The STEM world is a competitive one. If you’re majoring in any one of the many STEM fields, then you know the feeling of not being good enough. I experience these moments all too often in engineering for a variety of reasons. While this feeling applies to any major or field, there are many scenarios that us STEM majors face specifically.
The number one self-esteem destroyer overall is comparing yourself to others. In engineering, that’s exactly what the curve promotes. Every required class is curved, which is technically a good thing, unless you’re at the bottom. Because of course, there’s always that one person who basically gets 100% every single time. It’s impossible to feel good enough when all my classes from here on out are dependent on how we compare against each other. As someone who puts endless time into studying and assignments, sometimes it’s hard to see how I stack up to my classmates, especially when I feel like I’m doing the most I can.
While each variety of engineering has a tight-knit group that’s centered around our common struggle, there are always classmates who feel the need to shame others who they think aren’t “at their level”. I’m in my junior year and I have noticed it clearly arise this semester. Since all the same people are in the required classes every semester, we all work together on weekly assignments. But every person has different responsibilities and classes outside of just our core ones. There are students who have jobs, responsibilities at home, or elective classes that keep us all from being at the same point in assignments all the time. Just because you don’t complete homework the same pace as your peers is not an invitation for judgement. Starting your assignments early is highly recommended in engineering, but certainly not required. I’ve had comments like “you haven’t started the ____ homework yet??” when it isn’t due for another 3 days or being frowned upon for choosing to do something fun occasionally. Your classmate’s responsibilities, progress, and priorities are not your business to voice negatively.
Lastly, being a female in engineering, or any STEM field, will always have ways of making us feel inferior. Now that I’ve made it this far, it’s a lot better than it was in the beginning. However, there is still a sense distrust or disbelief in me compared to my male classmates. Although I’m definitely not the smartest in my class, I still know the information. Many times, I have been trying to help or point out a correction, but some of my peers won’t believe me unless some guy repeats exactly what I said. I get wanting confirmation from others, but typically I feel questioned more than my peers. In addition, I get a lack-of-belief feeling from individuals in my program. Sure, I may not be a curvebreaker, but the one time it may actually be me, nobody will expect it. I feel like when my classmates try to find out who got that 100 or 95% on a hard test, their first guess is never a female.
At some point, everyone feels like they aren’t good enough in their major. But as a STEM major, we have the same root causes for our academic insecurities and feelings of being not good enough. While some of us may experience only a few of these moments in our college years, I definitely face these challenges basically every day in engineering. It’s a competitive place to be, but in the end, we are all just doing our best and hoping our hard work is reflected.