PhD Progress & Thoughts

HECK

Following from feelings of impostor syndrome, and feelings of massive over-achievement, comes my personal middle ground. I call it ‘Heck’. I reach Heck when I feel that I’ve over-achieved so much that my professor and superiors notice, and expect me to reliably perform to that standard again. My confidence is immediately shaken, and I feel like an impostor even though I KNOW I can do the task requested of me – I already did before!

Heck.

On days like these, I try to remind myself of other Hecking good professionals. These idols, like Tama and Nitama in Japan, elected stationmasters that actually performed their jobs pretty well, raising much larger revenue for their local stations than human station-masters. They’re cats, yet they hold positions of superiority and seniority in their local areas. And good for them! Gainful employment for animals is interesting just as it is entertaining, and I don’t begrudge these felines at all for having such a cute, amazing, fun-looking job.
Okay. Maybe a little. But that’s beside the point.

The point is, if a cat can be trusted to oversee a train station, and be so successful that they’re succeeded by ANOTHER cat, then I can do the thing requested of me at a large university. A large, nationally-reputable university where I’m still a newcomer. I may be doing my PhD, but I’ve only been at this facility for 3 months now, and since I’ve been doing fieldwork I’ve yet to meet the majority of my faculty or peers. I hardly know anyone, or the political ‘lay of the land’, let alone how or why my professors believe in me so much that they’re prepared to trust me with a task critical to the success of their study.

Heck.

BUT I know I can do it. It’s based on my ability to network, and so far I’m doing well. For the last 3 months I’ve been shaking hands, having coffee meetings, hosting meetings over Skype, and attending virtual meetings over Zoom. In the space of those 3 months, my professional network has grown from 2 people to over 40, and each of them knows my face, if not also my name and my work. Each and every one is eager to work with me, and further my studies. It gives me a sense of pride and security to know that all these people are happy to work together. We all seek to raise each other and help each other where we can, and I am happy about that supportive, encouraging approach to collaboration. I always feel that my ability to wear a suit and give a firm handshake is a skill well developed, yet when I mix my desire for suits and my desire for relaxed, easygoing work, it feels conflicting. It all feels so serious and structured. But why?

Why is it so hard to learn how to connect with people? Why do I feel so much adrenaline when people ask me to do simple networking tasks?

I’m not yet sure, but what I do know is that it’s surpass-able. If a cat can have a salaried job and an official uniform at a train station, then I can cold-call organisations and set up study participants.

I can be a hecking good professional, too.

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