Monday, July 11, 2011

Who am I to speak up?

I have to admit something: I continuously question myself, asking "Who am I to speak up?".

- Who am I to write a blog and give advice on the process of doing a PhD? I'm just a second year PhD student who likes trying out different ways of working, but maybe my writing is pointless clueless blabbering.
- Who am I to raise my hand at a presentation and discuss? Why would I dare to speak up while much more experienced researchers are in the same room?
- Who am I to supervise students? I'm only just their age and sometimes even younger, and I only have very limited practical experience...
- Who am I to tell the Ministry of Transport how to evaluate their existing slab bridges? I've only been breaking slabs in the lab, but I've never designed a bridge which has been really built.

The list goes on and on, and it all comes down to one of the PhD emotions which is denoted as the imposter syndrome.

I still face these thoughts frequently, but I now know to tell myself: "Hey, there's another imposter syndrome thought coming up!" and then I just shrug my shoulders and continue my way.

I'm trying to convert my thoughts like this:

- I started this blog to keep track of how I am experimenting with workflow processes, to document my journey as a PhD student and -most of all- simply because I enjoy writing. If I look at my personal motivation, the question "Who am I to write this?" is simply irrelevant.
- Raising my hand and getting involved into discussions is simply part of a learning curve.
- In my tiny little area of research, I am in fact becoming an expert, with all the rights to talk about what I have observed in all the experiments I did.

With this post I would like to call out to everyone out there who might be contemplating starting a blog or making their work more visible.
In the end, it all comes down to these five words:
You have nothing to lose

5 comments:

  1. Great post and I think you came to the right conclusion. I would argue even more strongly though, who are they? Who are they to tell you anything. Experience counts for nothing if it's all outdated. The fact is, you are in the middle of the action, in ground zero. While you are learning - you are in fact the perfect person to tell the world about what you have learned, from your very unique perspective of someone who has recently learned and is continually learning. You have nothing to lose and EVERYTHING to give. The world deserves and wants to know what you have to say.

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  2. I agree with Ben. Why shouldn't you have a voice. We have the idea that even the experts "know". But Galileo proved that looking at the world from a different perspective does not necessarily mean you are not an expert, nor does having the skills valued by society or your culture make you an expert who others should listen to.

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  3. Imposter syndrome is pretty much universal amongst PhD students - and relatively common amongst early postdocs in my experience.

    That said I think it's pretty healthy - certainly better than its opposite which is the 'I'm a renowned academic who wrote a single very highly referenced paper in the 1970's and have sice survived on co-authorship from others, therefore every word I breath is true'

    My mentality towards my own recently started blog is that if no-one wants to read it, no-one's forcing them, but I enjoy writing it, so all is good. I can't claim I'm always as carefree and confident when submitting papers and presenting research though :D

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  4. Great approach to imposter syndrome. I was really glad in my first year when the idea was brought up, as it described exactly how I was feeling. Once I understood that everyone felt that way, it certainly helped me. I think there is a lot to be said for developing self-confidence - which goes hand-in-hand with imposter syndrome. You need to develop a level of self-confidence in your area of expertise. Because my area of expertise come so naturally to me, I feel like things are so obvious everyone understand it - I need to remind myself, that no, not everyone does get it, an this is not intuitive for everyone! It is that awareness that helps me get over the imposter syndrome.

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  5. Thanks for your input, Rebecca!

    I absolutely agree with growing confidence in your field of expertise...

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