Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Impostor Syndrome and siblings

My first semester at Purdue was pretty good.  I enjoyed most of my classes, I've already reported that I did pretty well.  The hardest part was not getting to march... which, considering that I never marched in high school, probably should not have been a surprise.

My second semester, was about the time Impostor Syndrome began to kick in.  Impostor Syndrome is a feeling like "who am I to do this?" or "I'm not as good as they say I am," or "feeling like a fraud."  It's not uncommon among women in STEM.  So, not only am I at about the right point in telling my story... the previews and spoilers for Glee's "Big Brother" are affecting me.  For me, impostor syndrome was brought on with a little help from my younger brother.



I believe I've mentioned that I'm the oldest of six children.  My only sister, cguthrie00 is next, thank heavens!  After her comes Dear Brother #1 (DB1), Kawphy.  Then DB2, Sguth, and then the large gap.

While I was in high school, DB3 (sometimes called hi-tek), and DB4 were born.  They were 2.5 years old and 20 months, respectively, when I left for college.

My freshman year of college was Kawphy's freshman year of high school.  I came home for Christmas, to discover that he was no longer my "little" brother.  (Cguthrie had already outgrown me, and now, all five of my siblings are taller than me.)

I've described some of my college financial status.  I was slow to get into that work-study job.  My savings held out through November, but in December I was faced with a telephone bill that I couldn't pay.  I talked to my parents, and they offered me a $50 loan, interest-free, for two weeks.  It paid that bill, and I paid them back, on time, at the beginning of the winter break.

My sister and Sguth had taken my absence in stride, and were happy to welcome me back for the holiday.

Kawphy, on the other hand, sensed that college was my way out, and was not happy about it.  Over the holidays, he started a constant stream of insults about how I was wasting my parents money, playing around at college all day long.  I would have liked to tell him that I wasn't using one cent of our parents money, but I had just taken that little loan.

With my grades, Mom & Dad tried to tell him that I was working.  Obviously I was studying,but he wouldn't hear it.

This was also about the time that hacking started to become "cool."  Kawphy started working with QBASIC, and calling himself a "hacker."  Over the next few years, he started taking apart the computers and building/re-building new ones.  And, generally, becoming the offensive version of a male geek.

Kawphy also got onto the high school wrestling team.  So... yeah.  Taller, bulkier, trained.  And fully invested in the male geek trolling culture.  Posts like these:
On being harassed
How could they not have known?!

are a lot like the comments he would make.  Every day while I was home.  Honestly?  He started the summer after I graduated high school, and got worse every semester since.  Two summers and two winter breaks.

Well...my brother is misogynistic but not incestuous.  About the only thing he wouldn't do, is proposition me. (I suppose being his sister has ONE advantage!)  He'll act superior, like I know nothing, or that I'm stupid not to know the answer to any question that I ask.  His discourse system is... very aggressive, and he likes to perfect trolling into a high art form.

I have to wonder, now that I am older and wiser, why I didn't talk with any of my professors about it, about what he was saying.

I had ONE conversation with a prof, where I hinted at it, a few years later.  When DB#3 took wire cutters to the power cords under the computer.  Kawphy tried to blame me for showing them how to cut wires to pre-defined lengths for my digital logic lab.  I talked with one professor about what Kawphy's e-mail said about that one, that was reassuring.

Cguthrie00 likes to compare Kawphy to that grain of sand in the oyster, that forces a pearl to form.

It doesn't work that way for me.  I've had to distance myself.
I probably suggested he study engineering or computer science, but in high school he was interested in becoming a priest. Also, apparently, his grades weren't so good. He stayed at IU South Bend rather than go away to college, majored in Philosophy and Psychology.
He is NOT all bad, he might make an okay nurse.  He's had a lot of experience care-giving, helping our Aunt & Uncle with Grandpa, then Grandma, and helping with Mom.

I tried being Facebook friends, it lasted maybe two months.  I ended up de-Friending and then Blocking him. From my perspective... I'm not sure what ethics he was taught. He seems to like using his education to play mind games, screw people over.

He has frequented 4Chan.  One one of my visits to Mom, he talked about involvement in Project Chanology.  Dad says he is involved with Anonymous, though to what extent... I don't want to know.  I don't want anything to do with any of that.

Advice, for women dealing with impostor syndrome?
1) Definitely do not handle it alone.  You aren't alone.
I think talking with a professor would have helped a LOT, I think it might have been faster.  When I was a student, Leah Jamieson was "just" a professor, one of the few female professors in ECE.  I never actually had any classes with her... but I could have gone and talked with her anyway.  I could have talked with my male professors, some of them, as well.

2) Find and/or build your community.  The place where you are safe, and accepted, and loved.  I had Brian, and other friends.  It took me a while to trust, but my circle of friends helped me get over it.  It took time.

3) Get involved with resources specific to your needs, both online and in person.
In college, I didn't feel like I needed the Society of Women Engineers.  There was a student chapter on campus.  I went to one meeting, didn't feel comfortable, and never went back.

When I got out into the workforce, though... I ended up helping to start a section, because we needed it.  I was not the only woman engineer on my team at that time, and I needed SWE then.  Now, I am, and I need SWE all the more.  A common phrase I heard at the National Convention (WE '10, in Orlando) was that there are many of us, we're just spread thin.

On Twitter, I have a couple of lists.  "Geeks & Geek News" and "Resources for Women" are both public.  I follow a lot of women in a variety of science and engineering disciplines, as well as organizations like SWE, Steminist

On Facebook, any woman taking the free online courses offered by Udacity, CourseA, and MITx within the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Departments, is welcome to join the CompScisters group.  Men and women both are welcome to join CompSciblings.