- “You Don’t Belong” and Other Myths WOC Ph.Ds Believe – WOC Guest Post
- What Can You Do: Being Black and Tired in Academia – #BLM Guest Post
- What Not To Say to Grad Students During a Pandemic – WOC Guest Post
- What Mentorship? The Experiences of Black Female Faculty – WOC Guest Post