Do you remember your PhD defense?A new and already-dear friend is defending her doctoral dissertation tomorrow. I remembered that I had written a post awhile back on my feelings about my own defense, and how my perceptions at the time didn't measure up to reality. The timing of this repost also coincides with the Diversity in Science Blog Carnival just posted at Neurotic Physiology, written by another remarkable woman scientist friend of mine, Scicurious. The theme of that carnival is "imposter syndrome" - the broad pathology of self-doubt that one is somehow not qualified for one's career. I should have submitted this post for that carnival because it falls into that category. So, for what it's worth, I'm reposting my feelings in 2008 from the 19th anniversary of my dissertation defense. (How quaint to see that I was using a Palm Treo back then!)
This post appeared originally on 13 November 2008 at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata.
For whatever reason, I woke up really depressed and exhausted today - pretty much for no reason, I think. I checked my schedule on my Treo - today marks 19 years since my dissertation defense. I remember being really depressed throughout writing my dissertation thinking, "is this all I have to show for this many years of public support for my training?" My defense was on a Monday so I spent most of Sunday practicing my seminar in the room where I'd give it - it sucked so badly that I couldn't even get through it once. When the time came, it was the most incoherent performance I had ever given or ever would. I was a blithering idiot during my oral exam. There was a great deal of laughter in the room as I stood outside in the hall. How in the hell did they give me a Ph.D.? Several of my friends, and even those who were not exactly friends, said it was the best talk I ever gave. One of my committee members took his turn during the questioning to note this was one of the clearest dissertations he had read in awhile. I picked him specifically because he was outside of my field but was a scientist who I respected greatly and continue to admire. I was the first graduate student of my mentor - he was promoted with tenure six months later. Funny, the difference in my perception and reality. It still wasn't great - I only got two papers out of it. One was in a pretty decent journal, although not Cell, Nature, or Science. I ended up with a few postdoc offers, several in great institutions that were also great places to live. Somehow I got a faculty position. Somehow I mentored a few folks to do the same. I'm still feeling pretty miserable today, still not really knowing why, and I really didn't celebrate or anything. Instead, thinking about today 19 years ago reminded me how much anguish and self-doubt comes with doing a Ph.D. It also reminded me how one's view of oneself is not always how others see you. How was it for you?