Guest Blog: Do You Feel Lucky Punk? Then Learn How To Internalize Your Success

The Seed Of Doubt:

I vividly remember waking up to a phone call I received a few years ago. Startled and disoriented I answered the phone expecting the usual deactivation threat from the good people at AT&T. Instead, I heard a pleasant voice from the University of Washington inviting me for an interview to potentially pursue my Ph.D.

Maybe they got my phone number mixed up with someone else’s? I couldn’t entertain the idea that I could “possibly” receive training from a top 5 ranked research institution. I kept thinking, “What luck? Why me?” This is when it all started:

My mom didn’t exactly put my GRE score on the refrigerator. My GPA was decent, but not spectacular and my research experience was, lets just say “untraditional.” So why did UW Medicine end up giving me a chance? I started reflecting on reasons why an institution so great would want an individual as “ordinary” as myself. Was it because my letters of recommendation were stellar? If that was the case, then this was based on someone else’s overinflated depiction of me and my achievements. I did obtain a fellowship at the NIH but that was only because I worked my way through the backdoor and started as an intern. I graduated with a bachelor of arts with high honors, but I studied anthropology not biochemistry, pre-medicine, or computer science. Real doubt consumed my subconscious when I realized: It must be because I am a minority student who grew up in a single family home, and attended a high school where it was common place to double your lunch money playing spades on the bathroom floor. UW must have felt sorry for me or at the very least they needed to meet the diversity statement on their homepage.

Say it with me “I am not a fraud”

“Impostor Syndrome” is the name given to the stream of consciousness I just described. I am two years into graduate school at UW and I am still worried about being “exposed.” Impostor syndrome is alive and well in all types of successful people: graduate students, professors, men and women, white and black, gay and straight. It’s real, and it’s not going anywhere. On the contrary, the more you achieve, the more you will feel like an impostor.

According to psychotherapy experts, Impostor Syndrome, “is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” “…Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and don’t deserve the success they have achieved.” We impostors chalk our successes up to a fluke of chance or just simply being lucky, and we are always in over our heads.

Only Diamonds Can Sharpen Diamonds:

If you can identify with my musings you are not alone. Everyone feels this way at some point when they are internalizing the successes in their life. There are several ways to cope with Impostor Syndrome, and consequently internalize your success:

Communicate. Misery loves company, so surround yourself with successful people because they are likely to feel like impostors too. Sharing your feelings with your peers is okay. This is the only way you can discover that your peers feel exactly like you do. I have to admit it’s immensely therapeutic to hear people that I believe are leagues more intelligent than me say, “I feel the same way.”

Under Sell, Over Deliver:

From what little success I have accumulated I can provide some advice. My first year of graduate school was one of the hardest transitions in my life. When you enter a new professional environment its very difficult to assess your progress, especially in graduate school. Moving forward and accumulating further success is a huge challenge. Comparing yourself and your accomplishments to others in your cohort is a natural yet toxic consequence of interacting with your peers. Comparing your experiences, strengths, and weaknesses to that of your peers is impossible and fruitless. Everyone’s path to success is different and you should use this as an opportunity to learn from your peers rather than compete with them.

Having an accurate pulse on your performance and progression in the work place is of great importance. Creating weekly lists and accomplishing them is something that works for me. I regularly set goals and share them with my advisor. If those goals are not accomplished in the time allocated we both leave our weekly meetings disappointed. That disappointment serves as motivation because I realize that I did not meet the goals we agreed on and this motivates me to work significantly harder the following week.

Doubt is Healthy, Fear is Paralyzing:

I am preparing to take my general exam this summer. This is not something I am looking forward to yet I know its necessary for me to progress from graduate student to Ph.D. candidate. My greatest fear is that I will fail my exam and not achieve a goal I have set for myself. However, I will not let that fear paralyze me. I will let that seed of doubt motivate me to work hard and communicate with my mentors when I am floundering. I will surround myself with people who encourage me to succeed. There’s a chance that I will make excuses about approaching and passing another milestone in my life. Ultimately, this milestone will serve as just another notch on my belt reenforcing my new train of thought. Because when I do pass my general exam it will be because I am legitimate not lucky. In the words of Thomas Jefferson “I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”


  1. Langford, Joe; Clance, Pauline Rose (1993). “The Impostor Phenomenon: Recent Research Findings Regarding Dynamics, Personality and Family Patterns and Their Implications for Treatment” (PDF). Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training30 (3): 495–501.
  2. Lucas Laursen (2008) “No, You’re Not an Impostor.” United Kingdom. Science Careers.  Science Magazine.

Keolu Fox is a graduate student in the department of genome sciences. His research interests include human genome sequencing technology, and human genetic variation. 


