I’m so honored this year to be leading TWO discussions at Science Online!! The first up will be Dr. Zen and I, talking about blogging for the long haul. How do you keep it going, build your “brand”, and avoid the ever-looming fear of burnout? Let’s talk about strategies and where it all might be going! And if you can’t be at Science Online this year, fear not! The session with be live cast, so you can participate via twitter as it’s going on. Hope to “see” you soon!
For the past…oh my, for the past FIVE YEARS, I’ve been recording, every year, the books I manage to read. Five (gulp) years ago, this was because I was trying the then popular idea to read 100 books in a year. Then I started a blog. 100 books did not happen (though I did get past 60!). Since then, I’ve set more modest goals, trying for 30 books each year. This year I BARELY made it. Usually they are somewhat punishing and self-improving, but I have some fun ones in there too. And then every year I post them, and ask for you, my friends and readers (some of whom may well not be my friends and I just don’t know it) to give me book recommendations.
And this year I ask again! Are there any books you particularly recommend? Great works? Fantasy? I do like fantasy. Science? As you know I LOVE me some science! Leave them in the comments, and if I haven’t read them, I’d be glad to give them a try!
And now, This year’s book list!!! *fanfare*
I felt very inspired looking at the recent post from Jeremy Yoder, ‘Knowing what I know now‘. Well, first it reminded me of this:
Though of course this is the BEST song of that title:
But then it made me think of all the things that I WISH I’d known in grad school, the things I did right (though unconsciously), and the things I should have done better.
While I don’t have a time machine and can’t go back to tell my naive self how to GIT IT DONE, I do have YOU! The grad students who will come after me. And you can benefit from my experience! There have been some posts I’ve written on this before, I’ll try to link to them as I go along.
So here you have it. My entry for the “Knowing what I know now” carnival. 5 things I wish I’d known before I started grad school.
1. You will hit that slump.
THAT slump. The research slump. The writing slump. Usually around your 3-4th year. Maybe again if you’re still working in the 7th year. The slump where nothing works. Where going to lab makes you irritable and snappish. Where you hate your PI, your lab, and pretty much your life.
Everyone has it. You are not alone. You can DEFEAT THE SLUMP. You can. Find and talk to friends. Maybe take on a side project, something easy and achievable to get a second authorship. Develop a side skill (teaching or writing, something to develop your CV). Approach your question from a new angle. There are lots of things you can try, but know that you WILL hit the slump. Everyone does, some just lie and say they don’t.
2. Organize. Organize and plan. Routine and efficiency are your friends.
Jeremy said something about this as well, and I think it’s very wise (it’s also the one there here I managed to get right the first time!). After classes are over in grad school, you make your own hours. You make your own research. You make your own productivity. There are very few deadlines, and if you’re not careful, you’re going to spin wheels and get nothing done. Organize. Write an NRSA or another predoctoral grant. It’s good practice, and even if you don’t get it, lays out the experiments you will do, and gives you a guideline and a map for where you need to be. Keep a bible (not that kind). Practice efficiency. Make lists, see what you can get done in a day. Learn how to effectively manage your time. This will help you…
3. Stay productive…
…when you get in a slump, productivity can be hard. We make our own hours, and a string of defeats can leave those hours slipping from 8-8, to 9-5, to 10-3, to 12-2…well, crap. And that doesn’t look good for anyone. Find ways to stay productive, whether that’s developing new skills or new techniques, or just getting the little things done that help your work run more smoothly. Don’t let yourself slack. It feels so good, but it ends in panic.
Keep doing what you need to do. If you want to develop things on the side (like, say, science writing or teaching), DON’T let that eat into your research time. Do it ON THE SIDE. Meet expectations. Get your stuff done.
