How Women in STEM Have Changed My Life

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or lost as a young woman studying engineering. Thankfully, there is an amazing community of women in STEM who will empower you when you’re feeling down, remind you of your potential, and celebrate your achievements alongside you.

Sanjana Subramanian | stem | WOMEN IN STEM
Image: Sanjana Subramanian

Words by Sanjana Subramanian

The most difficult part of my first semester at Columbia University’s School of Engineering (my first semester of online Columbia engineering) was the lack of community I felt. I’ve always enjoyed working with others on schoolwork, but those “others” didn’t exist yet. It was incredibly isolating, and even when you’re outgoing it’s hard to overcome the fatigue of meeting people on Zoom.

Around the beginning of finals season, I had my first bout of imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is the kind of thing you hear about a lot in university emails — there are workshops on how to overcome it, academic advisors ask about your experiences with it. Awareness events and open discourse are supposed to remind you that you’re not the only student suddenly doubting your talents and skills. You weren’t the only one who didn’t understand that reading or that lecture.

It didn’t work for me though, the workshops and advisor check-ins. Mostly because I didn’t go to them. I was struggling, but I felt like devoting time to anything other than studying would only make me feel idle. I also felt like I knew the way out. I needed to remind myself that I was a good engineer, even if gen. ed. engineering classes were getting the best of me. But, again, projects take time and my motivation to create was being stifled by my instinct to prioritize what I considered “productive”.

Sanjana Subramanian | stem | WOMEN IN STEM
Photo: Sanjana Subramanian

While I was aware of what I was going through, I had very little idea of how to change it. So, I called Izzy. I didn’t know her well at the time, but we go to the same school and she’s a fellow STEM girl. There’s something specific about experiencing imposter syndrome as a woman in science that feels especially intimidating. You don’t just question your skills, but your identity. Even if I can do everything the person next to me can, do I really fit?

Izzy reminded me I do, indeed, fit. She didn’t know much about me either, but we had talked enough to hear each other get passionate about our respective interests and goals. I left our conversation with clear goals of what I wanted for myself this year, outside of academics. I felt empowered and ready to put love and energy into the projects I’d had on my mind that I’d just been too nervous to begin. At one point, Izzy asked me to consider if there was anything else I could see myself doing.

Absolutely not.

Sanjana Subramanian | stem | WOMEN IN STEM
My mom, Tamri Gupta. (private photo)

Science means the world to me, and the scientific space is where I feel the most comfortable, the most confident. I believe in my abilities to plan, measure, and solder, and it feels good to imagine something and then watch it be built in front of you. It’s your hands doing the work, but once the whole thing is over you realize you don’t remember any of it happening. It’s why every high school science fair project seemed like so much work before I actually started any of it, and by the time I’d done my last presentation I was aching for the next science fair season.

Truthfully, the “seeming like so much work” part might’ve convinced me to skip one or two years if it weren’t for my mother. She, a program manager and another woman in STEM, reminded me that I loved that work. It was good that there was a lot — there was more to love. She knew the argument would work on me, I imagine, because it works on her. She jokingly complains about how many meetings she has every day, how she wants to quit and live on a farm somewhere, but she’d get bored. Watching her manage so many people on so many different teams, always making sure the project is done when it needs to be, is where I think I get my ambition from.

The label “women in STEM” doesn’t just describe a set of people, but a
community. It’s made up of peers who fuel your aspiration, role models who remind you of your talent. They all tell you to keep moving. I wouldn’t be where I am without the First Women, the Mae Jemisons; the Unsung Women, the Lise Meitners; the thousands of women in science throughout history whose names we don’t know, but whose work impacts us nonetheless. More so, I wouldn’t be where I am without the women I go to school with, work with, dream with. Because of them, I remain ambitious, excited.

February 11th was International Women and Girls in Science Day. To the women and girls dreaming and building and experimenting: all my love and thanks goes out to you.

Sanjana Subramanian | stem | WOMEN IN STEM

Sanjana Subramanian is a mechanical engineering student at Columbia University. She is especially interested in the refugee crisis, astronomy, and Gossip Girl (xoxo).

Connect with her here:
Instagram: @sanjana4112


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