Expert Women: going from 'imposter' to presenter

Jassel Majevadia talks about her experience of the BBC Academy's first training day for female experts who want to be presenters.

I have a confession to make.

My name is Jassel Majevadia, and I'm an imposter.

Or at least, I think I am.

In recent weeks I have encountered a strange phenomenon, both widespread and yet commonly unrecognised: imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is when you feel like the only fake in a world of real experts - and that one day, you will get caught. PhD students experience it all the time, feeling relieved that another day has gone by where they have managed to successfully convince their supervisors and peers that they actually know what they are doing.

"Lunch was splendid, or it would have been if there hadn't been about 70 amazing people there distracting me from my food" – Jassel Majevadia

The phrase also featured in the book ‘Chavs’ by Owen Jones, in the context of scholarship winners from poorer backgrounds who feel that they do not deserve their clearly hard-earned successes.

It also cropped up at the BBC, of all places, when I was a participant in the BBC Academy's first Expert Women's Day. Sat quietly hiding behind a cup of coffee in a conference room surrounded by 29 incredibly talented women, I found myself wondering how on earth I had managed to blag my way in. And then it happened…

One of the morning’s speakers, Daisy Goodwin, announced an interesting fact. When female experts are asked to contribute or comment on a topic, they are more likely than men to not consider themselves "expert enough", and to attribute most of their successes to outside factors.

In plain English, they consider themselves to be imposters.

I could sense that I was not the only one in the room sighing with relief and recognition. It turns out that this is a big problem in the media industry, and no doubt many other areas. With this established we were then put at ease with the help of a brilliant film on Women in the BBC which ended with the faces of the 30 participants, and the day continued.

My group began with a live radio discussion session. The trainers, who included Liz Barclay of Radio 4’s You and Yours, made us feel incredibly at home in the studio. It seemed to work: listening to the playbacks of our in-depth radio discussions, I wasn't entirely sure whether it was really us speaking, or professionals who had stepped in for us.

We then went on to film our walking piece to camera, where we had to explain something complicated in one minute and keep it interesting the whole time. One version was as we had practiced, the second was with the hamminess turned up to 11. This actually came across rather well, and was not too creepy on camera.

Lunch was splendid, or it would have been if there hadn't been about 70 amazing people there distracting me from my food. The Who's Who of the BBC and the wider broadcasting industry came along to have a chat with us - including a producer from the BBC World Service, the former and current editors of BBC Horizon and a producer from the Discovery Channel.

The third session of the day gave us the chance to talk with some of the top dogs in a more intimate setting. Helen Hawken of the Discovery Channel, Jane Garvey of Women's Hour and the BBC's head of science Andrew Cohen were among the panellists, offering a few tips on what to do and what not to do when working towards appearing in the media.

Last were our One Show-style interviews, where we were questioned on topics like how scientists in a certain field might collaborate with say, medical professionals. For me this was a great question because the very nature of my work is cross-disciplinary, with huge amounts of collaboration with other fields. Following a few brief ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ I managed to overcome my fatigue from the long day, as well as my nerves, and finished up with a great interview. 

The event proved to be an invaluable experience which offered an insight into the media that isn't often available. It’s also being followed up by another training day in March, to really consolidate our skills. The whole scheme is, in my opinion, a great way to introduce more women into the media and, more importantly, to give them the confidence to just say "yes" when asked to appear on-screen or radio.

Feeling a lot less like an impostor, this is Jassel Majevadia, signing off for the BBC Academy.

 

Jassel Majevadia (@jazzmajevadia) is a theoretical physicist with expertise in materials science who is currently completing her PhD at Imperial College London. Her speciality is making challenging topics both exciting and interesting for any audience with fun demonstrations, or even just a pen and paper.