|BRB dying. Also running away to my comfort corner.|
This is going to be long.
As a third year PhD candidate who is plagued by the impostor syndrome, I find myself the most under-qualified, out-of-place, socially awkward person in most academic rooms. You know, when everyone seems to know everyone and you're just standing there like, hi...
Sometimes, there are fellow postgrads with whom I can commiserate. We seem to share a collective postgrad telepathy considering the countless times I see postgrads immediately drawing to each other at the first tea break of the day. We congregate, swap A/S/Ls (do people still use A/S/L these days?), and stay huddled like penguins fighting off the cold. Occasionally the brave ones venture out to engage in some sort of social intercourse with the others – the academics, the real ones, you know, post-PhD.
Other times, these postgrad comrades are not immediately available, and I panic a little inside my head. Do you?
Academia is so much about performance: verbalising serial 1-minute research+biography pitches while concentrating on your glass of wine and floppy paper plate of fingerfood; attempting to sound intelligent while commenting on that last presentation (while in the queue for the ladies and bursting with pee); attempting any other type of non-academic social intercourse (Oh the weather! I love your sweater! Great slides! Interesting accent!) in the pockets of lull at these events. It feels like the academy's assessment of your intelligence and communal worth is at stake all the time.
Have you ever had someone sit next to you at lunch, learn that you just a PhD student, then get up to sit with someone else? I have. It was awful. She was a fellow PhD student (cries inside). Thankfully that was the only time something like this happened in my last 28 months as a postgrad.
Then there are the days when I want to retreat into the nearest corner and curl into a ball on the floor with a sign that reads 'Go Away, Dying From Embarrassment.' Like the time I went up to my academic-superhero-supreme-goddess and enthusiastically announced that I own all her books and am so excited to see her in person. Then an awkward silence. My brain filter wasn't turned on that afternoon.
But there are also the days when the others are brimming with patience and generosity and understanding and a really beautiful heart. I get that these 'networking' type things, learning to hold an intellectual conversation and command your own are part and parcel of academe. Even a ritual of sorts, I reckon. And I'm not expecting to be cradled and to have my hand held all the time either. But no one really teaches you how to do these things.
No one taught me how to Keep Calm and Smile when faced with my favourite academics whose books are permanently on my office desk (because in my head I am screaming I LOVE YOU AND YOUR BRAIN! please sign my forehead) But here are four accounts of when I've been so blessed to have met nurturing and mentoring academics who retrieve me from the corner of the room and teach me to be comfortable and confident.
|This is a herd of academics attempting wine and conversation at the conference dinner.|
|These are academics attempting to socialise over something other than research at the conference dinner.|
|These are academics who give kickass lectures that also expand my vocabulary/technical jargon and growing list of 'must-reads'.|
|Sometimes there are awesome academics who are really just people.|
In an industry where the ability to defend your intellect is key, I am ever so grateful for these academic angels.