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Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Crisis of Confidence
I received an email from Small Dream College today, informing me that my application was complete and that they would start reviewing applications next week.  As I was about to delete the message, I noticed that the administrative assistant had included the names of every applicant at the top of the email – all of the email addresses (and, hence, the institutions) of my competitors.  I then did something I should never have done:  I picked out a few and looked them up, just to see what they were working on.  What a stupid thing to do.

I looked at a few that were outsiders – people who applied for this job, but whose expertise was only tangentially related to the posting.  I am not worried about those people so much, because I know that this particular department has a specific type of person in mind – namely, someone who does something like what I do.  But then I glanced through the websites of a few others and… wow.  There are some extremely intelligent people working in my field and sub-field.  People who are highly decorated and published.  People who are a million times more qualified than I am.

Ever since I did that, I’ve been feeling pretty low.  I’m having a crisis of confidence of epic proportions.  Today was my day home with ST (he’s not in daycare on Wednesdays), and I was literally fighting back tears while I was making his lunch.  I just looked at him and thought to myself, “Look at this brilliant little child, born to an ignorant mother.”  Ugh.  I hate these days, because they are the kind of day where I feel like throwing in the towel – giving up.  I have felt this way before.  In fact, I think graduate school is really about moving from one crisis of confidence to another, and making it out alive at the end.

My first crisis came at the beginning of my first year, when I was completely overwhelmed by the demands of my program and feeling like the stupidest person in every class.  Another crisis came when I was pregnant and coping with the first of my comprehensive exams, trying desperately to remember details from classes I’d had three years before.  Yet another crisis:  the prospectus.  My prospectus took me a LONG time to write – partially because my advisor made me write a zillion drafts, and partially because, at one point, I tossed my dissertation topic out and was searching in vain for another.  (I eventually went back to the first one, with some methodological alterations.)  The most recent crisis was when I turned in my third chapter to my advisors and neither of them liked it, but that was short-lived because I was able to turn in another draft in just a few days, which both advisors liked a lot.  That brings me to the present crisis:  feeling like, in all of my years in graduate school, I haven’t done anything spectacular.  Nothing that makes me stand out from a horde of other candidates.  

I’m not sure what will bring me out of this crisis.  What is the worst about this is that yesterday, when I mailed off four job applications, I was feeling very positive about myself and my work.   Now I just feel inadequate.  And I don’t like it.
Posted with care by Prof. Me @ 9/28/2005 07:20:00 PM  
6 Words of Wisdom:
  • At 9:34 PM, Blogger phd me said…

    "In fact, I think graduate school is really about moving from one crisis of confidence to another, and making it out alive at the end." I so agree! Somehow, we're never quite good enough to satisfy our internal critic.

    You have my complete sympathy - and understanding, since I know exactly how you feel. (Why else would I have consumed so many peanut butter M&Ms in the last year?)

    I can offer this: success is in the eye of the beholder. The candidates looking at your info are convinced that you're the one to beat out for the position. You're more qualified than you'll ever be able to admit to yourself.

    My fingers are crossed for your job search success!

  • At 1:09 AM, Blogger Demetri said…

    Even as you're trying to be self denigrating, this is a really profound statement:

    I just looked at him and thought to myself, “Look at this brilliant little child, born to an ignorant mother.”

    In fact I'm betting it's true in every instance. It's a pretty big gift to know it.

    As for the rest, I can but wish you luck and to hope that you end up in a place that's right for you. I will also say that part of being the ignorant parent of a brilliant child is that you're pretty self-aware and critical of yourself.

    This is a really good reason to let other people assess whether or not you've done anything amazing. As a rule, I never think I do anything out of the ordinary, because,'s an ordinary part of my life, and so, well, unremarkable - especially if I've already finished with it.

  • At 10:08 AM, Blogger Prof. Me said…

    ABD and Demetri, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    ABD, you're right: I always think to myself that I don't measure up, and that there are multitudes of people better than I am. I just have to get used to the fact that that's probably TRUE: there are, and there will always be, people out there who can run circles around me. And that's OK, I guess.

    Demetri, I always enjoy your insight. In your last paragraph you sound a lot like my husband, who, although is accomplishments are many, doesn't make a big deal out of any of them. He just goes about his life doing things he does well, and if accolades come his way, so be it. That's a good attitude to have, and one that I should adopt -- especially as this job search progresses.

  • At 3:57 PM, Blogger Daniel Nexon said…

    A few things that helped me through the process:

    1) There are a lot of people in my field who are smarter, better looking, and much more accomplished than I am.
    2) They all can't take the same job.
    3) Life isn't fair.

    Between #2 and #3, the rest of us manage to get jobs.

    But the most important are the following:

    4) The academic "market" is even more of a crap shoot than peer review.
    5) DO NOT stake your ego on how you do in the process.
    6) You will stake your ego on how you do in the process
    7) You will get over it.
    8) DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT build an "imaginary life" at a particular institution (e.g., "small dream college"). This is a recipe for misery and insanity.
    9) You will do so anyway.
    10) You will get over it.

    The degree to which you can minimize #6 and #9 are crucial to how you handle the process.

  • At 5:43 PM, Blogger Daniel Nexon said…

    Ah, what the heck. I posted on this issue on my bog.

  • At 9:33 PM, Blogger Prof. Me said…

    Thanks, Dan. Your comments made me smile, which is precisely what I needed.

    I told myself time and again not to build up a particular job, not to imagine myself there, not to obsessively look at the department's website... it just happens, I guess.

    [Side note: "Harry Potter and IR" has me intrigued...!]

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