Saturday, March 17, 2007

So apparently I'm the smart one

It's amazing how sometimes different people's perspective on the same issue can be totally at odds.

My biggest regret with my time as a PhD student has been my choice of thesis topic. It is dry and highly theoretical and while it turned out to be too broad in terms of the scope of what I have to look at for me to be as rigorous as I would like, the applications of its results are too narrow to expect that anyone much will be interested in the final dissertation. Unfortunately I realised most of this after the point of no return.

The other PhD students in my department, on the other hand, all have sexy, fun(dable) topics that not only other linguists get excited about, but which even enthuse random non-linguists at parties. I avoid talking about my topic at social gatherings, because people mysteriously tend to evaporate from the room.

Bear all that in mind as background context to the following snippet from an angst-ridden conversation between me and another student about our futures:

Me: "Sometimes it seems so improbable that we will really finish. And more unlikely that we will manage to get jobs."

Other PhD student: "Well for most us, sure. But you don't have to worry."

Me: "Huh? I have more to worry about than any of you! My topic's so boring it even makes me fall asleep. You guys have interdisciplinary connections, people in the Real World who care about your research, and enough enthusiasm for your topics that there's no way you won't see it through. Plus, you could probably get jobs in your areas even without a PhD if you wanted."

Other student: "No, you have it all backwards! I was talking with [bunch of other students] just the other day, and we agreed that you're the only one of us who's like a real academic. You're doing stuff that sounds like Real Linguistics. And you're on track to finish on schedule. You're exactly the sort of person who will end up with a high-flying academic career. The rest of us just bum around making up shit about fun ideas."

So either this demonstrates the prevalence of imposter syndrome, or it shows how easily people mis-equate "boring and incomprehensible" with "true academia". Personally I think "making up shit about fun ideas" is how some of the best research comes about (maybe with less emphasis on the "making it up" side of things, though). But for now, I'm not too devastated that they all think I'm the smart high-flyer. Now I just have to find a way to extend the same delusion to my committee, the examiners and a few people with large amounts of funding...