Monday, February 03, 2014


I need to remind myself that January has gone really, really well.

What happened in January? Well, a lot of pretty great things.

First, I won an award from the American Association of Applied Linguistics, which means something like I had one of the best proposals among all the grad students who submitted this year for their conference.

Then, I had a book proposal accepted by the TESOL association (the other big professional association in my field, other than AAAL), on a topic I've been wanting to do a book on for 5+ years. (I'll be co-writing it with a colleague -- more information is coming this summer.)

Then, on the last day of the month, I had a manuscript (that I've been working on with a professor for over a year and a half) accepted by the Journal of Second Language Writing. I don't want to sound like a star-struck bumpkin, but I never dreamed I would get a publication in the JSLW. I have honestly always seen it as a journal that is only for really well-known people in our field, like, say, professors at Purdue.

I'm not (I hope) one for horn-tooting, but I need to remember that these things have happened. My "career" is going well.

But every time I open my dissertation document, my heart sinks and I feel like I am a total failure, that my advisor will not be pleased with what I've done, that my committee will not let me pass, that the external examiner will be unimpressed, and that I will never finish my Ph.D.

This is in spite of what appears to be evidence (above) that I am good at what I do. Again, I'm not saying this to big-up myself. It's just really hard for me to square all the non-dissertation good stuff with the sheer uncertainty of the dissertation process. When I was writing my first book, I knew that when I finished it I wasn't going to be totally happy with it, but I also felt like the stakes were low -- the editor was a good friend, the publisher was small and not marketing the book much, I had no advance I needed to earn royalties against, and most of all, I felt like all I was responsible for in the writing was to make up stuff off the top of my head.

Writing my dissertation feels nothing like this. The stakes feel incredibly high -- my ability to get a job I've trained for for nearly a decade to support my family is on the line,  I'm losing money every semester I stay in school, and I have this nagging doubt that the way I'm going about it is all wrong.

This is probably what they call "impostor syndrome" -- the idea that you don't deserve your success, that you are fooling anybody who thinks you're doing a good job. It is alarmingly frequent in academia. It's said to affect women and minorities disproportionately, though I guess I am an exception. I'm as male and WASPy as they come (though a professor last term did make a reference to 'everyone in the room being a member of an underrepresented/disenfranchised group,' and since I was the only person in the room who was not either a woman or an ethnic minority or gay or transgender, I can only assume she was, quite charitably, referring to my allusions to being an Evangelical, which is actually something of a marginalized position in academia) and I would estimate that I spent 50% of my workdays just sort of sitting at my desk and fretting about not being good enough at what I am supposed to be doing.

So remember: January has gone really, really well.

And February is going to be tough.

But (I tell myself, even though I don't totally believe it) February is going to go well, too, because I am good at what I do.

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