Saturday, October 3, 2009

Over and under

I have a confession. I feel like an impostor.

This is nothing new exactly. When I was finishing by undergrad and made the decision to attend grad school, I feared my advisers were think I was crazy... or stupid... or unprepared. I worried that that I wouldn't get into a graduate program... so I applied to 14 programs.

When I started grad school, coursework and proficiency exams made me feel as though there was so much more that I should have known already. I feared that I wouldn't be good enough or smart enough for the labs I rotated in. Being accepted to my first choice lab did little to allay those fears.

It was Bear* who first made me realize that I had placed limits on myself. I had always worked hard, but I had never been able to see myself making it as a PI at a research university. I had resigned myself to pursuing a career at a PUI** until Bear gave me his vote of confidence.

Now I'm in the postdoc phase, and I still have these feelings of not being good enough for where I'm at. These are the things I sometimes think about when I wake up in the middle of the night and can't go back to sleep (which is what I get for taking pseudoephedrine before bed). Those subconscious thoughts and feelings come to the surface and won't be ignored. Did I really contribute anything to new to Bear's lab? Did my committee really think I had proven myself worthy of a Ph.D., or did they just let me out because I had a job? Why the hell did Guru take me on as a postdoc? What was I thinking, switching to a field I know so little about? I try to be completely honest about what I have and haven't done. Does he regret his decision in hiring me? I'm in a department with brilliant people doing amazing things--what can I possibly contribute?

I feel overwhelmed by the tasks in front of me and underwhelmed by my perception of my intellect and abilities. It's particularly difficult to talk myself out of these self-doubts when I've had a couple of crappy research weeks (you know, the ones where you have trouble getting the simple, straightforward experiments to work). I don't really have anyone at BRI with whom I've established a close enough relationship to talk about these things.

I don't know if this will ever get any easier for me (I hope it does). Despite all these doubts, I won't let go of that dream of running my own lab. Sometimes I'm not sure if it's stubbornness or insanity or a true belief that I can and will do it. I'm absolutely afraid of failing, but I'm more terrified of never trying.

* Don't think for a moment that Bear was the Carebear sort. He could be--and indeed was--an ass on occasion. There were times he made me feel like a complete idiot, but there were also times that he let me know very matter-of-factly what I had going for me and the potential that he saw.

** I think I've said this before, but just to reiterate: I think there is nothing wrong with a career at a PUI. I did my B.S. at such a place and had a lot of fantastic profs, without whom I wouldn't even be in science. I just don't think it's
my gig.

1 comment:

Amanda@Lady Scientist said...

I know a fairly accomplished prof who says that s/he feels like an impostor every so often. So, it appears pretty indiscriminate, but s/he said that it got easier to deal with. I hope it becomes easier for you, too!