Your friend asks you what you do for a living. You say “I’m a data scientist’’. He then adds “So you’re a scientist, cool”. You pause for a second and wonder. “Am I really a scientist?”. Your imposter syndrome growing louder. “Am I really a scientist?!”
First of all, the qualifications for being a scientist are vague. There exists no universal threshold that grants someone the title of being a scientist — unlike other professions. For example, it takes a postgraduate degree to be considered a doctor, passing the bar to be a lawyer and winning an election to be a governor. With that, let’s establish our own criteria. A scientist is someone learned in the sciences, who tackles problems with the scientific method.
As per Google qualifications, a data scientist should be able to: drive strategies and product recommendations; design data analyses; critically think about strategic issues; research, develop and optimize methods or algorithms to extract patterns and value from data; design experiments to answer targeted questions; draw conclusions from data; recommend actions.
Depending on what you do as a data scientist, if you follow the scientific method — when you gather data, design experiments, develop methods, and draw conclusions, then you are a scientist. As much as we do not want to align ourselves with the great minds like Newton and Einstein, the aforementioned qualifications clearly include us with them. This is not saying that we are as successful or as prestigious as them, it is simply an acknowledgement of one’s skills and value.
Imposter syndrome affects people from all backgrounds and is estimated to impact 70% of people at some point in their careers. For those who can play the guitar, when can you consider yourself a musician? If you have a good voice and loves to sing, can you say you’re a singer? When can an artist ever claim to be one? It’s mostly subjective.
For me, whether you are an aspiring data scientist, or an experienced one, remember that the scientist inside you is the part that seek for the scientific truth, the part that adheres to her methods — not shying away from scrutiny, guided by data for the pursuit of knowledge. So you tell your friend, ‘yeah, I’m kind of a scientist myself’, and move on.
Costa, C., & Santos, M. Y. (2017, April). A conceptual model for the professional profile of a data scientist. In World Conference on Information Systems and Technologies (pp. 453–463). Springer, Cham. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315862513_A_Conceptual_Model_for_the_Professional_Profile_of_a_Data_Scientist
Sakulku, J. (2011). The impostor phenomenon. The Journal of Behavioral Science, 6(1), 75-97. Retrieved from https://so06.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/IJBS/article/view/521/pdf