4. …but don’t burn out. Meet the standard, yes, but don’t work yourself to the bone to exceed it. I’ve seen way too many grad students burning the midnight oil til there’s nothing left to burn. The end result is not pretty. I used to tell people when they joined the lab “congratulations! By the time you leave, you will be an alcoholic, or an untramarathoner. Pick one.” These are extremes, but I have seen both, and it highlights the kind of stress and constant desperation that you go through in grad school. This is because, no matter how well we are doing, we grad students are competitive. We know now that tenure track jobs don’t come free. The demanding lifestyle of science is glorified in the scientific culture. Don’t buy into this hype. Do NOT give in to the pressure to over-exceed all expectations. Meet expectations. Exceed them when you can. But take breaks. Stay sane. Seek balance. Balance means that you won’t always be the absolute best at what you do. But that’s ok, because…
5. Welcome to the world of average.
Many young grad students come into grad school out of a stellar undergraduate career. We had two majors and 10 extracurriculars. We excelled at all of them. And held down a side job. We did undergraduate research. Even at our Ivy League specialty schools, we were above average.
This ain’t undergrad anymore. When I started undergrad (at a rather prestigious uni), the president gave us a speech. In high school, he said, we were all in the top 10% of our class. But now you’re here, he said. And that top 10%? That’s now 100% of your class. The message is: YOU WILL BE AVERAGE.
But for those of us going to grad school, it gets even worse. You see, most of us were in the top 10% of THAT top 10% in undergrad. Among the above average, WE were above average. Well guess what, now those 100 people who were the top 10% or higher of their Ivy League schools? These are your new colleagues. These are the grad students you will meet, work with, and compete against.
You WILL be average at something. You’ll be BELOW average at something. If you haven’t failed a test before, you will. If you haven’t made a very, very stupid mistake before, you will. If you haven’t made bad choices…oh you’re in for a lot of those.
And that’s ok!!! It’s really OK!! It will teach you things. It will teach you HOW TO FAIL, which is something that some people have never faced before grad school. It will teach you how to fail, get up, and try again.
Don’t let yourself lose the perspective though. You’re still in grad school. You’re still in that tiny percent. You may have failed once, but you’re still smart, you can still do this. You can get up, and you can try again. After all, all those people around you? They are doing exactly the same thing. They will fail things, too. They will mess things up. And they, and you, will learn from it, and go on, and do great things. When you are down, in that slump, remember that. Learn what you can, get up, and try again.
Does anyone else have any advice? What are the things that you learned on the way that you wish you’d known? Let me know in the comments, or better yet, write a post and submit it to the carnival!
Sci came across a post by Jeremy Yoder at the Molecular Ecologist the other day. It was “Knowing what I know now” and was a set of reflections grad school. It’s full of great gems of advice.
And it made me think of some advice of my own! There are LOADS of things that I would go back and try to earnestly tell my first-year self. But of course, while I can’t benefit from it (yet, c’mon time travel!), you can! And so, in talking with Jeremy, we’d like to solicit posts for a Carnival, held at The Molecular Ecologist, on “Knowing what I know now“. We’d love to see advice from all stages. Grad students, what would you tell undergrads? Postdocs, what would you tell grad students? Tenure track, what would you tell postdocs? And you tenured people, what wisdom can you pass on to us?
I will be writing my own post on it shortly (probably tomorrow!), and would love to hear from all of you! Give me some advice, help those still to come. Submit posts to Jeremy, and he’ll deliver you a carnival full of great advice on December 10th!
I try not to make these “ads” for Scientopia too frequent, but I also want to keep you aware. We at Scientopia founded this site to do what we love, and we all, ALL, do it for free. In fact, we do it for less than free, since many of us have put in a lot of time, and real money, into making sure that Scientopia is real and legit and runs on a day to day basis. So if you’re feeling generous today (or any day!), please do take a look at the right hand side of some of our blogs, where you’ll see a little “donate” button, which links to PayPal, where you can donate a bit and help us keep the lights on. Thanks.
Over at the Guest Blog, our current guest is my sometimes partner in crime Dr. Zen! He is taking is amazing blogging prowess (srsly I think this dude posts to at least four different blogs at least three times per day. I am in awe) to our guest blog, where he is explaining the rules of science as…the rules of SPIES. The comparison really is shockingly apt. Head over and take a look! He’s got the first four up already!
