The Sassy Scientist – Knowns Unknown

The Sassy Scientist – Knowns Unknown

We have dealt with impostor syndrome before. Not only on this weekly column, but elsewhere in the EGU blog too. Time and time again early career researchers seem to think their peers are much smarter, promptly neglecting that everyone else has the same feelings. From the bottom of her early-career crisis, Shion asks:

How do I convince myself that I know something (even if just a little bit) about my field?

Dear Shion,

Let me first do some pruning here: Are you a postdoc? Have you successfully completed your PhD? Have you published papers or won grants? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, get out of here! Now!! We are dealing with actual problems here. Geez! Go get a Mai Tai. Go on…

Good! Now that petty whiners have been dealt with, let’s go back to Shion. Knowing and learning new things is the job description. There are plenty of ways to convince yourself you know your stuff:

    • You have been selected as a PhD candidate. Someone talked to you and decided you are smart, capable and knowledgeable. Asked them what they saw in you. Even if you don’t feel it now, you are (or will be) the world expert of whatever it is you are supposed to study. Not even your supervisor understands the details of your topic to the level you are or will be at. Trust me on this one: by the end of your PhD you will think your supervisor is a fool that only wastes your time with stupid questions.
    • Talk to your peers. Everyone (and I mean everyone normal) thinks they are not smart enough and that only a very capable and knowledgeable person can do the things you do. Reach out to your sensible peers, not to that one guy in your lab that things they know everything of anything. Nobody can stand those and they never know as much as they want you to think they do.
    • Talk to your family. Parents, partners, relatives…They probably already thought you knew enough during your undergraduate studies. You can easily leave them in awe if you tell them what you do now and why it is important. Again, avoid that one uncle that thinks he knows better. He doesn’t.

Assuming not all the above mentioned people have black holes where their souls (or brains) are supposed to be, you will find that you know a lot about your field.

Yours truly

The Sassy Scientist

PS: Remember kids: “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know”. You are not an impostor, you are just stuck in the wrong minima of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

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I am currently employed at a first tier research institute where I am continuously working with the greatest minds to further our understanding of the solid Earth system. Whether it is mantle or lithosphere structure and dynamics, solid Earth rheology parameters, earthquake processes, integrating observations with model predictions or inversions: you have read a paper of mine. Even if you are working on a topic I haven’t mentioned here, I still know everything about it. Do you have any problems in your research career? I have already experienced them. Do you struggle with your work-life balance? Been there, done that. Nowadays, I have only one hobby: helping you out by answering the most poignant questions in geodynamics, research and life. I am waiting for you right here. Get inspired.

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