Scicurious is talking about Imposter Syndrome today, which is the irrational fear that everyone will realize what a spectacular fraud and general dumbass you are. Drugmonkey reminded me of a post I wrote about this a few years ago when I was feeling less than charitable and also offers the following good advice at Scicurious’s joint:
For those new to this sort of discussion, I recommend a few simple tools if you want perspective. PubMed and RePORTER to start with for biomedical scientists. I think NSF also has a grant database? Fastlane or something? The departmental web page, look for CV links. The point is to review the career arc of some of your favorite heroes and not-so-heroes (for these latter, maybe start with a paper or three that seem to be the person’s “only” work of significance).
Review their entire career to date. Figure out the timeline. Where did they train, with whom and for how long? Was the person a shining star at every possible moment?
Thinking about the post I had written previously made me think about how I am a very different Isis than I was when I started writing this blog. It’s led me to think about the evolution of my time here at MRU. I have been here for several years now and things are going really well for me. We’re writing manuscripts and grants and churning out really good data. I’m also really happy here. I have colleagues that I like and the intellectual environment is really great. There are people working on things that compliment my expertise nicely.
I didn’t feel this way when I first came to MRU. I went from being in a lab where I had friends and data for papers and was a total rockstar to being by myself with no new data. The day I arrived at MRU I opened the door to the labspace I was to use and found at least an inch of dust on everything. There were some crickets living in the corner and some of the equipment had been turned off without really being prepared for storage. I found fungus and mold growing inside. I had no friends and no family here.
It was really hard to come in every day and feel alone. The second semester I was here I took on two undergraduate students from a program to help me and it was a huge failure. Not only had I not really established the techniques we now use, but I had never really mentored students in research. You can’t really teach students when you have no idea what the fuck you’re doing. I was far too informal with them and they walked all over me. I’m not saying that they were bad students. I am saying that I was not a good mentor to them.
It was very hard for me to stay positive during the first year that I was here. It was hard to keep myself focused on the fact that, if I kept plugging away like the tortoise, I would eventually be successful. I can remember many, many emotional conversations with my colleagues Dr. Buttercup and Dr. Triple Threat, telling them that I felt like a failure. Or that I wasn’t being successful.
It was very difficult for me to go to research seminars and see the scads and scads of data that other labs were generating when I was still struggling to get our experimental assays working properly in a new environment. That made each failure really sting. Dr. Triple Threat would tell me that if I kept on the path that I was on, he could see that I would reach a point when I had more papers to write than I would know what to do with. At the time I thought he was a dirty, dirty liar. In retrospect, he was right.
I suppose the point of this reflection is to remind myself that we are perhaps especially vulnerable to these feelings of imposter-isms when we make a transition.