This post is part of the Diversity in Science Carnival on Imposter Syndrome hosted by Scicurious.
SciCurious wrote an interesting post today about Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where people can’t seem to feel that they are good at something, that they deserve to have their job or that promotion or what have you. It may sound really minor at first, but imposter syndrome can be insidious, pernicious, and prevent you from trying to get ahead and promoted, and even make you think you should leave your job.
Reading the comments there, and on Dr. Isis’ older postabout the same subject, made me realize how many people suffer from Imposter Syndrome to a larger or smaller extent. And that surprised me a bit because I rarely doubt whether I should be where I am. It’s not that I am very exceptional: I did pretty well during my PhD (4 first author papers, of which one with IF>10), but decided to switch fields a bit to become a slice electrophysiologist during my post doc. I love doing electrophysiology experiments, but to say that I actually know what I’m doing? Not really. I never paid much attention to math and physics in high school and am deeply regretting that now. If my PI asks me to do a Nernst equation I have to google a Nernst equation calculator online because I cannot figure out how to do it myself. I cannot program in Matlab or R, and am kind of afraid to learn it even though it would make my life easier, and I get really nervous when I read papers that have equations in them. It’s been almost a year that I have been trying to read and understand the classic Hodgkin and Huxley paper about the action potential and I still haven’t finished it.
And two years into this post doc I still haven’t got a grant or fellowship for the project I am doing (I am currently waiting to hear from fellowship application #4). That might be because the project I have thought of for myself is pretty high-risk and very laborious (however, I am slowly getting data that make me believe it will actually work!).
So why am I not insecure about my place in science even though I’m only a post doc and I am a long way from being able to say that I made it? I can think of a couple reasons:
First, I’m generally an optimistic person. I have my fair share of panicky moments, but overall I usually have the feeling that things will turn out fine (and they usually do). Second, my mentors have not been afraid to show that there’s a lot of struggling and rejection in science. When my first attempt at getting post doc money was rejected, my PI told me that he only got funded on his fifth grant as a post doc. And realizing that despite that initial rejection he’s still in science was a big eye-opener for me. Last, I think I’m pretty good at being happy when things work out well: experiments that work, papers that get accepted, travel awards that I got. And I often think back of how I felt when that happened. It’s embarrassing to say but I still sometimes sing the song in my head that I sang when my first paper got accepted. The only lyrics are the title of the journal it was published in….
Also, that’s what I love about electrophysiology: the instant gratification of patching a cell and seeing its membrane potential go to -70mV. It’s already a good day when that happens!