In this episode of the Impostor Syndrome, we explore the power of facing our fears to achieve our goals. My guest, Kat Clearly, shares her personal story as a data scientist in the life sciences consulting industry who recently wrote her own children’s book. She shares how she has managed self-doubt along her journey and the advice she has for others who want to play bigger.
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About My Guest
Dr. Ekaterina “Kat” Cleary is a scientist, a daughter, a wife, a cat-mom, a writer, and a mentor. Data scientist by day, she is deeply engaged in public health policy and writing about the affordability of pharmaceutical drugs. As a newly minted consultant at Exponent, Kat enjoys discovering interesting patterns in healthcare data and teaching visualization to students of all ages.
Originally from Siberia, Kat has been a proud New Englander for almost three decades. She has a great fondness for animals and lives with her husband and two cats. This spring she self-published her debut children’s book “Adventures of Pierre the Munchkin” under the pseudonym Dr. Kat. Pierre’s story, based on true events, has had global reach and has become an inspiration for children to write their own adventure books.
Having braved the unknown on several occasions, Kat encourages young professionals to view themselves as a “Mockingjay” and inspire others to start their own personal revolutions.
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Kim Meninger Welcome Kat, I’m very excited to talk to you today. And before we jump in, I’d love to just learn a little bit more about you. Can you tell us about yourself?
Kat Clearly Sure. Hi, Kim. And first of all, thank you so much for inviting me on to this podcast to talk about my impostor syndrome journey. I am a data scientist with a background in computational biology. I now work at Exponent, which is an engineering and life science consulting firm. And I have a keen interest in healthcare, so I typically write about more serious and consequential topics such as prescription drug affordability. However, I recently took a foray into children’s book writing, and self-published my first book, Adventures of Pierre the Munchkin.
Kim Meninger I love that so much. And that just seems like such a contrast from data science and what you must be doing all day long, right? I can’t wait to talk more about what inspired you and what that journey looks like. Before we jump into that though, I want to ask you my standard questions of what does impostor syndrome mean to you? And how, if at all, has it shown up in your life or in your work?
Kat Clearly Absolutely. So, when I think about impostor syndrome, and I just learned about it, about the word, the term for it a couple years ago, but to me, it means not giving yourself enough credit for accomplishing great things. So, for example, when I earned my doctor of philosophy degree, which, you know, is no small feat, but in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “Oh, everybody in this field, gets a PhD.” Because, you know, I’m living in Massachusetts, which is a biotech hub. I’m surrounded by Ivy League schools. So, to me, I meet so many people who have that higher degree who might even have a PhD, MD, but to me, it’s like, “Oh, thanks. But I’m just joining the masses. It’s no big deal.” And same thing, when I’m writing a book, there have been so many people that already write, or because of the pandemic, we’re inspired to write and found the time to, as I did, and I feel like my book is in a sea of other books. And that’s when you have to step back and listen to your friends and family who are supporting you and saying, actually, you did something great that I could never do. And like, don’t sell yourself short.
Kim Meninger So, yeah, that’s so interesting that you describe it that way, too. Because what you’re making me think about is that when we are looking at something from a distance, right, like if you’re looking at getting a PhD from a distance, maybe you’re still an undergrad, or you haven’t even gone through the process, it feels like this really daunting big mountain to climb, right. But then certainly while you’re in it, it’s not easy. But the frame shifts right now you’re in a different group of people, like you said, you’re looking around, you’re noticing all the PhDs and you’re thinking, Oh, yeah, now that I’m here, it doesn’t feel like as such a big deal as it might have before. And I think that’s because once we’re in, it doesn’t feel special anymore, right? Like, once we’ve gotten to that point, and we’ve met the challenge, or we have, you know, found ourselves in that situation, we start to explain it away in the way that you’re talking about, right, because I think in some ways we’ve demystified it and by demystifying it, we undermine its significance. And so, what you’re talking about of really just accepting that, hey, you know what, no, I may be surrounded by PhDs because of the nature of the work I do. And the program that I entered, but when you look at it as a percentage of people in the world, right, like, no.
