2014 was quite possibly my most hectic year yet, which is a little ironic, given that I promised myself that I would not repeat the chaos of 2013. whoops.
As I look back on 2014, what comes to my mind is the recurring feeling of impostor syndrome.
I first learned about impostor syndrome at the annual Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society conference in Hobart earlier this year. For the first time, a women's lunch was held, and one of my more senior colleagues at UNSW gave a talk about her experiences as a woman in academia. I was absolutely shocked and amazed when she started describing how she felt that someone was about to tap her on the shoulder, discovering she was a fraud, and tell her to get the hell out of academia. Of course she is anything but the sort, but this feeling, this syndrome, is quite prevalent in academics, particularly female ones.
Before she gave her talk, I thought it was just my own insecurity, and to some extent my own competitiveness that made me feel quite similar. I've had these reoccurring thoughts since starting postgraduate study. I just routinely told myself to harden up and get on with it. I did not realise that I was not by myself here, let alone how common it actually is.
While the realisation that a lot more (female) academics feel this way brought me some solace, impostor syndrome did indeed rear its ugly head time and time again during 2014.
While I will always consider myself very fortunate to receive a prestigious DECRA grant, I do constantly wonder if i really did deserve it. The ARC can only give out 200 each calendar year for a 3 year research fellowship, and so competition is stiff. How can I know for sure that mine was based on merit, and not for some other reason, e.g. political, or the personal interests of the reviewer/s? Moreover, I was the only current employee of my centre to obtain one for 2014 - there is no way my proposal was the best out of the numerous others submitted by my colleagues. Not a chance. I sometimes think that I will receive an email from the ARC saying they made a mistake and that I actually have no job or grant, after all.
Halfway through 2014, my partner and I took a 2 month holiday to travel Europe. It's something I always wanted to do since my early 20's, he'd never been, and lately I'd just been tacking short holidays on to work trips. It was the trip of our lifetimes. We had so much fun, and we saw and learned so much. I'd promised him that I'd not work or even check my emails the whole trip, but within 2 weeks, I'd already given in, but answering emails and working on paper revisions with a deadline before we returned home. Id also started to panic that I'd miss out on opportunities back home, and was damaging my career in the long term, all from taking 2 months off for some much needed R&R and to, well, see the world (this PhD comic sums up perfectly how I felt throughout my entire holiday). I also felt like I was over indulging myself. As soon as I got home, I'd be told that academics don't have the luxury of long holidays, and because I was not working my fingers to the bone during those 2 months, I do not belong in academia and should seek another career. Not long after we got back, I also had to take some personal leave and the same thoughts entered my head once again. (I must stress that my work environment is VERY supportive and UNSW has excellent leave provisions, I use this example as it's a textbook case of impostor syndrome).
This year, my publication record has suffered a fair bit. I've had 2 manuscripts rejected, and for various reasons (perhaps including my holiday) I've simply not had the time to finish the multiple other projects I currently have going. The old cry of the academic constantly rings clear in my head - "publish or perish" - if I do not publish quality manuscripts often, then I simply do not deserve to still be in the game.
And then there is the extreme competitiveness of the academic game - permanent positions are as rare as hen's teeth. In a couple of years I'll be fighting once again for another grant, in the hope for a few more years of research and employment. I'd absolutely love to get a permanent role, but I'd be competing with 100s of others in a similar position to me, with marginally better chances if we moved overseas. I'm surprised those "powers" higher than me has not told me to bow out of the game already, and let someone who really deserves it be propelled forward. And good lord, what if I did get a permanent position? I'd constantly be waiting for that tap-on-the-shoulder-telling-me-to-move-on.
I am writing this blog on new year's eve, in the hope that 2015 will not be filled with so many impostor related feelings, and will be prosperous for my career and communication activities. Personally, I do wonder if there's more that we can do to help eliminate these thoughts, as it's clear so many academics, and even people in other industries have them. Perhaps there are strategies we can employ to deal with these thoughts? Educate younger academics/students on impostor syndrome, and that it isn't "just them"? I think this is really important, as at times, it can be particularly dominating, and likely impact the work of our youngest and brightest. We may even lose some up-and-comming stars who give in to impostor syndrome.
I also write this blog in the hope that it may put other academics and suffers of impostor syndrome at ease - you're not alone. Do not let the feelings of being an impostor take over your career - you deserve to be where you are, you worked hard to get there, and many, many people who surround you see this. You belong right were you are.
Man, I should really listen to my own advice sometimes!
below - some photos of our holiday :) can you guess which places these are?