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Dean's Blog: Finding your fit

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

Over my life and my career, I have heard the word “fit” so many times in the context of being part of a community. Probably the times that resonate the most are those related to feedback after job interviews. I would be told things like “We didn’t feel you were a great fit for us,” or “We found someone who was a better fit.” At first, I felt this feedback reflected that I had some sort of shortcoming(s), that there was something inherently wrong or perhaps that I was missing something. Then of course, were the times, where I actually got the job and was told things like “You’re a great fit for what we are looking for,” or “We think you’ll fit very well into your new position.” In these cases, I felt vindicated, validated.

But somewhere inside me, I still feel that this whole “fitting” thing is misplaced. I keep hearing the “fit” in all of its varieties all the time. I have heard it here at Mason when we interview individuals for faculty or administrative positions. I hear it in conversations about whether a particular research or curriculum initiative fits within our portfolio.  And the list goes on.

Does this happen to you, too?

In my view, fitting or not fitting forces all of us to try to conform to some sort of preconceived pattern or mold -- which we rarely know where it comes from. This can lead to what is known as “impostor syndrome.”

I had a great opportunity to be part of an event last week organized by our college focusing on impostor syndrome for women in STEM fields. The stories I heard and the experiences that were shared by multiple female colleagues – faculty, staff, and students from many fields of science, were both compelling and somewhat heartbreaking. Compelling because I got a better appreciation for well-known biases against women in STEM fields from listening to my colleagues (if you have not watched the documentary “Picture a Scientist,” I highly recommend it). Heartbreaking because I realize that this is something that shouldn’t be happening anywhere (and less so in the sciences), and that affects these brilliant and enthusiastic group of colleagues in a very real way.

At Mason’s College of Science, we strive to cultivate, nurture, and always improve an atmosphere and a culture where everyone fits, no matter what discipline, country of origin, cultural background, gender, ethnicity, interests you bring with you to our community. Science tells us that the most productive, innovative, healthier, happier, groundbreaking organizations are the most diverse. And in this diversity, everyone should fit.

I want to tell my colleagues who attended the event last week, and those that were unable to attend as well, that we are here to include you, that we should all work together so that othering has no place in our college and in Mason at large. I left the event somewhat energized by this sense of community, solidarity, and pride to feel that we have each other’s backs.

Yes, we have a lot of work to do. But this event was only the beginning. I want to thank the Mason speakers at the event: Neuroscience undergraduate student Sarah Hunter, Chemistry graduate student Eva Maria Rudler, Mathematics professor Evelyn Sanders, and keynote speaker Prof. Christy Pichichero from Mason’s College of Health and Human Services.

We are organizing a series of next events and activities around the framing of Women Leaders in STEM, and I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to support their stering committee members: Tina Bell, Taylor Anderson, Barney Bishop, Megan Erb, Carissa Hunter, Rebecca Jones, Kelly Knight, Tracy Mason, as well as Paula Danquah-Brobby and Ferah Munshi, who moderated this event.

So stay tuned; lots more to come.

Visit the dean's blog for more insights from Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm.