Monday, 19 October 2015

Knowledge, expectations and fear

When I had just started doing my Master's, my supervisor asked me to present my research at a highly specialist and elite conference (to be delivered nine months in to a two year programme of study).

To start off with, I was SO excited. I had been asked to present at a conference!

Then, as the realisation dawned, the request completely derailed me. I had fear, imposter syndrome (Clance & Imes, 1978), and feelings of isolating inadequacy all at once. I felt that I couldn't talk to my supervisor about it (as he had asked me to submit an abstract, so must think that I was 'good enough'), nor was there anyone else that I knew who was going through the same experience (I was the last - and only - Master's by thesis student in the programme, and I was studying at distance).

Perfect storm.

I ended up writing a submission in answer to the call for abstracts for conference, but the fear was almost crippling. My fear delayed my submission - I put off writing it, and then submitting it - until I was so late that the response wasn't reviewed, but was simply accepted.

I was so green that I didn't even realise that abstract were reviewed. That we didn't just auto-magically get in. This was my first time presenting at a conference, and, of course, it had to be at a conference that really meant something to me.

My supervisor was very encouraging, all the way through. However, if I had been given a more structured understanding of the process of abstracts, reviews and so forth, it would have been so VERY useful. I had no idea of any of that.

Academia is so arcane, we often don't even know to ask, because we don't know what we don't know.

Because of my experiences, because it is so easy to assume foreknowledge, I try to be more explicit with my research students. I have deliberate conversations, and encourage them to be open with me and to be questioning. And I probably only get it right half of the time, even then.

And I try to keep front-and-centre how daunting these requests can be.


  • Reference: Clance, P. R. & Imes, S. (1978). The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention. Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice, 15(3), 241-249.

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