Welcome to the 15th Edition of the Diversity in Science Carnival, focusing on Imposter Syndrome! I knew that this issue affected a lot of people, but you’ll realize just how many from the unprecedented number of people who have submitted posts! So I hope that here you’ll be able to see just how many people suffer from imposter syndrome, what it means to people, where it might come from in academia, and maybe find some ways to overcome it!
(Stolen from Contemplative Mammoth, because it’s awesome)
Imposter Syndrome: It is just you, but you’re not alone.
Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you’re not qualified for your career. Not only that, other people are going to “find out” and summarily kick you out as a fraud. It seems kind of silly, but it can seriously affect someone’s confidence, causing them to miss opportunities and not apply for the advancements they could achieve. I’ve even, sadly, seen it force many people out of academia entirely. But getting out of academia may not even help! Over at Significant Figures, a PhD in Biochemistry talks about how Imposter Syndrome followed them out of academia and into their new career as a science writer. Squirreled thoughts writes about the imposter syndrome going the other way, stepping into academia from outside work, and how imposter syndrome can strike even when you know you’re an expert.
Imposter Syndrome is not a constant. There are moments of confidence, and moments of difficulty. Over at The University of Washington SACNAS Student Chapter Blog, Sabrina talks about her dealings with imposter syndrome in not one, but two graduate departments, showing resolve and persistence as she pushes through the bad times and heads toward the good ones. And at the Tightrope, Dr. O talks about her current issues with imposter syndrome as a brand new tenure-track faculty member, and writes about one of those horrible days, those days that many of us will recognize. Finally, at ChemistryBlog, azmanam writes about life as a tenure track faculty member in chemistry, and how the moments of imposter syndrome may come in moments of mentorship, not just in research and teaching.
Imposter Syndrome: Where does it come from? Why does it happen?
No one has really even investigated where Imposter Syndrome comes from or why it happens, but many people were glad to put forth their ideas for this carnival. I thought that maybe it comes from an unwillingness in science to show your warts, to show lack of confidence or failure. The desire to appear successful might give young students the impression that perfection is necessary, and none of us are perfect. Drugmonkey offered the opinion that we often view scientists who succeed as being deserving on a personal level, when in fact, a lot of success in science is a more complicated, or just more lucky, than that. He also looks at a lot of the institutions in academia that might cause imposter syndrome, the idea that you can’t let them see you sweat, and that academia is a meritocracy based purely on brilliance.
Building on the idea of Brilliance in academia, Chad and DrMRFrancis both built on the solitary genius idea: that many scientist biographies are written as though there is no failure, no effort, just the inevitable triumph of genius, something which is a pretty demoralizing thing to look at when you’re the one struggling. As interplanetsarah at Women in Planetary Science writes, when you achieve something, people often response “oh, you must be really smart”, rather than “oh, you must have worked really hard”. DrMRFrancis also notes that men in the majority may well feel imposter syndrome just as badly because of these factors, and may be afraid to express it, feeling like they should belong, rather than that they do.
Of course, there are other reasons to feel imposter syndrome beyond those of the genius, infallible stereotype of the scientist. Danielle writes eloquently of imposter syndrome forced on her from the outside, and how being in the minority means that many in the majority will question your achievements, eventually causing you to question them yourself. A book chapter from “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It” (warning, the link opens a word document) also asks us to consider the source of our imposter syndrome, how we rank our achievements based on what other people think.
And as Dr. Isis explains, some of the worst periods of imposter syndrome can come during periods of transition, where there is little in the way of support. Without the support group around to bolster you, starting a new job or new position can increase feelings of imposter syndrome.
