Monday, 31 August 2015

The Slap in the Face with a Dead Fish Moment

I am currently undertaking Inger Mewburn's MOOC called How to Survive Your PhD, on edX.

One of the first discussion topics explores the black hole of despair that academics fall into during the research process. There is also a great deal of literature in the wild detailing how many PhD candidates fail to complete, and why.

Apparently a lot of failure is driven by poor self-worth and self-belief. It is often called imposter syndrome, where we are sure that others will rip through our carefully constructed tissue of competence and discover the fraudulent, incompetent and crippled human beings that we really are.

Researched nearly 40 years ago by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, we show imposter syndrome through "anxiety, lack of self-confidence, depression, and frustration related to inability to meet self-imposed standards of achievement" (1978, p. 242).

Apparently women suffer from this far more than men. Dammit: AND we get paid less!

I too have a big chunk of the I'm not worthies. However, one of my colleagues very powerfully pointed out a flaw in my own self-depricating argument when I was doing my Master's thesis. This gave me a drowning-in-self-doubt life buoy that I reuse regularly.

We were talking about my supervisor, a worthy, kind, supportive and erudite professor. My colleague said, "You trust [X]'s opinion, don't you?"

"Yes", I replied.

"So when [X] thinks you are doing really well, why don't you believe it?"


I call this my "slap in the face with a dead fish" moment. I try to keep my life buoy close by, as I am about to start my PhD, in case I get sucked back into the rip tide of "I am not worthy".


Chris Jones (2015) wrote an interesting piece on RockYourResearch detailing his journey, which inspired me to write this piece (see link in references below).