Praachi : For me, it was the constant feeling of not knowing enough. Right from school, we were consistently rewarded for knowing information. By the time we make it into graduate school, this pattern is so ingrained that we are strongly conditioned to have an inherent discomfort with not knowing something. When I first came to TIFR, I must say, I felt out of place. Nobody had taught me to say “I don’t know”. It was never an acceptable statement. This can instil an ‘imposter syndrome’ which becomes hard to shed. It would really help if people further ahead in their scientific journey acknowledged openly how they felt during their initial years in graduate school. As someone who left an Indian education system for higher studies abroad, did you ever feel this way too, Vidita?
Vidita : You bet! In my first semester in grad school in the US, I was convinced I knew pretty much nothing about neuroscience, and you’re right – that feeling of ignorance can be rather overwhelming. All of us go through this to different degrees. Unfortunately, not knowing somehow gets equated with failure. Failure, especially for experimentalists, is an essential building block to scientific discovery. We expect graduate students to quickly accept failure as a part of their journey, without ever actively discussing our own engagement with failures. The impact this can have on self-esteem is underestimated. Advisors would do well to drop this perceived ‘requirement’ of appearing invulnerable. In my personal experience, a willingness to admit to one’s own insecurities serves to open the door for stronger mentor-mentee relationships with grad students.