ComSciCon-Triangle Student Publication Wins Journalism Award

April 2, 2017
Are Our Scientific Heroes Too Heroic? on Scientific American's Guest Blog

"I haven’t succeeded yet, but I’ll get there," ComSciCon-Triangle attendee Brenda Yang wrote of her own reconciliation of the effects of imposter syndrome.  

In her ComSciCon write-a-thon piece, Brenda used her own personal narrative as a student and a teacher to explicate and enliven the literature around this psychological symptom that seems to play a role in the development of almost every young scientist.

This week, Brenda's writing will be recognized with the Merritt Science Journalism Award of Duke University.  Duke's press release reports that "The judges praised Yang’s work as wonderfully inspiring and self-reflective, while courageously taking the standard narrative – that famous scientists are smarter and more successful than the rest of us – and turning its on its head by arguing we should be telling students more about how our heroes struggled."

While imposter syndrome can have negative effects on the mental health and outcomes for scientists in training, there are strategies educators can use to help their students.  

In her article, published on the Scientific American Guest Blog, Brenda explains that "...research suggests that sharing the process behind achievement can shift student performance, especially for low-performing students."  The article's title asks, "Are Our Scientific Heroes Too Heroic?"

Brenda discusses reading assignments that emphasize the struggle of research rather than only the successes of great scientists, and the concept of the "anti-resume"—listings of the failures and inconclusive studies that are as integral to understanding a role model's career as their triumphs.

Brenda taught high school science in Los Angeles for three years through Teach for America before starting her PhD.  She is currently a PhD student in Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke studying memory, imagining, and education.  She did her undergraduate work at USC, where she also founded a student organization to bring neuroscience lessons to K-12 schools in LA.

The Merritt Award was also awarded to a ComSciCon participant in 2016, when ComSciCon-Triangle organizer Rosa Li won for her piece "Young Daredevils" published by Slate.