By Eva Childers, Student Professional Development Support Fund Recipient
The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) conference is one of the largest neuroscience conferences that takes place every year. There are over 25,000 attendees composing of distinguished neuroscientists, post-doctorates, graduate students and undergraduates. With every second of every day, there was at least one or more lecture, symposium or poster session occurring where scientists shared their cutting-edge research.
As a third year Ph.D student attending their first conference, all of this was intimidating and overwhelming. During the first lecture I attended, when the talk had ended, the speaker encouraged the audience to ask questions, whether they were about research or her life’s journey. Slowly, people stood up to ask questions about her data and research. I could ask her about what led her down this path to becoming a professor, I thought to myself, but after listening to all the other questions, I quickly dismissed my question as silly.
The following day, I attended a professional development workshop called “Imposter Syndrome: Confronting the Career Development Monster Hiding Under the Bed”. Imposter syndrome is defined as a specific form of intellectual self-doubt, with anxiety, burnout and depression as associated hallmarks. The moderator asked us to raise our hands if we agreed with a question:
“Have you ever looked around and felt that everyone else seems smart and capable, but not you?”
I raised my hand hesitantly, did anyone else raise their hand? When I looked around, I saw that my neighbor had raised their hand, so had everyone in my row, everyone in my section, almost everybody in the room. In this room were graduate students, post-doctorates, established professors and scientists, and they all shared similar feelings to my own: shame, anxiety, self-doubt, discounting praise and feeling guilt about success. With the wide sea of raised hands, came an amazing realization:
I am not alone.
There were a panel of 5 speakers from different stages of life ranging from professor to graduate student. Each panelist shared their own experiences with imposter syndrome and their advice on how to overcome it. This workshop was the first time in my career as a Ph.D student where I saw groups of scientists acknowledge their struggles with imposter syndrome. The result of that for me has been a feeling of acceptance and connectedness to a broader academic community. I’m thankful for the opportunity provided by the Student Professional Development Fund to attend the SfN conference.