Reflections on taking part in an Instagram challenge

Hello, it’s been a minute! I hope that everyone has enjoyed their summer and had the chance to have a break.

In today’s post I want to reflect on my experience of taking part in a 31-day Instagram Challenge. Read on to find out what I learnt, whether I would do it again and whether I recommend it.

On August 1st 2017 lots of Women in Stem joined together to take part in an Instagram challenge called #SUMMEROFSTEM hosted by The Stem Squad, ‘an inclusive community of femme-identifying STEM professionals and enthusiasts’. My friend Heidi brought this challenge to my attention on Instagram, and as she doesn’t work in a lab either, I decided to give it a go.

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The challenge consisted of a different theme each day, for all 31 days of August. These themes ranged from ‘greetings’ on day one, to support on day 16 and equality on day 26. I’ve never taken part in a challenge like this before and I’ve certainly never shared so much about my work on my instagram, which I tend to keep mostly personal. But I learnt a number of things whilst taking part in this challenge.

1. IMPOSTER ALERT!

I had been doing great and keeping up with all the themes for the first week. But then day 8 came along with the topic of ‘STEM’. Of course, this should have been the easy one – the whole challenge was based on celebrating women in STEM. But despite that I ended up not posting until the day after. I had been following the tag and got myself in a bit of a comparison battle leaving me feeling slightly inadequate and unscientific. But, on day 9 I got over it and I decided to post something for the theme and to just be honest.

“There is a term often discussed in academia called Imposter Syndrome. Which in a very brief sense is the feeling that you don’t actually know what you are doing, that you don’t belong, that you don’t know enough and eventually you will get caught out as an imposter. It was this that prevented me from posting yesterday. Alongside all the images of people doing super scientific research or spending their days in labs, it’s hard to think of myself as studying a STEM subject. There has been a long debate as to whether psychology really is a science and I guess I got caught up in that.

It’s hard sometimes not to feel like my work is deemed fluffy or unscientific because of the methods I have used so far. But then I have to remind myself that this is still science. And besides all that, I HAVE found myself in the lab for my research. I have used centrifuges and run assays – in order to analyse the saliva samples collected for my MSc. So this theme was a lesson learnt for me, and a chance to reflect on what STEM means and how I fit into it”

2. A chance to reflect

Not all of the themes were work/STEM related specifically. Some enabled me to reflect on my life outside of academic, which I thought was great because I am a huge advocate of balance. Some of the themes really allowed me to reflect on my journey so far and it was nice to look back over the years and see where things have taken me. I particularly liked the theme #support. I often take a moment to reflect on the support I have now and to be grateful for the amazing people in my life. But it was really great to look back and see how many people I have crossed paths with and how many have helped me to get to where I am today.

“I have been supported in my academic journey and today’s theme *support* is helping me to reflect and be grateful for the amazing supporters I’ve had over the years and continue to have now. From my legend of a sixth form tutor Mrs Allen, for suggesting that I put Bath Uni on my UCAS and encouraging me to go to uni in the first place. To my MSc and now PhD supervisor who always has time for me and shares her knowledge. To my family, my friends, my brunch pal and fellow Psychology fanatic Gwen and my employers. To Kelly, my MSc mentor and now best friend. My fellow PhD’ers, Laura and Tara and my office mate Vangelis. And finally, to my women’s circles. It really does take an army – and I am SO grateful.”

I think we often think about who we are grateful for in the moment, but what about the people who have been alongside in the past, the people who gently guided you or offered you an opportunity that brought you to where you are now. I’d really encourage a reflection on this, it can make life feel very rich.

3. Keeping on track

I was a bit reluctant to sign up for the challenge, mainly because the thought of committing to something for an entire month made me feel a bit uneasy. I know I don’t particularly work well with rules or ‘have tos’ – a part of me just automatically rebels. But I decided to give it a go. There were a few days where I had to play catch up and post three photos in one go, which I didn’t mind particularly the first time. But after the second time I had to question why I was trying to keep up with the challenge, and why I was doing it. I had been really clear that I wanted to take part in the challenge to help my regular instagram followers learn a little more about me and my research, but I also wanted to connect with other women in STEM. So when I asked myself honestly why I was getting a bit stressed out I thought back to this intention and realised that if it wasn’t fun I needed to take the pressure off, and I did. I missed a couple of days here and there, and eventually I stopped posting before the challenge was up. I felt a little bad for ‘dropping out’, but I also felt like I had got some good stuff from the challenge and that it was supposed to be a bit of fun!

4. Considering your audience

As I said before, my instagram is mainly personal. I have family and friends following me who are not in academia or have absolutely no clue about my research. So this was an aspect of the challenge that felt fun. I had to be really careful with what type of language I was using to make sure I was getting my message across without being patronising but also so that it made sense. It was a really good test of my writing technique and my ability to explain things for different audiences. I probably found this one of the most valuable things.

5. Meeting other women in STEM

Because of the wonderful hashtag, we were able to follow each other and connect with all those taking part in the challenge. This was also a favourite part of the whole challenge for me. I chatted to women who were based in different countries, women who worked in labs, in refugee camps and offices. It was amazing to see that within the Stem Squad there was such diversity being celebrated.

Would I do a challenge again?

I think I would. However, I’d be realistic with myself. I’d choose from the outset what tags/themes I’d like to post for and I wouldn’t be hard on myself for missing a day or eventually dropping out.

Would I recommend doing a challenge?

Yes, again, I would. But, I would say that you should have a specific reason for taking part. A motivation for getting involved will probably help you stay on track with it but also help you to make the most of the experience. I’d also say that although it is a ”challenge’, if it’s beyond what you are capable of, don’t force yourself to do it. For me, posting every single day for a month was a lot more frequent than my usual 2-3 times a week. And though choosing and uploading a photo and adding a caption might not seem like much, it can be if you are not used to it. If you want to meet others who are similar to you, share more about your research and also learn about others – I’d recommend taking part in the challenge. But as always and with pretty much everything in life, make sure it feels fun and don’t be hard on yourself.

I’m off on holiday next week, but I will be back soon with a review of the upcoming Division of Health Psychology Conference in Cardiff. If you are going to be there please get in touch and let me know – I’d love to connect. You can find me on twitter or drop me a message via my contact page!

Until next time 🙂

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