Most academics I know struggle with impostor syndrome of some flavor. This emerges in our research practices among other areas, and I think the emphasis on original research is telling.
I’ve written about impostor syndrome a bit here on Patheos, such as how it almost prevented me from applying for the Berkeley gig (and boy am I glad I decided to apply anyway). My posts for Conditionally Accepted have gone into more detail about my experience of impostor syndrome, like this one about mourning my academic career. Basically, it’s something I struggle with on an almost-daily basis, no matter how much I accomplish.
One of the areas that troubles me most is my research. Since deciding to not pursue full-time work in academe, I’ve felt bad about how little I’m contributing to my field. I still present at conferences and publish my research, just at a slower pace than before. And apart from getting the last of my dissertation chapters out the door as articles, I’m not really on a new big project yet (I’m not counting puttering around with a few smaller topics that have found expression in conference papers). My recent work has all been text-based too, not ethnographic in nature, which is often framed as making a more unique contribution to scholarly knowledge. And I feel bad about that, guilty and ashamed and generally icky.
(I want to do more fieldwork and I have a ton of project ideas, but as an adjunct it’s tough without much access to grants and other financial aid, not knowing if I’ll be at an institution long enough to get Institutional Review Board approval to conduct research with human subjects, having to do so on my own time when actually I probably need to be taking on freelance work to supplement my wages, and so on)
I know that it’s not healthy to associate my self-worth with my productivity. I’ve struggled to establish healthy boundaries, such as working less on the weekends, and making sure to play at least as hard as I work. I also have trouble with the tendency to only assign value to research when there’s a tangible finished product: a book, a lecture, an article. It’s too easy to beat myself up for not hitting certain milestones at certain times, when in reality, research is an ongoing and nuanced process. You might spend 2 hours combing library stacks and databases for resources, 10 hours reading to pull the quotes and evidence you need, and then weeks writing a piece that winds up going nowhere. Sometimes a conference paper comes together quickly, sometimes not. It’s often impossible to tell what of an initial sweep will be useful and what won’t. In this sense, research is almost as much art as science, so getting too attached to outcomes can be unhealthy and unhelpful.
However, about a year ago, I met the amazing Emily Nagoski at a workshop and chatted her up about her book, Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life. She affirmed that synthesizing a bunch of existing research, and presenting it to a new audience, definitely counts as research. It’s important work, and she emphasized that I shouldn’t talk myself out of doing that kind of work because it ranks lower on some imaginary and arbitrary academic hierarchy.
So, I’m saying this in public, both to remind myself and for the benefit of others: compiling existing research in new venues for new audiences IS research. It’s a different flavor than collecting data that didn’t previously exist, or analyzing said data. But it’s still a significant way to interact with the world using an academic lens. It’s a skill set that most teachers employ on a daily basis.
Presenting existing research in easily-digestible tidbits is a huge part of my mission here at Patheos, and my mission as an educator in general. We all deserve access to information that helps us understand how our social worlds are constructed, that helps us comprehend scientific research into gender and sexuality, and that aids us in being active citizens.
Expect more musings on research – from ongoing to future – in months to come. I feel like I’m slowly coming out of my post-PhD slump in terms of job market depression and All The Life Things At Once, and hopefully I’ll find my voice again.