Imposter syndrome, and some posts I’m proud of

Like a lot of scientists, I’ve got a little bit of imposter syndrome.  I’m secretly* afraid that my colleagues will discover that I’m not actually very good at what I do and that I don’t belong in science.  (To be clear: strictly intellectually, I understand that I’m not really an imposter; but that has almost nothing to do with how I feel.)  I have this worry about my research, about my writing book, and even about my blogging. At some point in the writing of nearly every new post, I find myself thinking “I’ll be embarrassed if people read this”.  (A while ago, I connected this to introversion, but I don’t think it’s just that.)

There seem to be two really useful ways to deal with imposter syndrome.  One is to admit that you feel it, and I’ve just done that.  The other is to recognize good work that you’ve done.  I was scrolling down the list of posts here on Scientist Sees Squirrel the other day, and I realized there are a few posts I’m actually rather proud of.  Three I’d rank near the top:

The first two posts are about failure, and the third is about success, and so they might not seem to fit together.  But in fact there’s a common theme: that all of us fail often, temporarily; but that those temporary failures are just a normal piece of succeeding in the longer term.  They have to be, because what we’re doing in science is both novel and difficult.  I think that’s an important message, and one I could have used hearing a few more times early in my career**.  We can all use support and positive reinforcement in the face of our fears and our (short-term) failures.  I’m proud that I found a way to enunciate this message, and that I’ve tried (by posting) to spread it as widely as I can.

Those three posts aren’t among my most popular (none is in the top five by all-time page views).  But “what I’m proudest of” and “what’s been most popular” is not the same thing.  My top-viewed post, by a wide margin, is Why do we make statistics so hard for our students?”It’s a decent post and I’m pleased that some folks have found it helpful – but among my statistics posts, I think “Is nearly significant ridiculous?” is much more interesting and makes a much less obvious point.  It’s had less than 1/3 the views.

Which brings me to the last post I’ll mention: Wonderful Latin names: Spurlingia darwini. WordPress very conveniently displays a list of all my posts ranked by all-time page views, and Spurlingia sits forlornly way, way down near the bottom.  And yet I’m actually rather proud of it (although I’ll admit its title is terrible***).  It makes an important point about the way science happens, and makes it via some interesting history.  I’ll have to return to that point in other posts, I guess, since nobody read Spurlingia.  Let’s call that Persistence in blogposting: the Tubthumping strategy.

Anyway: impostery feelings or not, I’ve done some work I’m proud of.  I bet you have too.

© Stephen Heard  March 20, 2018

*^Well, not any more.

**^Oh, heck, who am I kidding?  I could use hearing it a few more times these days, too, and I’m no longer anything close to early in my career.

***^I absolutely suck at titles.  I’ve learned to defer to coauthors, to editors, and – if truth be told – to random pulls of Scrabble tiles from a bag.  They all do better than me.


5 thoughts on “Imposter syndrome, and some posts I’m proud of

  1. Michael Kokkinn

    How strange that I should have been discussing this topic with a young friend of mine yesterday. That feeling of being an imposter began during my PhD years. It seemed like everyone else had a wonderful question and they were confidently out there sampling or experimenting etc. There I was in my second year, lost and uncertain. I felt like a fraud. I think Uri Alon described it best in his TED talk:
    And, very true, one feels like an imposter all along. However, asking the simplest questions and pursuing the consequences by experiment is a worthy scientific activity that leads on to fulfilment and arcane discoveries. For example, I was walking through a local grassy woodland this morning when I noticed bare patches dotted about. Straight away my mind wandered to patch dynamics; competition for space; allelochemicals, etc. and I was wondering how I could study them. That’s all we do. To stay sane I have to remind myself that science has the same etymological origin as scats.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. cinnabarreflections

    I enjoyed that blog as I also have felt like an imposter throughout my academic career. How can you not be when you are surrounded by brilliant people, all of whom seem to be smarter and more accomplished? In my case I feel that what I am good at isn’t all that significant, while the skill set of my colleagues is! However, the upside of the imposter syndrome is humility, which makes for a nicer person to be around.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Daniel Mead

    The struggle is real for a surprisingly large amount of people, i agree with cinnabarrelections on the humility point- seems like those who [probably] don’t suffer at least a little are generally dicks.
    From my perspective I now have regular meetings with two directors of my institute (one of whom is both a Prof and a Sir ffs) and i keep thinking they’re going to realise who i am at any moment and kick me out!
    Keep up the good work, i’ve just found this blog so will have a look at some of the more esoteric posts…


  4. Pingback: It’s been a while since I’ve been this proud of a paper | Scientist Sees Squirrel

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