Tuesday, September 7, 2010

On faking it and making it.

One of the major lessons I've learned so far in graduate school has been to trust my own bullshit.

By "bullshit" I don't mean research - in fact I pride myself on doing good science, and become angry if I feel like I haven't been.  (More on that, eventually.)

I don't mean term papers or interpretations of readings either.  Though there's some bullshit involved there, it's not the type I'm talking about.

I mean the kind of bullshit involved in presenting as A Professional Person Who Knows What I'm Doing.

I'm drinking from the firehose of academia, running as fast as I can to stay in one spot, and still trying to get a handle on that.  I may have some background knowledge from my undergrad degree, but only after a year in the lab do I feel like I've even barely started to know what I'm doing.  Not just that, but... and other mid-20-somethings can probably back me up on that one... I really don't feel like an adult quite yet.  I feel like a kid who's been "Freaky Friday"-style trapped in an adult's body.

But I have to teach classes.  The whole damn idea behind ME teaching YOU is that I have some knowledge or skills that you do not have.  Even if I don't have those knowledge or skills... even if I'm getting them prepackaged from someone else and just go through the lesson plans and look up answers in a book or fucking Google that shit, I have to at least act like I know those things.  After all, I want you to consider me a credible source from which to obtain knowledge.

And I have to give presentations.  This past week I had to give a departmental presentation, where I stood before my peers and superiors and talked for 45 minutes about my research.  And it doesn't matter that this project was prepackaged and handed to me when I arrived here, or that I had no idea what good ERP study design was until I'd already run 2/3 of the participants - as the spokesperson for my research, I had to talk about "the rationale" of the study like I'd come up with the thing myself.

When you stand in front of a room of people, preparing to lecture at them about something, how well you're received depends in part on how well the audience "buys" that you are worth listening to.

As I told my advisor this past week, it's hard for me to sell something when I don't buy it myself.

Which is a good part of the reason why, 15 minutes after teaching my first class, I had a minor nervous breakdown and rushed over to my boyfriend's house in tears, even though it went fine.  I'm just a kid, I'm barely older than my students, I'm not at all qualified to be doing this...


But even if I'm not qualified to be doing this, I still have to do it.  There's a catchphrase they taught us in grad TA training:  "Fake it till you make it."  The idea is... so what if I'm not qualified?  The students don't know that.  So if I look the part, and act the part, I'll be ok, and I'll eventually get enough experience that I will become qualified... and in the meantime, all the students will treat me like I am anyway.

And FUCK is that hard to do for extended periods of time.  I mean, bullshitting like I know what I'm doing for an interview, sure.  For a weekend trip, maybe.  But for an entire semester?  When each week is a clusterfucktastrophe of last-minute changes and hastily thrown together assignments and Googled definitions because I forgot to bring the book for the course over a holiday weekend and I need to email slides to my fellow TAs tonight --you want me to act like I know what I'm doing through all that?!?

It works, though.  And I think part of it might be that no one really knows what they're doing.  We're all flying by the seat of our pants through life, and some of us are better at maintaining the facade than others.

But it might also be that I really do know what I'm doing.  Maybe I really am qualified to be here and to do this.  Maybe it's not as much of a clusterfucktastrophe as I think it is... and maybe the thing holding me back the most is my own self-doubt.

And that last paragraph might be some serious bullshit - but hey.  Fake it till you make it.



(PS- I didn't know how to segue into this smoothly, but I want you to read Gayle Force's wibbly ramble about how hard it is to value one's own work sometimes - I might be suffering from this a bit myself too.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Elaborating on my last post...

Here are my Top Upcoming Responsibilities, in order of time-dependence:

  1. Alcohol.  (Look, there's a fine line between a slacker who likes to party vs. being depressed and coping with it via freely available self-medication but DON'T JUDGE ME YOU DON'T KNOW ME and oh goodness I hope my colleagues aren't reading this and thinking I'm awful and/or in need of help right now /stream of consciousness.)
  2. Meet with a friend tonight to work out some kind of collaborative project.
  3. Meet with my advisor tomorrow to talk about my summer's work and the upcoming semester's work.
  4. Meet with the professor who I'll be TAing for tomorrow to talk about the upcoming semester's work.
  5. Start classes next week.
  6. Start TEACHING classes next week (Eek!)
  7. Prepare for my departmental presentation on my findings over the next two weeks (AAAAAAAAAA...)
  8. Figure out hotel arrangements and purchase airfare for the conference I'll be attending at the end of September.
  9. Give above-mentioned departmental presentation (AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA...)
  10. Work with my research assistants to polish their research ideas and help them get IRB approval.
  11. Finish my damn manuscript, which has been tormenting me for months.
  12. Put together a poster for the above-mentioned conference.
  13. Work on getting the above-mentioned collaborative project off the ground and into science-land.
  14. Finish my Master's thesis proposal.
  15. Somehow maintain my friendships, relationship, and sanity.
So I've been spending no small amount of time freaking out.  Graduate school seems to work in long stretches of stagnation and routine, punctuated by OMG OMG OMG OMG DEADLINES OMG GETITDONE AAAAAAHHHH.

