Friday, November 30, 2012

More on the Impostor Syndrome

One of the responses to my "benchmarking charts" was that essentially I am a "Postdoctoral baker agonizing over meeting the metrics instead of working on what really matters". The word "baker" here is referring to a metaphor of building your career through following a rigid "recipe" instead of freely and creatively improvising.

Me - a baker? Agonizing over the metrics? Ha-ha-ha-ha! Ha...

...Well. Yes, I am agonizing over it.

But: I am not quite a baker, simply because my pie is long ruined. I have no papers from my grad school (or rather I have 3 decent papers that nobody cited, and probably nobody ever will, as they were written in Russian, and published in Russian journals. They are translated, and even indexed in Pubmed, but it doesn't help). My university will never send my transcripts when I am applying for jobs, because Russian universities just don't do this kind of things, ever. And my transcripts are in Russian anyway (I have a translation of course, but still). I was not doing science for 5 years after getting my PhD, for that reason or another. My pie is ruined, and the only thing I can do now is to be creative about it, and to try to transform it into some kind of a stew, or a shepherd's pie maybe... Why not? Remove the crust, add some water, some celery, make the roux, pour it on top... Everything is possible! Also come up with a nice name for this dish. Claim it to be a good example of the traditional Zanzibar cuisine. Nobody can verify it! Improvise!

Thus for me the metrics is only important because it gives me the lower threshold, and the ideal target. I try to prepare for something modest and low, while aiming for something high and clearly unachievable. In a hope to fall somewhere in between. That's the strategy.

And on the impostor syndrome: you know, when teenagers fall in love they often don't understand that a rejection does not always mean that they are bad, awkward or even unpopular; it does not always mean that they are "a failure". Quite frequently it just means that their crush is not smart enough to see them, and to appreciate them as they deserve it. If they care about your skin color or social circle, are you really sure you want to be with them, to meet their family, and their friends? Really?

I believe that the same, at least to some extent, applies to job searches. If a company doesn't hire you because you're not boring enough, I'm not sure you'll be happy working for this company. You may give them another chance, and even the third one. But at some point you just have to give up on saving them. And look for a different place. So when applied to science, I try to convince myself that it is not the Academia evaluating me. It is me putting it to a test. If I work really hard, and publish as good as I can, and learn to write, and network, and collaborate - will the academia be fair enough to notice that? If yes - well, that would be nice. If not - there are other options.

And also it definitely has something to do with this "Scientist as a monk meme", or with a problem of "sacrificing your family for your career". There's no point in doing a postdoc if you don't like being a postdoc. There's no point in expecting the future to reward you for your sacrifices. Live it here and now. Try to have fun with this Science thing. If at the next step it will be rewarded - good for them. If not - move to another state / country, shave your head, go under your middle name and start it anew. Also write a memoir!

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