Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wow, this explains A LOT!

So, thanks to wonderful women science bloggers from my blogroll (like Science Woman and Mad Scientist) I have found an article about Imposter Syndrome that is in this week's Science Careers.

"Impostor syndrome" is the name given to the feelings that Abigail and many other young scientists describe: Their accomplishments are just luck or deceit, and they're in over their heads. The key to getting past it, experts say, is making accurate, realistic assessments of your performance. Perhaps equally important: knowing you're not alone. Abigail thinks that sharing her feelings with other people is how she will eventually come to grips with her sense of feeling like an impostor. "It's fantastic to hear other people say, 'I've felt that way, too.' "

It's a feeling I get often, thinking that I have somehow gotten this far in math and physics by dumb luck or cheating, though I have never EVER done the second one, but I still feel that somehow I *must* have done something to warrant it. Example: For abstract algebra we get notes for a test, and I know there will be T/F problems on it, and I have space left on my sheet because I've all ready written all the definitions, proofs, and theorems that I can not easily remember or access (my brain looks just as messy as my work space), so I type up all the T/F questions with the answers (I've had the prof before and know they'll be the same questions). I got them all right when I answered them on the homework, and I have horrible test anxiety, but it feels like I'm cheating, even though I know the material well, having A's on the homework and knowing that other people in the class (who are mostly math fellows and grad students) are doing the *exact* same thing that I am doing. It feels like cheating, but I'm still doing it, because I know it's a big portion of my grade and to be honest, I can do homework, I can help people, I know the material inside and out, but I bomb on tests. ALWAYS. It's why I've gone from an A to a B in some of my classes. The damn final.

I get extra time on tests because I have a severe anxiety disorder. I am getting a tutor for my proofs class because (dis)Ability resources stepped in and intervened because I was having anxiety attacks every time I did the homework and even one in class the other day. This is the class we're supposed to do Moore Method though the way it is described in the link sounds wonderful compared to the way my class is run. *I* do not learn well this way, not at all. A few of my classmates told me that they are fine with this and expressed concern over my anxiety problems (it's a small department and one of them is a math fellow and I tried to keep this away from them since I didn't want to lord it over them, but they found out). This is obviously something that is warranted due to my disability, but it still feels like it's an unfair advantage over others (though I'm sure that they don't have to get up and take a walk around the building to calm down during a test as to keep from having a full blown anxiety attack.)

I have passed classes I've never studied for, and actually done really well. So why do I feel like I somehow don't deserve this? Like I won't be able to survive grad school or post-grad school research (I want to go into research) because somehow someone will discover that I can't do it, that I'm incapable, that I don't know what I'm doing, that I'm horrible at math and physics. I'm 2 1/2 quarters away from completing an undergrad degree in mathematics (the last quarter being computer programming and math history being the only required classes, so really only one more quarter of real math classes (I am also taking quantum mechanics b/c I'm a geek and may be going into mathematical physics)) and I have to constantly remind myself that I AM smart, that I DO know this.

It's strange that I have to continually remind myself of these things so close to my goal. I am passing my proofs class, even through all the anxiety (which up until I was told I could have a tutor was giving me such horrible anxiety I was unable to sleep for the first 6 weeks of the quarter), and I am IN LOVE with my abstract algebra class. It was really tough for the first assignment, but the last one was easy, I was helping other people out with their homework, and I was LOVING it. I'm confident that I will do well on the test tomorrow. I love this stuff and am seriously considering going to graduate school for it. It's fun and it comes really easy for me. But I still feel like there's a catch. But I'm just going to try and beat it out of my head. I may not be a grad student or a professional, but knowing that other people feel this way is v v helpful. I CAN do this, and I AM good at this.

UGH. I hate this ridiculousness.


Rebecca said...

Yup, it is so easy to see all the bad stuff about yourself and dismiss the good stuff. I had impostor syndrome really bad in graduate school. I felt way out of my league there. There were all these other people who were so much smarter than me, and worked on such difficult stuff! The research I did was easy, because I understood it, whereas what they did I didn't understand so it had to be much harder than what I worked on.

I sometimes felt that they were just letting me stay in grad school because they felt sorry for me. But I could see that it wasn't true of my friends who felt the same way about themselves, so why would it be true of me?

You are obviously a really smart person and you will do really well in whatever you set your mind to doing! After all, despite the antithetical learning style in the proofs class, you are passing. Kudos to you for sticking with it and getting the help you need to succeed. :)