Kat Clearly Yeah, and you have to look at yourself through the eyes of the person who you were years ago, when your path, your idea was not even on the horizon and acknowledge what you’ve done. And just step back instead of, “Okay, what’s the next thing? What am I going to do next?” Just take a step back and give yourself permission to feel the accomplishment.
Kim Meninger Exactly, exactly. I think that’s such a great point that we often don’t spend enough time doing either Because in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we’re just so focused on what’s next. What’s the next thing on my list? What do I have to keep doing? Or because again, we maybe just don’t see it as special, we have a tendency to say, “Oh, yeah, but that was a team effort,” or “Oh, yeah, but it’s not such a big deal.” And so, then we’re accomplishing all these amazing things and achieving all these goals and not marking them in any kind of a celebratory or meaningful way. And so, it continues to leave us susceptible to the idea that I’m just a fraud. Right?
Kat Clearly Exactly. And I think as women, we tend to be more modest. And I mean, it’s good practice to give credit when credit is due. But it’s a fine line between saying, like you mentioned, it’s a team effort, versus really standing up and saying, well, I lead the team, for example. So before coming to Exponent, I was working at Bentley University. So I’m coming from academia. And I was at a think tank there where I had a publication that sort of put us on the map. And I was the lead author on that study. And we found that every single drug that was approved by the FDA had received funding from the National Institutes of Health. And that opened up this conversation, leading to implications for drug affordability. And if we, as taxpayers, are contributing funding that eventually leads to a drug, should we be seeing a return on that investment in the form of cheaper medications, and something that we can afford? And that was definitely a team effort. But as first author, you get cited as Cleary, et al. And so, in terms of citing that, that publication was referenced in congressional hearings, so Alexandria Ocasio Cortez knew about it, the director of the NIH, Francis Collins, knew about it. And that led me on a path where I joined an organization called Prescription Allies that has a lot of patient advocacy, advocacy groups. And I remember joining my first meeting, and the moderator who is part of public citizen introduced me, he said, “Well, we’re joined today by a very special person, this is the Cleary of Cleary, et al. — that publication.” And this is a zoom meeting, and the chat just went wild. And they’re like, “Oh, my God, that’s you. Like you’re that, you know, petite girl that’s behind this great work.” And so on. They really literally said, “Oh, my God, that’s you.” And someone said, “You know, you’re famous around these parts.” And so that, that obviously felt good. But you know, I also had to allow myself to, to accept that praise. And later on is funny, I was watching the Mockingjay movie that part of the Hunger Games, and looking at Katniss and how she inspires this revolution. And so, I feel that maybe I’m the Mockingjay for people who are using this work to fight for drug affordability. And so, it really makes me want to go on and do great things.
Kim Meninger Wow. So, can you say more about what, if anything you had to do mentally to get to a place where you could internalize that and accept that, “Yeah, I’m that person”?
Kat Clearly I had to hear it many times. And I had a boss that was very supportive, that kept nominating me for awards, and I just kept finding opportunities to talk about my work. But then something you had mentioned about self-promotion when we first met and writing down your achievements. And then because I don’t, I don’t do journaling. I don’t do reflection enough. So, for me to put it down on paper, which eventually led to a newsletter, I mean that really puts it into perspective and solidifies it because you’ve written it down. And you screenshot your altmetrics score, which is how many citations you get, and all these different accolades that you can receive. And then, little by little, you start gaining that confidence. Which is a must. Because once you’re out in the real world, you have to keep selling yourself. Just having a PhD on your resume wouldn’t be enough.
