The impostor syndrome is an incredibly odd phenomenon. As I have progressed in my academic career, I thought for sure it would go away. Let me be quite plain: it has not. Let’s start with a quick overview of what I have done in academia.
I attended Santa Fe Community college and received a transferable AA. I then attended the University of Florida and received a BS in chemistry with a minor in secondary science education (which certified me to be an elementary, middle, or high school teacher in the state of Florida). In the senior year of my bachelors work, I was an intern at the Ecole Normale Superieure de Cachan in Paris, France. I then attended the University of California, Davis where I received a PhD in chemistry. Now I am a post doctoral fellow at the University of Aarhus, Denmark.
When I got into UF (and then eventually UC Davis) I distinctly remember feeling like maybe it was all a big mistake and that there was a ‘Crash’ somewhere in Minnesota who was crying her eyes out because she had received the denial letters that should have been mine. What is it that makes us feel that way? Why do we have such trouble accepting the idea that what we have achieved is the fruit of the labor we put in?
I laid in bed the night I arrived in Denmark thinking to myself ‘Good god what have I gotten myself into? Am I crazy for thinking I can do this? Can I do this?’ I spent a shit ton of money, time and effort to get myself, my fiance, and my cat here (see previous posts…) and now that we had arrived I was fucking panicking. For fucks sake…I have a PhD. I wrote a 370 page dissertation detailing how I am capable of doing this and there I was… laying in bed and panicking.
It was about this time I had to tell myself to pull up my big girl panties and fucking deal with it.
I think there is some ‘Now You’re a Post Doc’ switch in me that has yet to flip. I have spent my entire academic career working with the people I thought best suited to my temperament and style. This has meant I pretty much knew which direction I was headed in next (based on what my supervisor told me). My new advisor has told me I can do anything I want, more or less. I can listen to others and try to have ideas about their chemistry, or I can spear head a totally new project conceived and carried out of my own volition. I am absolutely fucking terrified. My advisor has spent a lot of money to get me here (so have I for that matter…) and now all I can think about is ‘what if I fuck it up?’
The other side of this coin is that I think it is incredibly important to remain humble and to continue to question ourselves. If we are too assured of our abilities, we become cocky. To question our selves and to reevaluate our principals is one of the most fundamental aspects of science. It is often the case that the most significant discoveries occur only after we have found that what we once thought to be true is in fact not. How do we balance these two factors? Pride and confidence crossed with a humble nature and the ability to logically analyze a situation when we are wrong. It is a constant struggle.
I don’t really have a conclusion here…I guess I am seeking comfort in hearing that maybe I am not the only scientist dealing with this shit.