Self-doubt and Imposter Syndrome

Today’s post comes to us from two rockstar field technicians on their experiences interacting with the public this last spring-fall, in forest preserves in densely-populated places.  

By: Gabby Barnas & Raela Wataha

When we first began studying wildlife biology as undergraduates, we both noticed how many men were in our classes. There were also many women in our classes, but on the whole, men dominated the field, and we immediately felt the pressure of holding ourselves to higher standards than most of our male counterparts were held to because we felt we needed to prove our worth in the field. Since graduating and entering the workforce, this feeling has continued and fostered a kind of impostor syndrome full of self-doubt about our abilities as field researchers.

In the past six months, while working as wildlife monitoring technicians in an urban area where running into members of the public is inevitable, we have been further plagued by thoughts of self-doubt as people have shared their questions and concerns with us as we worked in the field.

“I thought you were headed to the prom!”

Teamwork_turtles

Teamwork makes the dream work. Gabby marks a painted turtle while Raela enters data into a tablet.

Here are a few highlights from what we heard in the field:

#1: “I thought you were headed to the prom!”

An elderly couple walking the trails asked us what we were doing out there, and when we told them we were collecting data, the man exclaimed, “No, I thought you were headed to the prom!” in response to our waders. Yikes. A “You girls look fierce” from his wife was much more appreciated.

It’s the typical girls-can’t-do-dirty-jobs stereotype. Why would we ditch the makeup and swap our dresses for a pair of waders? What kind of grownup women want to crawl through mud and get pooped on all day? They look like they’re playing dress up. Dressed up as a man’s job. Well isn’t that the darn cutest?

A guy can walk around in field clothes without a second glance. It’s professional. But a girl? Double takes for days.

Snapper_wrangling

Covered in mud, Raela lassos a large common snapping turtle to safely measure its shell.

#2: “There isn’t that much water out there.”

As we were heading back to our field truck from a sampling point featuring a large, deep pond, where our chest waders came in handy, a man riding a bicycle by us on the trail called out, “There isn’t that much water out there!”

An assumption that we are either overreacting to a puddle or misjudged the environment entirely. Either way, we’re just a couple of little girls who don’t like to get our feet wet.

Okay Mr. Man-riding-on-the-nice-and-dry-gravel-path, if you say there isn’t that much water out there, we’ll be sure to trust your judgment next time.

Chest deep water

Gabby stands in a pond with water above her waist, thankful for the chest waders keeping her dry in the 50ºF weather. Just a few days earlier, the water only reached her knees in the very same pond.

While some comments seemed harmless at first, delving into what they actually mean for us as women in the field reveals the stigmas and stereotypes that continue to dominate the general public’s view about the role of women (or lack thereof) in the field of conservation. 

#3: Typical Mansplaining

A man stopped us in our truck along the trail to let us know about some beaver damage in a nearby pond. After asking us what we do in the forest preserves and hearing our response of “reptile and amphibian surveys”, he launched into a lengthy explanation of not just the volunteer radio telemetry work he did with turtles, but how to use the telemetry equipment “should [we] ever have to track turtles.” Unbeknownst to him, tracking turtles was actually one of our job duties and something we knew how to do quite well, but didn’t even have the chance to share because he just kept talking about his own experience.

Cattail whacking

Raela engages in a painstaking battle against the cattails in an attempt to locate a Blanding’s turtle using radio telemetry.

While some comments seemed harmless at first, delving into what they actually mean for us as women in the field reveals the stigmas and stereotypes that continue to dominate the general public’s view about the role of women (or lack thereof) in the field of conservation.

As conversations piled up, our personal motto for this field season became, as Gabby so eloquently put, “I have enough self-doubt as it is, I don’t need any more from anyone else!”

 

Interested in telling your whole tale? We would love to hear from you!  We are very interested in interviewing women of color who have published cool field science.  If that’s you, or someone you know, please tweet at us or email us femfieldsecrets@gmail.com and point us to the paper.

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