Celebrating Women in STEM

The history of our chapter begins with women, as a group of mostly women got together and founded our chapter in the summer of 2007.  They attended the SACNAS National Conference in Kansas City as the first event for a Registered Student Organization at the University of Washington. All of the women who founded our chapter have graduated and have moved on to greater things, but some are still closely involved with our chapter. Continuing members are Dr. Amber Caracol, who graduated from the UW in 2011 with a PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology and now teaches at UW Bothell and Seattle Central Community College, Dr. Tracie Delgado, an Assistant Professor at Northwest University who earned her PhD in Microbiology in 2011, and Amanda Bruner, who received an MS in Aquatic and Fishery Sciences in 2010 and who now works as a Research Scientist & Outreach Coordinator at Sound Citizen at the University of Washington. The other founders have moved on to careers outside of Seattle: Yolanda Sanchez, who earned an MS in Environmental Health and an MPA in Public Administration in 2007 and Dr. Charla Lambert, who earned a PhD in Genome Sciences in 2008, and works as a Program Manager for Science & Training at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and is a member of the newly-elected 2012 SACNAS Board of Directors.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention there was also a male who helped establish our chapter, Dr. Ramon Mendoza, who earned his PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology in 2007 and works as a postdoc at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, but this post is about women, and particularly those women who shaped and continue to shape our chapter.

Profiles of Women

Below are profiles of some other women in our chapter. The first is a profile of Billie Swalla, a Biology professor who has been incredibly supportive of our SACNAS group. We all look to Dr. Swalla for support and guidance. The second is Tzitziki Lemus, a graduate student in Genome Sciences.

Also, be sure to check out the many other women we’ve profiled on our blog this year: Katrina Claw, Laurel James and Ruth Sims during Native American Heritage Month, Vanessa Galaviz, Patricia Montaño, Yuriana Garcia, and Faith Sims. There have also been several blog posts by female members of the chapter, such as Sabrina Bonaparte, who wrote about the implications of world population growth, Amanda Bruner, who wrote on Quantitative Advocacy and Productive Group Planning; the aforementioned Katrina Claw, who wrote about Communicating Science Effectively; Tracie Delgado, who wrote about transitioning from graduate student to faculty memberAmber Caracol and Laurel James, who tell us about their family histories and how they connect to shaping them as individuals,  and Erica Sanchez, who wrote about her experience at an all-women science outreach event for middle school girls last weekend.

Name: Bilie Swalla
Department: Biology
Role: Professor
Hometown: Madrid, Iowa

My research is on a complex, interdisciplinary problem, “How do body plans evolve?” Every animal begins as a single cell, a fertilized egg, that then divides into 2 cells, then 4 cells, then 16 cells, etc. As the embryo divides into more cells, different cells express different genes until you begin to make different tissues. These tissues continue to develop into different shapes and sizes, depending on the embryo. I am especially interested in the evolution of our body plan, which we share with all vertebrates and invertebrate chordates. My work with embryos is mostly done at marine labs, and I have worked all over the world on tunicates and hemichordates.

As a Postdoctoral Associate, I was funded one year by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), who were also studying why girls drop out of science in Junior High School. I learned of some of the unconscious bias that women can face in science and that stimulated a life long interest in how gender and ethnic bias affects our experiences in education and the workplace. I joined UW SACNAS in 2008, at the request of a few Biology graduate students, who knew of my interest in gender and bias in science, and I love the people that I’ve met through the UW local chapter. Everyone is so enthusiastic and friendly, it is hard not make a new friend at every meeting. I’ve seen many students graduate, and continue their sphere of influence and I believe that the UW SACNAS Chapter makes a very positive difference for increasing diversity on campus. I am very excited about being part of the local organizing committee. GO UW SACNAS!

Dr. Swalla’s CV is located below:

Name: Tzitziki J. Lemus Vergara
Major: Genome Sciences
Year in School: Third Year Graduate
Hometown:  Mexico
Ethnicity: Mexican

I am interested in how the environment can modify the development of organisms. I am currently studying how despite environmental and genetic differences, individuals from the same specie resemble physically to each other.

Besides research, I like to play soccer, reading, go salsa dancing, volunteer, and go out with my friends.

November is Native American Heritage Month

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, the first blog post will focus on Native Americans in higher education as it relates to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields as well as undergraduate and graduate education as a whole. This blogpost will also feature Native American resources and activities on the University of Washington campus in addition to the research conducted by Native American scientists at the UW.

