Sometimes I get the feeling that I should know everything about a research area when I supervise PhD students. For example: If I supervise someone who is in the “Design of the Moon Area”, I should be the expert of designing the moon. This idea of course also includes lots of imposter syndrome feelings, ie. I am a fake, I am not doing a good job, everyone will soon realize that I don’t know everying of the moon etc.
One of my post docs listened to me telling about this feeling – and he commented that if I would know everything it would instead be a great problem.
- The first problem he pointed to is that if I would know everything there is to know no more research would be needed about the moon. Hmm. He has a point.
- The second thing he pointed to was the core idea of independence and PhD work. As a PhD student you need to work independently of you supervisor. How would that be possible if the supervisor knew everything there is to know about the area?
Of course he has good points. I need to let go of the idea that I need to know everything because clearly I don’t. And it is not even a good idea to know everything due to the above.
However it is still a question how little you can know about an area and still be a good supervisor in that area?
Being the supervisor of PhD students is indeed a learning experience for me. All my PhD students move in different directions in the field of human computer interaction. At the same time the field is expanding enormously due to digitalization of every field of society. On some level my knowledge about methods, the writing process, publication processes and academia is still relevant. But I do not have the same time to reflect and think as they do. They spend a lot of time reading, going to seminars and reflecting. I feel like my calender is mostly full of meetings instead of reflections. Sigh.
Often I learn many interesting things through listening to their discussions and from reading what they write. I try to understand what they have learned, and often my role is to say: Explain more, tell me more, that is interesting – explore that a bit. But I still often have the feeling that me knowing more would be so much better. Hmmm.
To sum up: Dealing with imposture syndrom requires grit and perseverance. And also colleagues to discuss it with. And for me imposter syndrome never seems to end.