Kim Meninger Yeah, that’s interesting that you’re, you’re mentioning these kinds of metrics, right? And metrics come in different shapes and sizes. I know a lot of people worry that their job is unquantifiable. But it doesn’t have to be quantifiable in traditional data ways. But just to be able to slice it in such a way that you can recognize the efforts or the outcomes that you’ve achieved.
Kat Clearly Exactly. And that external validation is so important to us.
Kim Meninger Yeah, exactly. And it’s interesting, because external validation is a big driver for people with impostor syndrome. But that ability to internalize it is usually the missing piece. And so, you know, I love that you’re talking about just actually listening to it, right, like actually being with it for a while, that can help to absorb it a little bit more effectively. So, do you still, I mean, we can shift gears a little bit and talk about your book, like, how does impostor syndrome show up for you now?
Kat Clearly Yeah, so the children’s book was a completely different journey for me. I don’t have kids. So, this is something I wanted to do because I was inspired by my cat, and maybe as a fellow cat lover, you would appreciate that. But, I mean, it was several years in the making. And it wasn’t until the world quieted down. When everything was closed, that I could be alone with my thoughts. And I just ended up rewriting everything that I had. And when I first started, I did not know the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing, which generally means that when you traditionally publish, you have an agent or publishing house that picks up your work. And that would take some time, because now that everybody’s publishing, there’s massive delays, so maybe six months, and then maybe you learn that you’re not their cup of tea. So, with that route, there’s, there’s many avenues for rejection. So, between the agent and the publishing house, it could take a long time until you catch your break. And for me, I just wanted to get the story out. So that’s why I chose to self-publish. So, writing everything down, finding an illustrator, physically getting my book out on the shelves, I mean, I hadn’t even envisioned what that would look like, which is important. You write it, and then what needs to be in the store, and formatting and things like that? And, yeah, when I think about impostor syndrome, I mean, my book’s been out for a couple months, and it’s not a bestseller. So, does that mean that I’ve failed? Because I don’t have 1000s of copies sold. But for me, I accomplished my goal of getting the story out and doing something that I didn’t envision doing. And for me, I know that that will open up a different path of me having that skill and maybe knowing a bit about marketing and things like that. So, I know that it was not for nothing.
Kim Meninger Did you have to consciously define success in your mind, like before you embarked on this journey, or was that something that you came back to as you were going through it or as you know, as you finished the book and sort of putting it out there?
Kat Clearly I was definitely going through it. Because once you join a community of fellow authors, people talk about marketing 90% of the time, they say that writing is the easy part and the rest is getting your book out there. So, for me, you know, maybe my current goal is sell 100 books in 100 days. But then I have to remind myself that at one point, you have to step back and just appreciate what you’ve done because you can spend so much time on marketing. And it might be frustrating if you see if you don’t see return on that time you’ve spent, and you don’t want to get to the point where you’re belittling your, your accomplishment.
Kim Meninger No, I’m also curious, because you mentioned the community. Did you feel pressure like peer pressure in any way? Were you finding yourself comparing yourself to other people or using those kinds of measures to measure your own success?
Kat Clearly As you do inadvertently, because you have people who do this as a full time job, and they’ll say, “Oh, I sold 40,000 copies,” and they’re also trying to be helpful, you know, they’re saying, “Okay, you need to do this, do a vendor fair, print out placemats, do author signings,” which are hard to do in a pandemic. Because even though we’re coming off of it, a lot of places are still shy about doing author signings. So yeah, so your mindset tends to shift into seeing what other people are doing and to try to match that. Which isn’t always possible when you have a full-time job.
Kim Meninger Yeah, exactly. Right. That could be a full-time job in and of itself. You and I were talking a little bit before we hit record, right about the feedback piece. And I want to hear you say a little bit more about that. Because I know that’s got to be challenging from a confidence perspective.