Native Americans in the US, Washington, and in Education

According to the 2010 Census figures, Native Americans comprise 0.9% of the total United States population. In the state of Washington, this number is slightly higher at 1.5%.Concerning educational attainment, for adults over the age of 25 living in the US, only 17.7%  have a bachelor’s degree and  10.4% have a master’s degree, according to the 2010 American Community Survey. In the Native American community, the numbers are much lower. The National Center for Education Statistics show that in 2003, 9% of Native Americans had a bachelor’s degree and 3.6% had a graduate degree. Additionally, Native Americans only comprised 0.4% of all of the facultyin universities across the country.In the STEM fields, there is an issue with under representation with women and nearly all minority groups . According to the National Science Foundation, in 2008, only 0.4% of all enrolled graduate students in STEM were Native American. For undergraduates, the number is 0.9%. Concerning degrees conferred, 0.7% of bachelor’s degrees conferred in STEM fields in 2008 were to Native Americans, compared with 0.4% of master’s degrees conferred and  0.3% of the doctoral degrees conferred.

Native American Students at the UW, by the Numbers
The most current statistics listed on the University of Washington’s website indicate that during Spring Quarter of 2009, 1.3% of undergraduates and postbacs and 0.9% of graduate students and non-matriculated students were Native American/Alaska Native. Within the University of Washington Graduate School during the 2009-2010 academic year, only 1% of the student body is Native American/Alaska Native (100 out of 10,297), according to the 2011 Diversity Report.This means that when numbers are compared between the Washington state population and the University of Washington, Native Americans are underrepresented both in Undergraduate and Graduate education.

How to Increase the Numbers
On a national level, SACNAS works to increase diversity within the scientific fields by promoting higher education as a path to innovation and scientific leadership. On a more local level, the UW SACNAS chapter echos the goals of the national office in promoting science education through mentoring and a tight support network to recruit and retain minorities in STEM fields. Already, the chapter has been relatively successful. For example, last year, 7 out of 43 (22%) of our active chapter members were Native American. This number continues to grow.There are also many other organizations on campus with the goal of increasing diversity in STEM fields and the larger university community.For undergraduates, we have a chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the American Indian Student CommissionFirst Nations at the University of Washington student groups. Through the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity (OMA/D), there are several programs promoting diversity. Specifically related to the STEM fields is the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program, an NSF-awarded grant to the University of Washington in participation with  five institutions in the Pacific Northwest. The main goal of the LSAMP program is to  increase the recruitment, retention, and graduation rate of underrepresented students in the STEM fields. Also through OMA/D is the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Program, which prepares underrepresented, first-generation college and low-income undergraduate students for doctoral research through research opportunities and scholarly activity.For graduate students, there is Native American Students in Advanced Academia, the Medicine Wheel Society for medical students,  and the Native American Law Student Association.  Additionally, there are programs like the Graduate Opportunities & Minority Achievement Program, an office within the Graduate School that works to promote diversity in graduate education.

There is also a considerable amount of activity surrounding recruiting younger students to college. The Pathology Department in the School of Medicine has a Native American Outreach Program for middle school students from tribal reservations in the Pacific Northwest. Our chapter also partners with the Seattle Clear Sky Native Youth Council by tutoring students once a week and participating in social events.

To promote community within faculty and staff, there is also a Native Faculty and Staff Association at the University of Washington.

Academically, the UW has an American Indian Studies Program for undergraduates and a Native Voices Indigenous Documentary Film Program through the Department of Communication and the American Indian Studies Program.

The Indigenous Wellness Research Institute is perhaps the most notable research group on campus. Their mission is “To marshal community, tribal, academic, and governmental resources toward innovative, culture-centered interdisciplinary, collaborative social and behavioral research and education.” The research institute builds partnerships partners with tribal organizations to develop community-driven research and is comprised of mainly Native American and Alaska Native faculty and staff.

For more information on resources for Native American students at the UW, both in STEM and beyond the STEM fields, please reference the Tribal Leadership Summit Report for 2011-2012.

Spotlight: Native American Student Chapter Members

As mentioned earlier, our SACNAS chapter consists of many Native American students. This next section highlights their academic work and their contributions to the STEM fields.

Name: Katrina G. Claw
Department: Genome Sciences
Tribal Affiliation:Navajo
Hometown: Many Farms, Arizona
I study the evolution of reproductive proteins in humans and non-human primates. My research combines a novel approach utilizing comparative genomics and proteomics to address evolutionary questions. In particular, I’m interested in using proteomics to identify and quantify the abundance of male reproductive proteins. I am using a combination of population-level and long-term evolutionary methods to see how selective pressures have influenced the evolution of male proteins in relation to mating systems (promiscuity versus monogamy) in the hopes of identifying candidate genes important for fertilization and reproduction. Outside of research, it is important for me to remain connected to the community and my tribe. I continually advocate for the advancement of underrepresented minorities in the sciences through organizations such as SACNAS, MESA, and NASAA/NOIS at the University of Washington. My career aspirations include continuing in the research field and pursuing an academic position in the sciences. I also love to hike, travel, and watch cheesy television shows.

