Dreams in PhDLand

When I was a kid, there was a stage where I wanted to be a spaceman. Eventually, I realised that the more technical version of that was to be an astronaut. Actually, what I really wanted to be was a space helicopter pilot firefighting sports guy, but I couldn’t come up with the right name for it.

That dream sort of lapsed. Some of that was due to having the attention span of a spider monkey on crystal meth at that age. Some of that was due to the realities of the world pressing in, as I discovered that being of Australian birth not only prevents me being the head of state, but from donning what I used to think was a suit made of marshmallows.

Not very tasty marshmallows I guess. [via unesco.org]

Not very tasty marshmallows I guess. [via unesco.org]

Research wasn’t necessarily part of those dreams either, even if there were moments of profound exploration. Like assessing how long a McDonald’s gherkin will maintain its position when thrown on the roof of the school hall. (It’s at least years.)

Dreams find other vehicles though. Each time a new challenge lines up, there’s always the temptation to imagine the best case scenario for how that plays out. For the PhD candidate (well, this one) that means envisaging a future where the thesis reveals amazing new truths, heartily rounded off with a “You’re welcome” for the reviewers due to its startling brilliance.

You Don’t Belong Here

After the 8 seconds of that vision have passed, realities soon set in. There’s little that is like research for provoking a full blown case of imposter syndrome for the novice.

Not the clever kind of being an imposter either. [via www.threadless.com]

Not the clever kind of being an imposter either. [via http://www.threadless.com]

Imposter syndrome accompanies lots of good people I know. It only takes one rejection from a journal, a failed experiment or a case of writer’s block to stoke that vague feeling that research security are going to turn up and escort you off the premises.

As I still have those symptoms itching away at me in other work areas, it’s probably a safe bet that the best option is to turn it to positive ends. All that is to be done is to turn that anxiety into obsessive  checking and double-checking of every element of the research. The fear that you might be an imposter is a pretty decent motivator to make you pay attention to the details, rather than get lost in alternative realities.

Dreaming Little

So I choose to dream little instead. No dreams of shaking the foundations of brain injury management, just visions of achieving reliable data capturing processes. Part of the training a PhD provides seems to be a deep appreciation of the importance of getting the small steps right. If the question at the heart of the research is worth it, then you want to be sure you test it with the greatest care. After all, there is no question that does not deserve an awesome exploration (observe Vegemite science from the excellent Renée Webster). In the meantime, it’s delivering on little dreams that will get the project to the end.

So, I go forth to write out a particularly exceptional standard probe application procedure. Might just keep an eye on whether this guy’s arguments are successful. Then maybe I, or some other Australian, might have a better crack at seeing things from way up there.

And even up there you have to wonder what little dreams would get you through the journey.


4 thoughts on “Dreams in PhDLand

  1. A colleague of mine had a particularly severe case of imposter syndrome where symptoms included sneaking around campus wearing a long trench coat and a fake mustache.

  2. Pingback: The Number | The Flying PhD

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