Kat Clearly Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you have something that you’re pouring your heart into. And you’re opening yourself up to the world. And then back to doing a little marketing you post on groups about your book. And so, something that happened to me when I posted on a group is that someone downloaded a free version of my book on Amazon, that was available as a promotion. And they left a two-star review on the book because their child didn’t find it interesting. And because the illustrations were, quote, unquote, weird. And so to give a little context, I’m using photographs of, of my book, where the protagonist is Pierre. He’s the indoor/outdoor cat. And he goes on these adventures, and he meets different animals. And I don’t know what he does when he’s out there. So, I imagined who he meets and how he learns different skills from them. Like, the owl tells Pierre that it’s impolite to stare. And so, and this comes from us actually encountering animals together, like we saw a deer once near our home on a walk, and it was majestic. And so, I turn that into a whimsical tale of a secret outdoor life. And I mean, this person thought there was nothing whimsical about it. And it just wasn’t her cup of tea. And that, that kind of was disheartening. It took the wind out of my sails, because this is, this book is based on true events. And so, at the end, I make it clear that while I was writing the book, the cat Pierre, didn’t come back from his walk. So here I have someone that totally didn’t get it. And so, I fixated on that for a couple days. What I did is I went to fellow indie authors, Amazon pages, and famous authors Goodreads pages, and Goodreads is a social media platform for books. And I would scroll down to the one-star reviews. And I would read what people wrote. And I’ve convinced myself that that’s part of the process. So, someone wrote again that the other fellow indie author’s book was uninteresting, but in the title this, this random person wrote that she must have been asleep or drunk when she purchased the book. And I thought that was so horrible that people don’t appreciate how much effort goes into it. Even if you’re traditional publishing it consumes your life, and you put this out there, and it takes one minute for someone to just shoot it down. They call your efforts. So, yeah, but then, you know, even Stephen King gets bad reviews. I think so.
Kim Meninger Great way to think about it. And I think, you know, the, the truth is that, if you don’t, in order to have people who really love it, you have to have people who really hate it, right? If you’re trying to please everybody, you water it down, and then it becomes meh, for every everybody. Right? So, I think it is important to recognize that not everybody like how you say it’s, you’re not, it’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, right? And that’s okay. But I really believe that that fear of that one or two star review, the fear of the comments. Metaphorically, right, because it could be I’m not going to speak up in this meeting in case somebody says something nasty, or you know, we live in a world where people are rude. People are just, we were talking about that people just don’t have manners anymore. That fear is what I think keeps a lot of people from playing big, from really realizing their dreams, from taking risks, right? Because that sense of, “Oh, no, I don’t want that. Whatever that bad review is in their worlds. Right? So, did you think about that beforehand? Or, was that part of the way that you were thinking about making this entrance into the world in this new way? Or did that come up later?
Kat Clearly It definitely came up later. And a lot of people get critiques, you just have to learn how to parse out the useful information and take something from it that you can change, if you wish to, maybe the next time around. But certainly, opening yourself up to the Internet of Things puts you in a vulnerable situation. And for me, one of the challenges was embracing the unknown. I had no idea what was going to come out of this what the amount of effort and research that would go into it. But the unknown is an old friend of mine, we go way back. So, I mean, back to, you know, my immigration story of changing schools in different countries and learning a new language, which I did twice. And the second time was my own free will. But you don’t know what’s going to meet you ahead, and you just have to embrace it. And once you’re writing away, just got to write it to the end.
Kim Meninger Yeah, I think I think that’s a great way to think about it, to connecting it to experiences you’ve already had, instead of feeling like this is one brand new, entirely brand new experience that you’re not comfortable with. Right? It’s like, the unknown is familiar territory.
Kat Clearly Absolutely. And I think a lot of people will face that. And there, there will be setbacks, just like for me not meeting my deadline, which was, you know, Pierre’s birthday, or having formatting issues. And that takes up a lot of mind space. Just like seeing those bad reviews take the wind out of your sails. I obsessed about that for days. And then the review disappeared because Amazon flagged it. And so, but I had already reached out to so many people for support. And it’s important to have a support group, your family, friends, your tribe of people who are going through the same things because there will be strangers out there who will take the time to hold your hand and to guide you and pat, pat you rub your back metaphorically and say, I’ve been there, you’ll get through this..
