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Coming to Delft was ‘one of the best decisions I ever made,’ says columnist Padmini Manivannan. But why was she feeling out of place?

Coming to Delft was ‘one of the best decisions I ever made,’ says columnist Padmini Manivannan. But why was she feeling out of place, as if she wasn’t supposed to belong here?

Coming to Delft was ‘one of the best decisions I ever made,’ says columnist Padmini Manivannan. But why was she feeling out of place, as if she wasn’t supposed to belong here? In her words:

2018 was a learning curve in so many ways, personally and professionally. I tell people close to me that coming to Delft was one of the best decisions I ever made. I was thrust into this environment which was highly stimulating and competitive. I am eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to come here and experience the place and its people.

At the same time, as I stumbled over my first failures, I realised that I was feeling out of place, as if I wasn’t supposed to belong here, as if I wasn’t smart enough to be here. I voiced these emotions quite openly to some of my close friends, who always responded very kindly. The negative feelings would abate for a while but always came back. I now know they call it the Imposter Syndrome. It is the feeling of not belonging, of believing that everyone is smarter than you and that you ended up here by mistake or chance. These feelings can manifest and be experienced by people in different ways.

‘A psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.’ This is what Google told me. It might be triggered by a change in academic, social or workplace settings. What came as a not-so-surprising revelation, in hindsight, is that women in academia experience the imposter  phenomenon more frequently than men. Being part of a relative minority could make one more susceptible to the syndrome. In general, women’s experiences are also compounded by varying levels of biases. I study Electrical Engineering at TU Delft, and I haven’t had a single female professor teach me from my faculty. In a way, you see fewer examples of your future self.

Highly accomplished and famous women like Michelle Obama and Emma Watson have confessed to experiencing this phenomenon. One of the things I like to do is simply acknowledge it and put it in perspective. I think it is important to remember that some self-doubt can be natural, but it turns out you really have to reward yourself for your successes and be as kind to yourself as you would to others.

You are smarter than you think. You know more than you give yourself credit for.

I choose to share vulnerable experiences of mine openly because it is almost always a more common occurrence than we think it is. It brings about dialogue and much needed discussion about what affects us (at least that is what I hope).

Padmini Manivannan is a Master’s student studying Signals and Systems at TU Delft and hails from Chennai, India. She loves doodling in her free time.

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