Name: Keolu Fox
Department: University of Washington, School of Medicine, Genome Sciences
Grad/Undergrad: 2nd year graduate student
Tribal Affiliation: Kingdom of Hawai’i
Hometown: Prince Georges County

I am a genome scientist. My research focuses on discovering genetic variants that contribute to health disparities in diverse populations. Currently I work with experts at the Puget Sound Blood Center, Seattle, WA. We are focusing on the implementation of next generation sequence analysis of human blood group antigens to increase compatibility for blood transfusion therapy.

My true passion is creating a better understanding of human genetic variation.  In the future I plan to focus my research efforts on underrepresented Polynesian populations. As a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) I feel obligated to give back to my community by focusing my research efforts on Polynesian populations so that we are not the last to benefit from genetic research. I am also involved as a graduate student senator representing genome sciences in the University of Washington, graduate and professional student senate.  I am keenly interested in science policy issues that will affect the outcome of genomic research in the future.

I am actively involved in the UW SACNAS chapter where our goal is to increase the representation of minority students in the sciences.  Hands down, diversity is the most beautiful thing in life.

I am a huge archeology nerd. I love to read (everyone please read “The Wayfinders” by Wade Davis). I love watching and playing sports especially soccer, snowboarding, and surfing. I’m learning to play the Ukulele (slowly) and if I’m not working or traveling I’m catching fish.

Name: Laurel L James
Department: College of the Environment,  School of Forest Resources
Grad/Undergrad: Graduate Student
Tribal Affiliation: Yakama Nation
Hometown: Harrah, WA

I am currently completing a MS in Forest Resources – Fire Ecology with a project completed in collaboration with the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes (CKST) of Montana.  Thesis titled:  National to local:  a pre & post assessment of FCCS landscape variables for the CSKT.  I will soon begin a PhD program, focusing on Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Fire Prone Ecosystems.   I’m a member of the UW Bioenergy IGERT Cohort II; an Interdisciplinary team that completed renewable energy assessments (Solar, Wind & Biomass) for the CSKT in 2010.

I am currently employed with the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) a USDA regional Biofuels grant awarded to Washington State University.  I am the program manager for the Tribal Projects Team based out of the University of Washington – Chemical Engineering Department.  Additionally, I am a parent to a fabulous 14 year old!

Name: Ruth Anna Sims
Department: Electrical Engineering
Grad/Undergrad: 2nd year Graduate
Tribal Affiliation: Navajo and Sioux
Hometown: Seattle, WA

Currently I study Controls in the Electrical Engineering Department here at the University of Washington. I did my undergrad at Seattle Pacific University with majors in Electrical Engineering and Mathematics and minor in Physics. I was born and raised in Seattle so of course this beautiful city is forever my home. However my mother is from Monument Valley on the Navajo Reservation so I have deep roots there and hope to some day use my education to benefit the reservation in some way, quite possibly using control theory applied to renewable power systems. I have 5 sisters and 2 brothers so naturally I like being around people and I basically just enjoy the social things of life.

Name: Joseph M. Yracheta
Department: Pharmaceutics
Grad/Undergrad: Graduate student
Tribal Affiliation: P’urepecha, Michoacan, Mexico
Hometown: Chicago

In my research, I am attempting to ameliorate, loss due to a health care model designed for a different population. The disease types, prevalence and survival rates are different for Native Americans. Moreover, the drug therapies are optimized for an enzyme profile other than people of the Americas. This creates the situation where an Indigenous Grandma or Grandpa sitting in town in Mexico, a mountain village in the Andes, the desert mesas of New Mexico, the tundra of Alaska, or on the rural gravel road of a South Dakota reservation dies a lonely, quiet and unnecessary death because the drug given to them either doesn’t help, cannot be properly monitored or increases the harm of whatever disease has befallen them. They often intentionally live their lives apart from the majority culture and are happy to do so. Equally often, they become sick and decide to avail themselves of western medicine to give them a fraction more of life to spend with grandchildren and impart the language or culture. Usually, however, the one place they can go to for help doesn’t know or care enough to hear them when they complain in a soft, embarrassed tone, “This medicine makes me feel funny, doctor, I don’t feel right”. Then the harried and  exhausted doctor says, “Sorry Mam, it sometimes takes a while to feel better, go home and keep taking them over the weekend and see me on Monday.” Monday never comes. Once again, a victim to their genes and historical trauma, another Native American person is lost. This is what motivates me. This is why I do what I do in the field of Pharmacogenomics.