succumbing to peer pressure

Monday, October 29, 2007

Impostor Syndrome

There are several things going through my head right now. First, something a former friend once said, when describing his long battle with his dissertation - that after a while it's just you and this document. And it's so isolated and lonely that you start to identify yourself with the document. Start to conflate your self-worth with the quality of the document. I think, I hope, I've managed to step back from that particular precipice today. It's not that the paper I'm working on right now feels particularly isolating; in fact, that's one of the things I've always liked about my department - I never feel like I'm going at it alone. But I did start to attach a little too much of myself to the quality of the paper.

Second, I'm a big fake. But let's be both honest and precise - I know that I'm a damn fine statistician, thankyouverymuch. But I also know my strengths and weaknesses - I'm good at analyzing data, explaining results to non-statisticians, and teaching. These skills do no necessarily a PhD student make. Somewhere along the way I've got to grit my teeth and wallow around in some theory. I know I'm not good at this, and don't particularly enjoy it, but I also know I need it sometimes. I intentionally slid over to a more applied discipline to minimize how much theory I would have to handle. On good days I can just about believe that I really can understand theory when I have to. But it makes me nervous. And the more I work on this paper, and think about the larger dissertation, the more nervous I get. What if I can't hack it? What if I'm just a particularly skilled masters-level statistician? I don't really believe that. Typing it just about broke my heart. But there's this nagging voice in the back of my head that keeps muttering about how I prefer to work with non-statisticians because they ask easy questions, the level of analytical thought required is lower, and clarity takes precedence over completeness. I know lots of people intentionally make their papers and presentations obtuse to make themselves sound and feel smarter, and I know that's just as much about feeling like an impostor as my current anxiety. But damn if I don't feel insecure about my paper specifically because it is so clear and comprehensible and readable. That somehow it can't be both those things and interesting, worthwhile research.

Blah. I don't really believe these things. I've just gotten stuck in a crappy place in my head.


Blogger Cor said...

Aw, Hon, I obviously have no idea what you're going though, but I suspect everyone (whether they want to admit it or not) goes through this when writing their thesis. I don't know a lot of details about what it is you do, but what I do know is you're a smart cookie who works damn hard and deserves everything (PhD and much praise) that you have coming to you.

8:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone who has any semblance of normalcy (the good kind) going on feels this way periodically. I for one, am incrediblty impressed that you're this far along...I'm starting to realize that I'll be lucky to finish by December (rather than: "I could DEAL with December"). Spent some time with people who didn't take a single math class in college and you'll feel tons better.

Love and Hugs,

9:16 PM  
Blogger Sudhir said...

Wow. You've got to delete that keyword spammer above. Or if you can, edit his links to redirect to another site.

Anyway, you've probably just reached a point when your understanding of stats is so vast that even hard stuff does not impress you. As I understand it, PhD's haven't learned everything; they just have the ability to learn most things within their field.

On another note, you'll probably find out later how valuable it is to be able to articulate complex things to people who wouldn't otherwise understand it. Extremely.

5:51 AM  

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