Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Impostor Syndrome

I can tell that my university has a supportive environment because I always feel like everything is going so well while I am here. When I step outside the nest; however, I am prone to impostor syndrome. When we scientists or engineers get together to talk about our careers and labs and research, we always seem to boast like we are in a fishing contest. Typically it centers around how much work we have to do, but this can be delivered in such a way as to convey how well things are going.

For example, when people ask me how I am doing I am honest that our funding situation could be better.

"Although we had some success (1 grant) we really need more money to keep going."

But I always temper the discussion with, on the good side:

"we are generating lots of publications, in fact I can't keep up with them and they are piling up in my inbox."

Sometimes this is met with commiseration.

"Yeah, I can't get anything funded either and it is absolutely killing me."

But other times it is met with something else:

"Yeah, I don't know how I will handle my 2 RO1s. I just can't get enough students to get all the work done. And papers, I have so many papers to publish that it's just gone beyond the point of me being able to read them."

Now, some of these later types are my friends and I am really happy for them, but when you hear stuff like this it can't help but make you think that you are horribly inadequate and not doing very well.

There are a lot of reasons why someone like this might be "doing better" than me. They come from a higher ranked institution, they have been there longer, they don't have the same family commitments.

My sister
had a nice theory on this. She said that the people who, like me, are not doing as well as the boasters just keep quiet and so while it may seem like everyone is doing better than you that's just because everyone else is keeping silent. Well let's hope so. At least everyone here at midwestern R1U is happy.


At 5:02 PM , Blogger ScienceWoman said...

I am happy that you can recognize what is going well, even in the face of adversity. I think that's really important for not letting the impostor syndrome take over your life.

But I know what you mean about boasters.

At 10:40 AM , Blogger Candid Engineer said...

I find that, in general, being honest has often put me in a position of looking worse, because others are unwilling to admit their own difficulties. One of my favorite examples. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how you talk, only what you do!


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