Kim Meninger Wow. That really does make it, you know, like I said people have lost their manners on social media and it’s really hard to see people argue over just the simplest little things and the feedback people give but that counterbalance that you’re describing of strangers supporting one another is definitely really inspiring. And I think that if we’re going to choose how we focus our attention, that’s a good place to put it. Is there anything else that you would share in terms of advice for people who are, you know, going in a new direction who are worried about taking that risk and what might happen?
Kat Clearly Absolutely. My first piece of advice would be to not hesitate to ask for help. Because there, there are people who enjoy giving advice. Or if you feel like you’re up against something, and you need to delegate, for example. My book is based on photographs of Pierre and different animals. And so, I outsourced the photoshopping skills of putting the animals together with scenes of New England, to someone who had the time and could do this quickly. And she’s in Pakistan. And so, we helped each other. And you do have to keep going. Because it’ll be worth it at the end. And as you’re going through this, and as you’re reaching the end, and maybe you’ve, you’ve done what you’ve set out to do, my best piece of advice would be to give yourself permission to celebrate your accomplishment, in the ways that your support group celebrates you. So look at yourself through their eyes, and allow yourself to celebrate you that you’ve made it, you’ve done this. And just take a step back, before you dive into the next thing.
Kim Meninger Yeah, and so knowing what you know, now, everything that you went through, would you do it again?
Kat Clearly That’s a good question. Um, because I do have an idea for another book. And this book focuses on a different cat. I think my, I think my books might all focus on cats. But this one, in particular, is one we adopted that has ended up having a disability. So this cat, he’s, he’s one year old. But he has cerebellar hypoplasia. So that’s also called wobbly cat syndrome. It’s an under-development of his brain. And he has a mild case of it. But he still has to have a very wide stance when he walks to balance. And so, it’s hard for him to jump. Like he’s a cat who can’t jump, who kind of puts one foot in front of the other and falls. And so, my next book I want to read it for, for kids with special needs, and disabilities and kind of have this cat Sunny, get past his inability. And in that way, support someone who might be going through the same thing. And this is something that I’m hoping not that I didn’t want Pierre’s story to be shared. I do, but I want more people to see it. And so I’d want to try to traditionally publish.
Kim Meninger Wow, I love that. I love the intersection between something that’s obviously very meaningful to you and something that would be really inspiring to a lot of other people too. That’s great. So, what would you say, as we wrap up today, you are hoping that people will take away from our conversation?
Kat Clearly Well, I hope that people will be inspired to embrace the unknown in their life, whatever that may be. I hope that people will take the risk and risk taking is hard. I mean, I’ve could have quit my job to do this. But you know, to me, I had a small risk of time investment ahead of me and I had the opportunity when the world quieted down to, to embark on my journey. So, if our viewers can find the opportunity, and take it and pursue it, then I hope they will. And I hope that at the end, they’ll have a little launch party for themselves. And make sure they invite their biggest fans, their family, and, and not to focus too much on the roadblocks and the setbacks because you won’t remember that. When I held my author, copy in my hand for the first time, I did not remember how I forgot, you know, a period. I was just, you know, overwhelmed and excited.
Kim Meninger I love that Kat. Thank you so much for sharing your story, for giving us all of these great insights. It’s really inspiring, I hope you do write that next book. I think it’s something that a lot of people would benefit from readings. So, thank you again.
Kat Clearly Thank you very much. And I really appreciate the work that you’ve done and the different perspectives that you’re able to get on the show. So, thank you and keep going.
Kim Meninger Thank you. I’m going to keep going as long as people listen so thank you and, if anyone listening is interested in Kat’s book, or learning more about Kat, you can definitely check out the show new show notes for additional information.