Updated: Sep 20, 2019
We all know about the common phenomenon of grandparents and parents bragging about their children’s or grandchildren’s high grades, multiple college acceptances, job offers, and many other accomplishments. It is also not uncommon for parents and grandparents to exaggerate those accomplishments and make them sound more prestigious than they really are, eliciting feelings of envy from friends and relatives. It makes parents push their children to accomplish more and become more successful than the children of their friends and relatives. Many families speak about their children with the intention of simply sharing their children’s lives with those who care about them. I am not trying to say this does not exist, I am just trying to point out that bragging about one’s children exists as well.
Academic culture in the U.S. requires applicants to do many of the things that make us blush and become embarrassed when our grandparents do them to us. We need to boast about our qualifications, experiences, and accomplishments. We need to brag about standing out and being the best candidate for a position, award, or scholarship. It has been well documented that women are less likely to boast about their accomplishments than men for self-promotion. (1)
But what happens when the way you were raised completely clashes with the “bragging muscle” that needs to be exercised when applying and networking within academia and the job market in general. I’m not just talking about the fact that females are generally socialized to be more modest. I’m alluding to the issue of intersectionality. What happens when the culture and fundamental values you were raised with contradict the very idea of boasting, bragging, or even simply sharing your recent accomplishments with others. I want to use this space to talk about my own experience. I am not trying to speak on behalf of my culture or anyone else’s culture. This is meant to provide an additional lens and framework to explain additional barriers that may be faced in respect to career development and self-promotion among women.
Within my culture we believe in something called the “evil-eye” and when people are amazed by someone or envious of someone for any reason, they may inflict the “evil-eye” on that person. When a person gets inflicted by the “evil-eye”, things in that person’s life will start going wrong. He/she may get sick, experience bad moods, things may start going wrong at school/work, they may become unlucky, etc. Because of these beliefs, my parents and grandparents never boasted or bragged about me to any of their friends or other relatives. It was a top priority for my parents to teach me to never be envious of others, but they also did not want others being envious of us for any reason. Even when going to extended-family outings, my mom and grandma would do rituals such as making me wear a clothespin on the inside of my shirt or flipping a wine glass over in order to prevent anyone from putting the “evil-eye” on me.
I pride myself on using sound logic and reasoning to determine how I live my life. I do not believe in these superstitions, yet the idea of being humble is ingrained in me.
I completed the entirety of my schooling (Kindergarten-College) in the U.S., yet I still have trouble adjusting to the culture of academia. Whenever my peers gain a leadership position, get a good grade, publish their research, etc. they share it on social media for everyone to see. People make websites dedicated to themselves in order to share their struggles, accomplishments, and life stories. Sharing accomplishments with peers and the medical community is necessary for self-promotion and career development, but it is something that does not come as second-nature to me. Although I am proud of my accomplishments, I don’t view them as anything special and see no reason I have to share them with anyone other than those looking at my CV for programs or positions I am applying for. Joining the #medtwitter community has been a source of growth for me. I now see accomplishments can be shared in order to let others know about research, opportunities, and other activities that may be of interest to others. I am more ready to share my opinions and parts of my life to the public, although I still have a long way to go (hence why this is posted anonymously).
The key to mitigating such barriers and cultural divides is to increase diversity in medicine and to provide mentorship as early as high school. It is also important to continue research into disparities in academia and medicine through the lens of immigrant communities. When I first sat down to write this article, I wanted to do my research to provide more evidence than just my own experience. I believe there is a gap in the research out there looking at disparities among immigrant communities when it comes to attitudes concerning self-promotion and sharing of accomplishments with colleagues.
1. Smith, Jessi L., and Meghan Huntoon. "Women’s Bragging Rights Overcoming Modesty Norms to Facilitate Women’s Self-Promotion." Psychology of Women Quarterly 38 no. 4 (2013): 447-459. DOI: 10.1177/0361684313515840.