Things I tried to say today to a junior faculty

Today, a junior faculty person (homogametic), let’s call her Susan, came today to talk about the crush of responsibilities she is feeling at the moment. She made an off-hand comment in the middle of our discussion and it took me a while to understand why I perceived it as problematic.

Susan was talking about improving her lectures for first year med students in the big team-taught class of which she is part. She had gone to talk to a (very nice) person in her department who had been hired as a teaching-primary faculty member to talk about a particular lecture that had given her problems last year. This maven of teaching made a lot of good suggestions (which were very helpful). Susan said to me, a bit dejected, “I had thought it was good, but I guess it is pretty bad”.

What bothered me is that Susan thought that because something needed more work, it was “bad”. I think that something in the process of development doesn’t have the potential to be bad, until the lecture was delivered. The goodness or badness of the lecture could be judged as doing its job (in educating and being accessible to the students). Something that you are building, working on, etc is not yet good or bad. A paper that you have just started writing is not good or bad, it is in the process of being created.

This may sound like splitting semantic hairs. And I suppose if something you are doing has lots of mistakes that need to be fixed, it could be judged as bad. If what you are doing is just not complete, in that it needs more of this, that or the other, then is it bad, or just incomplete and something you are working on? A problem that lots of Susans I know have is that their perception of what they are doing is bad. It leads to beating up on oneself, It leads to imposter syndrome, since if what I do is bad, then I can’t be a real scientist, and obviously I am fooling someone.

There is no  magical point when a paper, a grant proposal, a lecture goes from being bad to good. Remember, papers are abandoned to publication, grants to the NIH website, and lectures to the students.

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9 thoughts on “Things I tried to say today to a junior faculty

  1. Pingback: We are all on a path | Mistress of the Animals

  2. I just wanted to say thanks for the time you spend posting. I hope you never doubt how helpful it is! This post and the one about being on a path are helping me re-frame my thoughts in the face of major imposter syndrome brought on my the academic job hunt. Instead of thinking “how can I possibly convince people I can do this job – oh – and can I do this job?” I am trying to think “I am on path, doing my best to contribute.” It helps me accept imperfections when I’m focused on contributing rather than performing. Thank you!

  3. Pingback: Advice on getting an extra ‘boost’ | Mistress of the Animals

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