Ever wondered, despite all your scientific expertise, if you’ll be uncovered as a fraud? Don’t worry about it says Dr Matthew Partridge…
A person’s internet presence?is not an objective reflection of their lives, but a very carefully curated and select?transect with its own bias.
There is plenty of stuff that happens in my life that, despite posting over 100?tweets a week, never ever gets a mention. For example, the version of me the internet sees rarely has problems like ‘imposter syndrome’.
Everyone gets?imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is that feeling that you are doing something that you are entirely unqualified or untrained for, and any second everyone around you is going to realise and rat you out.
I am a Biochemist working in a Physics department designing optical sensors. Every time I do anything, I just assume that I am one misused term away from my boss standing up, pointing and saying “Wait a second, you don’t know all of Maxwell’s equations off by heart. You’re a big phoney!” I’ve been here many years now and, so far, I’ve got away with the con, but that doesn’t assuage the fear that at any second I will be discovered.
The key to this amazing run of no-one calling me out is simply because everyone else is?far too busy with their own imposter con.
What do you know? People know more than you. Compared to what they know, you know very little. This is broadly true of everyone because everyone has a different platter of knowledge. If we all knew the same amount about the same things, then society would stagnate as we all sat around agreeing with each other about the identical series of facts we know.
So, when I say they know more than you, what I mean is that they know more about the things they know about than you know about those things. Simple. While you are busy anxiously waiting to be called out on your lack of their knowledge, they are equally bricking it in the fear that you’ll realise they don’t know all the things that you know.
But that is only part of it, of course – feeling like an imposter also comes from a fear that you are way out of your depth for whatever job you are doing, irrespective of those around you.
A good way to never have imposter syndrome is never trying anything new or anything that might involve learning something. Having that sense of not actually being qualified for the thing you are doing is a sign that you’re actually doing something that is probably a) hard and b) new.
Impostor syndrome is a side effect of actually trying. Feeling a bit lost and out of your depth is natural, the whole point of experience is that it’s something you earn by doing things you are not yet experienced in. And while you’re learning, it’s hard not to feel a bit overwhelmed and out-of-place, especially in a world full of internet people telling you how amazing everything is all the time.
I am certain that writing all this won’t reduce the amount that anyone feels like an imposter. It’s a natural feeling that I personally find helps me stay grounded. But what I do hope is that a few of you feel a little less silly when you do have these feelings and take a deep breath and get back on with whatever science you are doing – and keep going.
Dr Matthew Partridge is a senior Research Fellow at the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton but describes himself as a biochemist who has accidentally ended up working with optical sensor systems.