I am giving a seminar paper this week at my new department. I (foolishly) volunteered to give a paper earlier in the fall, back when I felt guilty about spending so little time there as their new postdoc.
At the time it seemed like a great idea, although it’s felt like a progressively less great idea the more time I’ve spent writing the paper; it felt like a downright terrible idea this morning when I managed to crash Word while trying to figure out how to insert accents: I not only failed to learn how to type the accents I needed but I also lost two good paragraphs (which could not be retrieved even after much Googling of where the Autosave document ought to have been).
I was happily writing my paper last Friday when a horrifying thought occurred to me: I don’t know most of the people in this new department. At my home university I’m a known entity; I give good papers which emerge from good ideas. At the new place my supervisor knows I’m a decent scholar, but I’m a stranger to pretty much everyone else, including the Chair.
For a moment I found myself paralyzed by the thought that I might make an ass out of myself. It was imposter syndrome (something which I have struggled with for my entire academic career: see here, here, oh and here too) rearing its ugly head. I allowed the usual thought process – I might say the wrong thing! They might ask me about my translations! I’ll be exposed as a fraud who knows nothing! I’ll embarrass my home department, my supervisor, and Q.! – to wash over me.
And then I quashed the negative thoughts.
I am giving a paper about a project I’ve been working on for several months (and have been thinking about for a couple of years).
I will know more about my subject than anyone else in the room.
I will be fine.
And (and this was the most freeing thought of all, largely because I’ve never managed to think it and believe it before) even if I make an ass of myself and they think I’m an idiot, I don’t really care. My future in the profession (if there is a future for me in academia) does not depend on their good opinions of my work.
It was amazing how much better I felt after that.
Are you plagued by imposter syndrome too? What do you do to counteract it?
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