Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Impostor syndrome

It doesn't go away -- the sense of being somehow substandard, the anxiety that someone somewhere has made a mistake and soon they're going to figure it out, and arrive at the office door saying "I'm sorry sir, but we just realized that you're not, in fact, smart enough to be here."

We call this impostor syndrome, which starts on day one of grad school and then proceeds to dog you for -- apparently -- the duration of your time in academia. I've blogged about this before (I think), and I will undoubtedly blog about it again. You would think that the various validations along the way -- acceptance to grad school, passing comps, successfully defending the thesis, getting hired -- would be mitigating factors. I suppose they are, and sometimes can contribute to feelings of supreme confidence; but just as frequently there is the sense of somehow having pulled the wool over everyone's eyes. I think this has much to do with the evaluative nature of this profession: there's always something to prove.

All of this is by way of my first time in the role of a thesis examiner. Given that it was only slightly more than a year ago that I sat across the table defending my own thesis, it seems absurd to me that I get to play the opposite part now. And of course, that all leads to the sense of myself being tested as much as the dissertation's author ... which is so absurdly self-centered that I'm kind of embarassed for having introduced this topic at all now ...

I'm happy to say this has a happy ending -- apparently I know what I'm doing after all. A bit of a relief, that.

5 comments:

Lesley said...

I don't think it's stupid at all. In fact, I struggle with this myself on a regular basis. And it's all because no matter how smart you are, how many degrees you have, or how often you've proven yourself and succeeded (or how many times someone has looked up to you) you still have that sense that you're either just not getting it, or you are too dumb to understand. Even when you're really not. So don't feel self centred by putting it out there, just take a deep breath and remember that they wouldn't have hired you if they didn't think you were capable.

You're good enough, you're smart enough, and dog gone it, people like you.

Or something like that.

Clarence (jer) said...

Oh, I know the feeling well... I'm preparing for an interview at Ryerson, so it's surfacing again.

FanglyFish said...

In a forest, a fox bumped into a little rabbit, and said, "Hi Junior, what are you up to?"

"I'm writing a dissertation on how rabbits eat foxes" said the rabbit.

"Come now friend rabbit, you know thats impossible!"

"Well, follow me and I'll show you."

They both go into the rabbits dwellings and after a while the rabbit emerges with a satisfied expression on his face.

Along comes a wolf. "Hello, what are you doing these days?"

"I'm writing the second chapter of my thesis, on how rabbits devour wolves."

"Are you crazy! Where is your academic honesty?"

"Come with me and I'll show you."

As before the rabbit comes out with a satisfied expression on his face and with a diploma in his paw.

As the rabbit leaves his hole he looks over his shoulder at the huge lion who also happens to be his professor, sitting next to some bloody and furry remnants of the wolf and the fox.

The moral: its not the contents of your thesis that is important, its your supervisor that really counts!!

airfair crew said...

This is a congenital problem.
However, be consoled by the fact that thus far your case is a mild one. You should only begin to worry when you find yourself forever 'apologizing'!. Sorry I brought this topic up!!!!

iceman said...

Count the years! Then multilpy by the number of months. Then multiply by the number of days. then Multiply by the number of hours. Then multiply by the number os seconds.Thats how long it took to get where you are.
ANS:378,432'000 seconds. Feel fraudulent at times, but not for long. You can afford a few seconds of insecurity: you've earned it!!!!!!