Reflecting Allowed

Imposter syndrome in 3 minutes 

This is a personal story I wrote as homework for a workshop I’m taking this week, and I need to present it next time. I hope I can read it in 3 minutes, but I may have to cut some of the beginning part. Or talk real fast, as I often do!

I remember majoring in computer science and graduating with highest honors, but some of my male professors asking a question, ignoring my response, then waiting for a male colleague to give an identical answer, to say “well done”.

I remember working at the IT department of Procter and Gamble, and male colleagues from other departments coming to ask technical questions about MY WORK, but asking the male colleague sitting beside me. And my male colleague responding as if there was nothing odd going on.

I remember both my husband and my father, both medical doctors, always believing they knew better about technical problems on the computer than me. It was so unconscious, I really just shook my head in wonder.

I hated computer science itself, though. As an extreme extrovert, it was never my passion to work in a field that didn’t involve directly working with and helping people on a deep level. So I left the code behind to study education. As a female in Egypt, I could have traveled to do my masters and PhD where it wasn’t available locally, but the easier path, socially, was to stay here. And so I did my masters online and my PhD remotely. This entailed having to justify my degrees to people who didn’t believe that online learning could be on par with in-person learning. The recent pandemic, with people being forced to teach remotely with little to no preparation time, mostly reinforced people’s stereotypes of online learning. This is nothing like the well-designed online learning experiences I’ve had over many years.

After finishing my PhD, I felt like an imposter among academics. I was the mom of a young child, and I could barely travel once a year for a conference to network, if at all. So I turned to Twitter and blogging and built my network and reputation there/here.

And I co-founded online communities Virtually Connecting and Equity  Unbound to challenge academic gatekeeping and reinforced my reputation there. And I got invited to give keynotes and talks at conferences from the UK to US to South Africa to Poland to New Zealand. And I did some in-person but had to do many virtually. Because mom of a young child from a global South country. 

And then the pandemic came and everything had to be online, and I was blessed to be someone with years of experience building community online, and I helped many people locally, and I said yes to every international invitation to speak virtually, because I could. And I co-curated resources to help other people build community online. Because I could. 

Featured image of palm tree at sunset taken by me

7 thoughts on “Imposter syndrome in 3 minutes 

  1. Maha — Thank you for sharing this. I really appreciate learning about how your personal trajectory and experiences have brought you to this point. The online communities you’ve helped build are so important and have such a positive impact. I wish I had more opportunities to contribute to and engage with them, but am super grateful that they are there – and when I do have time, connecting with them — often serendipitously, always inspires me, gives me new ideas, and helps me more forward in ways that I hope benefit my students. This is a terrific three minute speech!

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