Sat, 16th of October 2021

PyLadies Night with Abigail Woolley - Topic: Imposter Syndrome


Rahmat Akintola · June 10, 2020 · 8 min read ·

Abigail Woolley is a Data Scientist, with good experience in Software Engineering, IT Entrepreneurship and Database Management Systems. She gained her Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Ghana in the year 2017, then worked for a period of 1 year in the same department as a teaching assistant as service to her country, Ghana (NSS). She gained a Smart Africa Scholarship for a Master’s degree program in Information Technology at Carnegie Mellon University. During this period she served as the secretary for the Women in Technology group in her department and as a teaching assistant for the Data Structures and Algorithms course. Abigail is currently a fresh graduate in Master of Science in Information technology with a concentration in Data Science and Software Engineering.
 
In 2019, she interned with the World Bank Group in Washington DC (USA) as a Software Engineer in the Information and Technology System’s unit. She believes in “opportunities for all" and hence seeks to make great impacts in the lives of people across the globe by solving some of the most challenging real-life problems especially in Africa, through the application of Machine Learning models to make predictions and ultimately provide insights and counsels for good decision-making for Businesses, Governments, and Individuals. She seeks to develop innovative solutions with her expertise in Data Science especially for the agricultural and transport industry in Africa.
 
Abigail Woolley
 
How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
 
Thanks for the question Dzifa. I doubt this would sound like a single sentence but I think "I am a problem-solver and an empath who seeks fulfilment in being a solution her world, ultimately to create an impact".
 
You have an excellent resumé, what is or has been the driving factor behind your success?
 
Well, thank you. My intention has never been to have an impressive resume.Like I said earlier, I just want to make an impact and so I tend to grab good opportunities when I recognise them, and one major one was when I decided to leave my country for the very first time for my master’s degree in Information Technology. Things got pretty crazy because Carnegie Mellon University made me feel like I knew nothing. I was not used to the rigorous system. I cried many times because I felt the education system was too tough and I was going to fail. I wanted to come home. That’s when I realized the one thing that has kept me going all these years, “I’m scared of disappointments”. I didn’t want to come back home a disappointment having achieved nothing so I forged on. So I’d say the fear of disappointment, disappointing my family and friends is that factor. I just can’t afford to do it.
 
Moving onto the subject of today, Most of us here do not know what imposter syndrome is? Can you briefly tell us about that?
 
Truthfully, I also didn’t know what this meant even though I had a rough idea of what it might be because I’ve heard a number of people use the word. So, I asked uncle Google and he cleared all doubts. Hahaha. Imposter syndrome is essentially the feeling that you are undeserving of the things you have attained or achieved and that you got them simply because you were lucky. It basically says “Girl, you are successful only cos you got lucky".
This syndrome causes you to doubt your competence and makes you believe that your success is a product of luck and deception. 
 
What do you have to say to the “critics” who might say that because there are fewer females in the technology field, most of us are lucky since there are lots of opportunities out there for us.?
 
Well, they may be right to some extent. First, there are many opportunities for women these days but that doesn't change the fact that those who obtain these opportunities did not put in the work. If that were the case, every female would have gotten the same opportunity simply because they are females. Nothing has changed; it's the same opportunity and standards only that more of these opportunities are for women who qualify for them.
Looking at the statistics, there are more women in many parts of our world today than men so it makes sense to have more opportunities for women than me. This is solely my opinion. It can be challenged.
 
Have you ever experience the syndrome, If yes how did you get through it?
 
Yes, I have and I still do sometimes. I have over the years decided to be deliberate about believing in myself; it takes effort. There are people in your inner circle that know you and believe in you. They are the ones who have seen your toils and completely believe that you deserve everything you have, speak to them. You’ll gain that confidence back and if you never had it before, well you’ll build it. This is part of the reason why we all need to surround ourselves with people with positive vibes (optimistic people to help us up when we are down). This also requires a deliberate effort to build such networks. Secondly, I understand that I don’t need to work for everything. Let me share a good
example back in school, we have teaching assistants to help students in case they get stuck with a project or an assignment. Not everyone uses the TAs. Some people would want to figure out everything on their own and whereas that is a good thing to do, it’s not always the best thing to do because time is a very precious resource which you have very little of because there are other relevant things that equally need your attention.
 
A student who sees a TA is about 80% more likely to waste less time on the assignment and get the work done even though they are not handed over any solution; just guidance or a little bug that requires fixing. Would we say those who saw the TAs were lucky? No, they knew what resources they had available, and decided to make good use of them by seeking high-level guidance. If you ask me, I’ll say this was hard work and smart work but definitely not luck. If you understand that not everything requires you to sweat, it’ll save you some unnecessary stress.
 
Lastly, believe in yourself, find the positives first, know that you’re another unique individual with good success. Also, knowing that imposter syndrome is a real condition and you are not the only one going through it helps you deal with the situation better, and you kind of tend to give it less control.
 
Why do people experience the imposter syndrome and what are the watch out signs of the syndrome?
 
Well, people may have many reasons why they go through this. The following are some of them :
1. Gender stereotypes: And this goes back to the "critics" you mentioned in one of your questions. The ones I’ve come across are usually against women. You rise to a managerial role and given the fact that this is not something you are used to; you feel kind of overwhelmed and start thinking it should have been someone else probably your male colleague.
 
2. Culture could be another thing
 
3. Family dynamics: Imagine nobody has attained a degree in your family. Then here you show up with a PhD. Or that nobody ever went that far in their career and here you are with a good job or probably started your own company.
 
4. Attribution style: This is a psychological term and it explains the tendency of humans to attribute “causes” to a phenomenon/event and behaviour. In this case, you try to find negative reasons to explain your success.
 
Things to watch out for:
1. When you start having self-doubts.
2. Speaking negatively about yourself
3. The feeling that you don't have good enough capabilities.
4. You see every reason why someone else should succeed but not you. You start asking questions if the success story is about you.
 
Concerning your first point on the watch out signs, Most people experience moments of doubt, and that’s normal. How can one avoid letting doubt control His/Her actions?
 
Wow! It's definitely a good question. I think understanding that a single doubt is not enough reason to take major actions especially if there are going to be consequences is crucial. Whenever you have doubts, ask yourself "What's the worse that can happen?". Essentially take a moment to weigh things out and see what negative or positive effects your actions may cause before acting. What I just described is "doubt", being uncertain of something. Self-doubt is basically not believing that you can do it. I think that is different.
 
How can we be in touch with you after the session? Any contacts you would
love to share?
Yup. I think we can connect on LinkedIn
 

This session was facilitated by Joyce Dzifa Lokko

Author: Rahmat Akintola

Software developer with an interest in Data Analysis/Science with a background in Accounting & Finance | Free Spirit | Mother | Foodie

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