Fear and research

24 08 2011

A post on GradHacker about productivity systems pointed to a very good, and personally moving, talk by Merlin Mann given at Webstock 2011. He’s a writer and speaker, and the talk was about how fear affects creative professionals. In graduate school, there’s a common malady known as the “imposter syndrome.” It takes the form of thinking that I must be the admissions mistake—what am I doing here among all these smart people? As I have progressed through graduate school it has morphed to fear about my research—I am researching and collaborating with people who are incredibly bright and talented and motivated, and I sometimes wonder when I’ll be found out. Fear that the research I publish will be shown to be flawed and invalid.

The reality, of course, is that we’re all struggling on the frontier of knowledge and that brings with it fears and concerns that involve the self and others. The challenge is to walk through the fear, believing that what led you here is why you deserve to be here, researching interesting things and trying to discover principles of behavior that will be useful for the future.

But that rational knowledge doesn’t always keep the fear monster at bay.

Here’s a link to the talk on YouTube. Warning: it is laced with profanity and may not be safe for work.

edit 9/2/2011: A recent post at GradHacker pointed me toward a very good article in Nature on the impostor syndrome, which was actually termed the Impostor Phenomenon by two clinical psychologists in 1978.