With the second round of midterms in swing, I hope everyone on campus is officially somewhat oriented with the semi-in-person college experience and has made at least made one midnight trip to UniMini for chicken nuggets and mozzarella sticks.
By now, you have probably already discovered a lot of the pros of college in Baltimore as opposed to in your childhood bedroom. There’s more privacy and more independence. If you have a big, busy family like I do, there’s better wifi. Maybe the most exciting part is the opportunity to better meet and bond with your classmates.
However, as many freshmen probably found out this semester, getting to know your classmates in person can actually be pretty intimidating. Impostor syndrome is a lot stronger when you get off of Zoom and actually meet those people in the flesh. You know who I’m talking about. Those people who are in 37 clubs, are triple majoring, have plans to graduate two years early and are halfway to curing cancer less than a fourth of the way through their college career. You probably have a couple of those in your mind; trust me, you’ll meet quite a few over the years.
While you may not hate those people per se, because hate is a very strong word and your mama taught you better than that, you kinda wish you never met those people at all because they make you feel, well, inferior and kinda send you into an existential crisis about your self-worth, intelligence and your ability to survive at this school half-filled with MENSA-geniuses. Trust me, I know exactly how a lot of you guys feel — I was there too, many moons ago (and still am there on bad days).
While impostor syndrome is sadly something that many, including me, have to continuously work to get through, here are some things to keep in mind for some of you new Blue Jays in difficult STEM classes.
1. Remember that intro STEM classes are... meh.
I won’t go as far to say that intro classes aren’t important, cause that’s not completely true — even if I couldn’t tell you how to integrate by parts to save my life now, it was a concept that I needed to have somewhere in my subconscious to understand some upper-level ideas. That being said, intro-level classes are actually very difficult. They squeeze a zillion tough, loosely related concepts into such a short time frame, and much of that knowledge you learn won’t be too important later on as long as you understand some of the bigger concepts.
Therefore, even if you struggle now, it is in no way an indicator of how you will perform in upper-level courses that are less broad and more interesting. Chin up buttercup — things can and will get better.
2. Remember that Hopkins is, by no means, a normal place.
A lot of you who feel impostor syndrome are probably like me: those who went to normal little public high schools in normal little suburban neighborhoods. People were impressed that we got into Hopkins because it doesn’t happen all that often there. At Hopkins, this “normal” background may be in the minority — a lot of students here went to private, magnet or specialized STEM-oriented high schools that send 30+ kids to top universities every year and, I quote, “are actually harder than Hopkins.”
If you didn’t come from a background like this, it makes complete sense that you may need a little bit more time adjusting to the workload and competitiveness. It has nothing to do with intelligence or worth. Even if this year was a little rough, you’ll be completely fine in the long run if you keep working hard and doing what you’re doing.
3. People are all talk.
Hopkins breeds a competitive environment where many people don’t want to admit to their shortcomings. People talk about all their clubs, research, accomplishments and fellowships like they have it together, but you’d be surprised. A lot of these people are also dying on the inside for one Hopkins-induced reason or another and just aren’t willing to admit it. We like to fake it till we make it, but unfortunately, it can feel quite isolating when a majority of the people around you are also faking it.
4. Try not to orient yourself around the ever-elusive “average.”
I’m not sure if I’m alone in this, but I really resent that a lot of STEM classes force you to compare yourself to your classmates by using the “mean” to grade the class. Looking for where you fall on the midterm histogram is maddening. I know this may be an impossible ask, but don’t pay too much attention to it. From my experience, this goes away more in some of the smaller, upper-level classes.
Focus on you, maybe take a glance at the mean to get an idea on where you are grade-wise, but don’t overthink it. It’s just not good for you. But that’s probably not going to happen, so when you do find yourself on the far left of the score distribution, just tell yourself that below average at Hopkins is still very much so above average in... life. You’ll be okay in life; you won’t be crying over this one exam five years, five months or very likely five days from now.
I was a scared little Blue Jay once, too. I know nothing that I say will relieve you of your insecurities and feelings of impostor syndrome, but some of these points might be good places to start. You’ve got this. Keep being resilient, take breaks from Zoom now and then and keep doing the best you possibly can.