Overcome Imposter Syndrome and Excel in your virtual REU

I’ve seen a lot of students ask about how they should prepare for a virtual REU. I’ve also seen a lot of students say that they are scared and feel intimidated about their REU’s. As someone who has run REU programs, I know that once in a while we’ll get that student who thinks this is a paid vacation. Not often but it does happen which is why you’ll often find that the language associated with the structure and the guidelines sometimes seems a bit stern. This is by design because there’s sometimes that person who doesn’t go to anything. Don’t be that person. After reading the structure and format and the policies you might read and think, “Wow, this sounds really intense.” Am I ready for this? Yes, you are. Here some tips to overcome imposter syndrome and excel in your virtual REU.

  1. Do not be Intimidated. Did you know that approximately 70% of people suffer from imposter syndrome? When I first learned this I thought there’s no way but yes, it is true. Some people are just really good actors. Okay now that you know this it might help somewhat but when good old imposter syndrome starts creeping in here are some good mantras to tell yourself:

    “Feel scared but do it anyway.” Fun fact: I use this one ALL OF THE TIME!
    “They chose me for this summer program for a reason because I’m amazing.” YOU ARE!
    “It’s research, we don’t have all of the answers and I’m not expected to know everything.” Exactly! It’s Research Experience for Undergraduates not Research Experience for Turing Awardees.
  2. Find a Designated Workspace. First and foremost be sure to have a designated spot where you will work. It could be more than one. For instance, in the beginning, you’ll spend a lot of time going over journals to review or other readings that will give you some background on the project. A lot of students say to me, “I haven’t started yet, I’m just doing the readings.” Guess what? If that’s what you’re doing then you’ve already started! You don’t run the Boston Marathon without a warmup. Go to your favorite cafe or boba shop and read articles. Make sure you have a designated space at home where you will do your research. Let others know you’re busy. Even if it just looks like you’re just staring at the screen you are unavailable and are working.
  3. Your equipment is off-limits. I know this might be hard to explain to friends or family members who may want to “just quickly use your laptop” to print something out but nope it’s off-limits. You’ve got data, sensitive information and chances are you’ve got your settings in place for your use. So as harsh as it may sound, “Say no!!” Your laptop is off-limits, those cool Arduinos you’re working with are also off-limits. People will say that you are greedy. Guess what? Greed is good. You’ll thank me when you don’t have any mishaps as a result of being too generous. True story, I let a family member use my laptop really quickly and the next thing I knew I went into a meeting and I had a Pikachu from Pokemon background. I got weird looks from my colleagues especially when I was presenting on a serious issue.
  4. Lights, Camera, Action. Make sure your camera is always on in meetings. Important when you’re camera is off it will give the impression that you’re not engaged. Camera broken? Let them know that you need a laptop to use during the program. You need to be seen, out of sight is out of mind.
  5. Software Central. Be sure you have reliable wifi and have access to all of the software that you will need. If there’s a campus network that has articles or software that you’ll need access to it would be best to ask about this beforehand. Ask if you can get access to the university portal if you need to look up any journal articles. They can likely give you temporary access for the duration of your internship.
  6. One on Ones. Schedule regular meetings with your PI and your graduate mentor to talk to them about your interest in graduate school, that is if you are interested in graduate school. If you’re not sure then a good thing to talk to them about would be trends in related fields. A good conversation piece might be what you’re taking in the fall semester. Remember faculty and grad students enjoy talking about their research. PI stands for Principal Investigator. If there is any acronym that you don’t know ask what it is immediately. Simply say, “I’m not familiar with that acronym what does it stand for?”
  7. Graduate Programs. Many REU programs will have presentations on graduate programs at their university. If you are interested then take notes. Ask the person presenting if they have any in-person visit opportunities in the future. I’m sure that they will. Get the presenter’s name and contact information, and ask them to add you to their listservs. A lot of graduate recruiters promote opportunities and send out to a list of students that they’ve interacted with. You want to get on those lists, you want them to recognize your name and know about opportunities whether it be visit days, grad labs, or other events of interest. These people will likely have information on fellowships or other intel that will be helpful in your graduate school process.
  8. The Final Presentation. Talk to your PI and graduate mentor about the format of the final presentation. Since it’s virtual there are a number of ways it might be presented. To make it easier find out the format for the final presentation that way you can be prepared. It’s always great to do a “dress rehearsal” for your lab. Even if your lab is virtual.
  9. Stay in Contact. If you have LinkedIn connect with your PI, your graduate mentor, AND the other REU interns. You’re all in this together so connect with each other and remain in contact even after the REU. You never know these could be future classmates in grad school or future colleagues. I’ve seen it happen many times. On the subject of LinkedIn Connect with me!! Tiffany Reardon
  10. Spell my name right! If someone mispronounces your name. Correct them immediately, in a nice way of course. I once had a student who I called “Katrina” for years. Her name was actually Karina but she never said anything. We even put Katrina on all the materials!
  11. Last but not least, enjoy this experience!!!!

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