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.)