For those of us who watched movies set in schools and colleges, we learnt of groups and the cliches that come with them, early on. A group sometimes has a shared identity. It could be their interest in sports, environment, policy, or any niche that presents itself. I think about how we find parts of ourselves in each of these groups and sometimes none at all.

I began my academic years often wondering which parts of myself I would be comfortable presenting to everyone. I realized how I quietly built an image of how I wanted to be seen. I also learnt how this image was sometimes not who I was and that this is allowed, too. Enrolling in let’s say a math club, did not stem from my interest in math, but more so wanting to learn how people perceive math. I adopted this identity because it was not who I was inherently, but a part of the identity I was building. Our identities are dynamic and are allowed to facilitate change actively, even if that means trying something that does not fit the idea of who you are now.

Some groups also shape how you see yourself. Partaking in online journal clubs, for example, would help me realize if research really intrigued me. These groups and environments not only foster your inherent interests but could also push you to discover parts of yourself and cultivate new interests.

Through my experiences in academic institutions and workspaces, I have found spaces in many groups and some others, not so much. I write this to reflect on how navigating these groups was easier when I knew I deserved to be respected and my voice mattered, regardless of my perceived competence. I may not be on the expert panel in every group, but in groups where safe spaces are created to learn, I find space for myself too.

I have noticed that when groups value curiosity and encourage expression, we learn to value those parts of ourselves too. We are driven to facilitate an assertion of who we are, notice all that we have been holding back, in quiet yet powerful acknowledgment of our own voices.