Or maybe it just seems that way to my super-procrastinatey self.  I will never be an adult.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sunday foolishness :)

I was a huge marching band geek in high school.



If there are any fellow band geeks reading this, what's your favorite marching arrangement?  :)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

On Sluts

This article about sluthood is pretty awesome, and I totally relate. I went through my own period of explicit sluthood* just before embracing feminisms, and I found it empowering in a number of similar ways.

Like Jaclyn, "Sluthood gave me the time and space to nurse a shattered heart. It gave me a place where I could exist in pieces, some of me craving touch, some of me still too tender to even expose to the light." I had just exited a very emotionally-fraught long-term long-distance relationship. I was full of self-loathing from that, plus my mind was thoroughly colonized with all manner of fun patriarchal tropes, primarily that my fat and my inability to appropriately perform femininity made me inherently unattractive.

I eased into sluthood gently; I met Mr. #2 on Valentine's day, at a bar where we were both being mopey about being single, and he treated me like a princess. After that, I was all like, OMG men really do find me attractive? And they want sex -- with me?! Well hot damn! If dudes think I'm hot enough to dipstick, I must not be as bad as I think!

Yeah, I know, that's pretty fucked up, right? But that realization was the start of a journey that led to who I am now - a self-assured, self-confident, sexy-as-hell feminist woman. I needed that initial self-esteem bump to get to a place where I could really look at myself and go, hey self, you're actually doing pretty good for [all of these reasons unrelated to fuckability].

Plus, being with a diverse group of men taught me a lot about my preferences and needs. Sometimes that came from having my needs met spectacularly. Sometimes that came from not having my needs met, and learning how to negotiate through that... or learning how to cut my losses and move on. (And learning that sometimes I deserve better, and that I'm completely right to cut my losses and move on.)

It wasn't always sunshine and rainbows. But having those experiences and learning from them helped me to be a better person. A lot of the pushback ignores this outright, in favor of pointing out how fucked up us self-proclaimed sluts were at different points on our respective journeys.

Listen folks: people are often pretty fucked up. People aren't born perfect. Jaclyn's story and mine are chronicles of how we started with pretty fucked up ideas and learned better ones through engaging in casual sex. That's the whole point of saying that sluthood "gave me the time and space to nurse a shattered heart."

It might sound outlandish to you, but you might have had (oh I don't know) a completely different set of experiences than me. There's a good follow-up post on Feministe addressing how this kind of thing doesn't resonate with everyone. And it doesn't have to! But that's no reason to dismiss those of us for whom sluthood is an amazingly positive experience.

* I'm in the top 3% of women!  Lol...

Friday, August 6, 2010

NYT muddles through my field

The NY Times published a piece that tries very hard to look at popular predictions about Greece's economy through a lens of cognitive-neuroscience decision making theory. Two authors were involved - one works for an investment firm, the other is a neuroscientist.

According to this article, "[T]here are lessons to be learned from neuroscience on what distorts our cognitive abilities that are highly relevant to understanding the Greek crisis." WORD. The notion of rational choice used in a lot of classic economic theory has always struck me as a little silly, just because (I'm not sure if you noticed this) people are frequently irrational. Decision-making science totally has a lot to offer those who are looking at the neurological basis for our irrationality.

But not in this piece.

I think the economist was the primary author here, because the nuggets of neuroscience seem rather shoehorned in... and that's after they've been sanded into the right shape.
The neural system used when anticipating rewards is active long before the one in charge of evaluating risks and losses... Therefore, an outlandish prediction (albeit, perhaps, inadequately grounded) of a euro zone implosion is likely to be rewarded by editorial success and intellectual kudos; and by the time it may be proven wrong, it might well go unnoticed.
Wait, really? Ok yeah I agree with the conclusion there, but that premise bugs me. What two systems are you talking about here? Because "anticipating rewards" and "evaluating risks" are 1) totally intertwined and 2) distributed across a bunch of systems. Both risk and reward anticipation are tangled up with how impulsive a person is, and there's no reason to think that it couldn't tip both ways. It's a generally accepted idea in my lab that brains certainly can be overly sensitive to rewards (ahem, addiction), but brains can also be overly sensitive to risks (ahem, anxiety).

