By Michael Burkhardt

10 tips to deal with Impostor Syndrome in Data Science. A Data Scientist, Junior ML engineer, and a Ph.D. in Physics and career mover share their experiences.

Below you can find the key points from the webinar and for further insights, check out the entire session at the end of the blog post. 

But first, let us start with a definition. According to Maria Klawe, the President of Harvey Mudd College, impostor syndrome can be described as:

The frequent feeling of not deserving one’s success and of being a failure despite a sustained record of achievements.

Indeed, no matter your knowledge or expertise, Imposter Syndrome can still make you feel like a complete failure.

At its roots, are several factors such as previous failures, inherited fears, social biases, culture, education, and more. Being a minority in one’s domain, or working in an active field of research such as data science, can also trigger and worsen impostor syndrome.

 

10 Tips on Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

Now let’s dive into it, the following points stem from our vibrant discussion with more than 70 participants.

 

1. Understand that you will never know everything

Data Science is an ever-changing field where new technologies are constantly needed. If you want to excel in Data Science (and if you’re reading this, you do), you need to face the fact that your learning curve will get steeper over time. While you need to learn a lot, you also need to realize that you’ll never know everything, and this is ok! In fact, it is more important that you are able to work in a team where each member can complement the other.

 

2. Break the silence and speak about it

In Psychology, this is referred to as “Name it to tame it”. It is a phrase coined by author and psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Siegel. By putting this simple tool to work, your emotions can inform you and not overwhelm you. Once you notice you are having a strong emotional reaction, the next step is to describe, or name it – whether to yourself or out loud. In the case of an impostor, you need to label what you feel in order to be able to deal with it, for example by speaking with people you trust about it. When you speak to your data science peers, you’ll be surprised how many are struggling with it. Just as we talked about it in the webinar below!

 

3. Become good at asking questions (to your team)

Asking questions can sometimes seem scary. No one wants to appear “silly.” But I assure you:

  1. You’re not silly.
  2. It’s way scarier if you’re not asking questions.

Data Science is a constant collaboration with the business, the team, your student friends, and a series of questions and answers allows you to deliver the analysis/model/data product that is needed.

As Junior Machine Learning Engineer Joseph Itopa A. put it in the webinar:

At first, everything seems to be difficult but the more we learn, the better we become, and asking questions is a big part of this.

Questions are required to fully understand what the business wants and not find yourself making assumptions about what others are thinking.

 

4. Separate feelings from facts

This connects back to tip 2 “Name it to tame it”. Once you experience a certain emotion like self-doubt, put it out there and analyze if what you are feeling is based on facts or based on something else.

In 36:30 min of the webinar below Panelist, Rosana de Oliveira Gomes shares a mental exercise to deal with unhelpful thought patterns. 

 

5. Avoid toxic environments and join helpful ones

Kulsoom Abdullah recalls from graduate school and industry: “My Imposter Syndrome was triggered and worsened by arrogant people. If they perceived you as lacking some knowledge, their reaction towards you was either mocking, aggressive, or belittling. When one already feels vulnerable and not confident, this can make it worse.”

Toxic environments can have devastating effects. If your work environment is unhealthy, change it. Otherwise, change your attitude about it, but don’t remain passive. Then, consider joining an environment that is conducive to growth. Why not join us at Omdena? With the very diverse groups of contributors working collaboratively on our challenges, you are bound to feel at home.

 

6. Change your mindset from failure to learning

Failure, as much as it hurts, is an important part of life. … Without failure, we’d be less capable of compassion, empathy, kindness, and great achievement; we would be less likely to reach for the moon and the stars. It’s through failure that we learn the greatest lessons that life could teach us. Meaning failure just equals learning. And the learning never stops, which makes life exciting, doesn’t it?

 
 

7. Stop comparing to others

Remind yourself that other people’s “outsides” can’t be compared to your “insides”.

This is such a helpful habit to cultivate. Unless you’re really close to someone, you can’t use their outward appearance to judge the reality of their life. People carefully curate the social media versions of their lives, and do the same with the lives they live out publicly.

If you took the strengths of others and compared them to your weaknesses, how do you think you’d size up? And do you think this would make you feel good? Compare yourself to the person or the data scientist that you were yesterday, a year ago, and so on.

 

8. Pave your own path

Well-known Youtuber & MIT Research Scientist Lex Fridman recently shared his own struggles with the impostor syndrome in data science and suggested to “Pave your own path”, which very much connects to tip 7.

 

9. Develop a healthy inner dialogue

Take all of the previous tips into account and be kind to yourself. Self-criticism does not work as well as self-compassion. We are all a work in progress, no matter if it is data science, art, business, or life in general.

 

10. Celebrate each little milestone

The way is the goal.

You might have heard this before. And it is true, we cant make our well-being dependent on a future outcome. In the end, the data science career path consists of hundreds of little steps and each step to be taken is worth it a smile and a moment of gratitude for having just having progressed a bit further.

Some final words. Define your own journey and enjoy it. Get more insights and tips in the entire session below!

 

Panelists: Rosana de Oliveira Gomes, Joseph Itopa A., Kulsoom Abdullah, Michael Burkhardt

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