Nov 11, 2015 | Imposter syndrome

Even though I don’t think this is in my nature, I recently experienced a wild attack of the imposter syndrome. This is when you feel that others overestimate your mental and physical capabilities. Pretty much everyone is academia suffers from it, it is just that some people overcome this effect better than others.

So, last week we had a student conference in the institute, and I presented my work there. I presented even though it is work in progress and after all, I don’t really have convincing results at the moment. After years and years and years of watching dull tv shows such as Top Model, I worked out some self confidence though, so after all the audience was content anyways. More than that, there were even people who wanted to invite me to their institutes abroad so that I can introduce my – yet nonexistent – method. I felt like a marketer while discovering that they are just too good at what they are doing, and that their nonexistent product actually sells. Yet still, it is a non-existent product…

I also experienced a range of other science-related emotions which are relatively new to me. For instance, this weird anxiety when you are talking to an expert in your field, to whom you try to sell yourself as a researcher. So you present your stuff, but try to keep a good balance of what you can and cannot say so that you will not get scooped. I had that moment of anxiety yesterday when I talked to some highly acknowledged professor about effective connectivity and at some point, when I told him that using the time order for rendering connectivity from the fMRI data seems pointless to me, he hanged for a moment, went into some catatonic state and started staring at the wall. He was looking to his upper right which usually means recalling items from memory, so I got the idea that he is reconsidering things he is already doing and he might use my knowledge to improve, or completely reinvent, his own models. Or, perhaps, come up to the same research ideas I just came up to. Which would be a disaster. ‘I said too much’ – I thought to myself.

I think it is very personal how people react to this kind of events. For me, nothing is a better motivation than competition. Of course, only under two assumptions. First assumption is that I am working in a team against other, outer teams, and not – for instance – against another PhD student in the same lab. Second assumption is that I believe I have enough resources to actually win the race. If you have worse data, worse clusters, less people around etc., it is extremely hard to stand up to the challenge. Anyways, I usually get back to work with double force if these two conditions are met. So I got a kick of energy yesterday.

Imposter complex and racing against other labs are two things which I only heard about before, but faced just right now for the first time. I digested both of them relatively fast but now time to turn on the high speed mode since I definitely don’t want to face another two legendary phenomenas such as “getting scooped” and a “burnout episode”…

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