This would be a lot better explained by something like selection bias. In fact, I think most of this piece would have come across as less muddly if the authors had stuck to explaining decision-making errors in cognitive terms instead of trying to make it all about the brain.
Although our brains do not function biologically in a dichotomous fashion, binary thinking is the brain’s favored method, as it is easier to categorize events in terms of success/failure, cooperation/competition, rational/irrational, etc.
This is a straight-up example of a false dilemma. and yes, it is an easy trap to fall into. I have no idea what neuroscientific evidence there is that backs up the idea that "binary thinking is the brain's favored method". I mean, there's been a lot of two-choice tasks used to study decision-making... but that's because it's easy to analyze. It's the researcher's favored method, not the brain's.

I suppose you can justify it -- I mean, our cognition is generated by our brains right? So if we have a tendency towards some cognitive error, it must necessarily be something that our brain is doing. But if your essay is supposed to be about "lessons to be learned from neuroscience on what distorts our cognitive abilities," then you've put the cart a couple miles ahead of the horse.

My point is, the actual neuroscience has been mashed to a pulp, which I suppose makes it easier to swallow for those non-neuroscientists reading this. I guess. You really can't turn neuroscience into a soundbite. It just doesn't work, as this article plainly demonstrated. Which is why it cracked me up to read:
[R]egardless of the context, a careful “it depends” explanation will never be as convincing as a clear-cut opinion.
Hah! Look in the mirror, whydoncha?

P.S. The piece also ragged about building silos! Hahahahaha one of my professors is really hung up on how we should be building "farmhouses", not "silos". I personally plan on building a freaking pyramid. THAT'S RIGHT. A PYRAMID.

So, here's what I've been up to...

Since I last posted, I...
  • completed data collection for a series of studies
  • filled out an IRB progress report for said studies, 'splainin why I had to collect an extra 17 subs more than my original estimation
  • not quite yet started crunching the stats
  • theoretically started writing the manuscript (the methods section counts, eh?)
  • ended a relationship, then started one, then ended one, THEN got back in the original one somehow!
  • overslept a lot
  • didn't get nearly as much done as I'd wanted to, because of serious motivational issues
  • spent too much money on beer
  • might have gone through a depressive episode (putting the three above things together)...
  • ... and since blogging is one of my last priorities, that would explain my lack of posting
  • started watching Season 5 of Doctor Who, which 1) doesn't help the oversleeping but 2) does greatly help the might-be-depression
  • AM KINDA SCARED FOR THE UPCOMING SEMESTER
  • think I can handle it nevertheless.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Renewal

Hi, all.

I don't know if anyone still reads this... but if you do:

A lot has changed. But a couple things have stayed the same, and this is what is inspiring me to renew the blogging effort.

Thing 1: My mother "discovered" that she is an emotional empath.

Thing 2: A "friend" of mine casually used the word "faggot" as an insult. On the eve of the overturning of Prop 8. Fucking... fuck. I made enough noise at him such that we are no longer friends. And I'm ok with that.

There are too few voices of reason out there. I should work on being one of them, I think.

So let's try and do this again, shall we?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Superbowl Commercials

Being infected with the Big Fat Feminist mind-virus, it's kind of difficult to sit and watch mainstream ads/TV with The General Public.

So it brings joy to my heart to log online the next day and see my favoritest people say exactly what I was thinking about these Superbowl ads. (Mostly a lot of: "MEN MEN MEN MENNNNNNNNNN.... MEN MEN MEN MENNNN! WE'RE MEN! WE'RE MEN!"

Best and worst, via Salon.
Shakesville Superbowl ad open thread.

Sing it, sisters.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Graduate school: A study in exhaustion

This semester has been somewhat more hardcore than last semester. What with classwork, managing the research team, coding and organizing my set of experiments, and maintaining my sanity... blog posting is at the very bottom of my priority list. I'm sure you understand.

In the meantime, check out FWD/Forward: Feminists with Disabilities. This is a blog I check nearly every day, and they always have something awesome to say.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Avatar link dump

I have not seen Avatar yet.. I am planning on it, though. If you've seen it, or if you're thinking of seeing it, you should look at what the blag-o-web has to say about its sociological aspects. (Critically analyzing media: it's what I dig.)

When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like "Avatar"?

Intentions be damned, Avatar is racist (Pt 1)
More on race and racialism in Avatar (Pt 2)
Ohhhh ... That's what Avatar is about ... (Partly in response to the above)
Dances with Avatars

And, last but not least, TVtropes' take on Avatar.

ETA: Moff's Law: a response to all of those goofs who whine, "But whyyyyy do you have to actually think about art, and analyze it? Can't you just watch it and enjoy it?"

Again ETA: There's plenty of -isms where that came from! FWD highlights both race and disability fail.