But not everyone gets imposter syndrome, and looking at those who do not may be able to provide insight for those of us who do suffer from it. Zinemin believes that she does not suffer imposter syndrome because she has always been skeptical of authority, something which allows her to see through the perfection of senior professors’ facades:
To paraphrase Lord Varys from ‘A game of thrones’: “Scientific authority resides where men believe it resides; it’s a trick, a shadow on the wall…”
Babyattachmode thinks her own lack of imposter syndrome might be due to looking on the bright side, being happy when things work out and not dwelling when they don’t. Finally, Miss MSE thinks that her lack of imposter syndrome may be because she’s never been a “best student”, and writes about how her family made her into the confident scientist she is today.
Imposter Syndrome: Silencing the beast within
So what can we do about Imposter Syndrome? A lot of people had great ideas for how institutions could help. Jedidah at Essentially Liminal notes that many academic institutions can be hostile to people of color, with lack of mentors and other successful minority students, and notes that some groups have started to bring in minority scientists in groups, to help stave off the culture shock of some academic departments, and to help provide a support structure for minorities entering the program. Given how many people think real support groups can prevent imposter syndrome, having the support groups in place, as 27 and a PhD explains, could go a long way to decreasing feelings of isolation.
A day in the life sciences encourages us to be the weed, to know that we may not feel like a beautiful rose most days, but weeds are tough and strong and can bust through their problems. At the The University of Washington SACNAS Student Chapter Blog, keolufox also emphasizes the importance of confidence, and also of goal setting, keeping track of and being proud of what you have achieved. Jaquelyn at the Contemplative Mammoth notes that she overcame her imposter syndrome with feminism and mentoring other people. Feminism let her know that she was not alone, and that some of what she was feeling was institutionalized against her sex, and mentoring helped her to feel proud of her own accomplishments, but on a confident face, and help others overcome similar feelings. And an anonymous writer at Minority Postdoc notes that we should acknowledge our mistakes, but we should know that they are just that: mistakes. And that everyone makes them. When in doubt, as Bashir notes, act like you belong there, and fake it til you make it.
But in the end, whether there is help or support around you or not, you’ve got to acknowledge that your imposter syndrome is wrong. You got this job. You deserve to be here. As Gerty-Z says, you can only keep trying and doing the best that you can. Isis agrees, and compares life in science as a Sisyphean task. Roll the rock up, it goes back down again. But it’s not just you, everyone’s got their own rock. When it comes down to it, have confidence in yourself, and just keep swimming.
And last but not least, please do submit a post for the Diversity in Science Carnival next month! May’s theme will be Celebrating Asian Pacific Island Heritage Month, hosted by The University of Washington SACNAS Student Chapter Blog. So write blogs about noteworthy scientists or personally influential scientists from this heritage, or if you’re Asian/Pacific Islander, you can write one about yourself and what you’re proud of! Please submit posts to the Diversity in Science Carnival via the Submission form. The deadline is May 25.
Thanks for all of the wonderful entries, and we’ll see you next month! Please let me know if I missed any of your links, and I would be glad to add them in!
Only one week left to write and submit posts for the Diversity in Science Carnival on the theme of Imposter Syndrome! I’m really interested to hear what you all have to say on how it affects your life choices, how you fight it, and how you think other people and academia can help stop it from striking. Posts are due April 23rd, and please use the submission form! We’ve gotten some great things so far and there’s still time to add your own take!
Happy New Year and welcome to another wild and weird year at Neurotic Physiology! I make no New Year’s Resolutions (except those involving eating more bacon, but do I need to make a RESOLUTION for that per se?), but I did want to let you all know what you may have missed!
First and foremost, the amazing Bug Girl came on to my blog to guest post for Friday Weird Science! She took on a post about cockroach sex phermones and woodpeckers (yes, really), to help poor Sci, who’s Katsaridaphobia is so bad she couldn’t look at the press release.
And Sci herself took on one of the research studies highlighted in Senator Tom Coburn’s “Wastebook”, on cocaine and the sexual behavior of QUAIL. I think this study is important and useful, and I’ll tell you why. And Bora did his own take on the study, talking about why quail in particular is a well used model.
And now it’s back to your regular daily science diet! Happy New Year!