Saturday, June 23, 2007

'Impostor Syndrome'

First to business. From Ars Mathematica, I followed a link and found myself at this blog- An American Physics Student in England. As the linking business goes, you follow one and then another and so on. I happened to click on the link 'Impostor Syndrome' (as you may wish to do so yourself!). I was interested by this, and upon 'googling' I discovered the following quiz from here and here's how I answered: [green means I 'agree' and red the opposite]

Yes or No

  • Do you secretly worry that others will find out that you're not as bright and capable as they think you are?

  • Do you sometimes shy away from challenges because of nagging self-doubt?

  • Do you tend to chalk your accomplishments up to being a "fluke," “no big deal” or the fact that people just "like" you?

The funny thing is that I still do believe this. I have fluked a lot of things in life-my biology GCSE, M1 and M2 exam being two of them! I have another reason for 'fluking', which I believe is more important. I know that without this reason I wouldn't have passed or got to where I am now. On the big deal thing- what is the big deal that I passed a few exams? Don't get the last point, but come on, I passed (hopefully!) it's not the end of the world!!
  • Do you hate making a mistake, being less than fully prepared or not doing things perfectly?

Hmmm, to a certain degree I have to say yes. Not to the making mistakes I think, since I've learnt a lot from my mistakes. But it does depend, I think, on what kind of mistake and in what context you speak of. Yes I hate not being prepared for something, like exams for instance since that causes me to panic. Also I'd hate to do a presentation without being prepared. That means that all I'll probably say the word 'erm' a lot! That being said, it depends on the presentation. If it was on 'Euler' then of course I'd not be able to do it without preparation. However if I was just to go to the front of the school and announce something, that'd be ok. I don't think I'm a perfectionist, but having consulted someone about that, I've been told it depends on what the thing is. Interesting. I can't think of an example though.
  • Do you tend to feel crushed by even constructive criticism, seeing it as evidence of your "ineptness?"

Definitely not- one thing I've learnt a lot from is constructive criticism, I always welcome it. However constructive is NOT saying, 'your work is so and so- full stop'. Constructive is, 'I like the way you've done this, but maybe you could tweak this' or 'nah, can't see that happening mate, maybe you should try this angle' and so and so. I mean I hate it when people tell me that such a such thing that I've done is 'great' when it obviously isn't.
  • When you do succeed, do you think, "Phew, I fooled 'em this time but I may not be so lucky next time."

Don't really think of people at such times. :) Just those who helped me achieve what I did.
  • Do you believe that other people (students, colleagues, competitors) are smarter and more capable than you are?

Hmmm, most of the time. However as another post of mine will demonstrate, this has ultimately proved to motivate and push me at times. I hated 'being the thicko' so to speak, and so I do recall putting in extra hours just so that I could stand parallel to my class mates. I was completely overwhelmed when I started university- everyone and the Tweenies seemed to be on another higher level! They understood what the lecturers said and that to during the lectures! Whereas I used to come out with the 'eh' Shrek face, thinking that I should be understanding! Obviously, I didn't know how much work they had done and so it was all in my head. However, the silly thing about this is, when it doesn't motivate me. Sometimes I become full of negativity and think that 'how can I possibly understand such and such a thing'. Then I class my fellow classmate as a genius. It's a cycle in my case. At this stage, I most likely think- 'I want to be able to understand so and so', and realise that to do so I have to work harder. Overall though, I'd say that taking them 'dark' moments away this has helped me to work. It's all about how much work you put in yourself- some (like me) have to inevitably put in more work than others.
  • Do you live in fear of being found out, discovered, unmasked?

Unmasked of what?

If you answered yes to any of these questions — join the club!

I don't think having answered yes to three out of eight warrants me entry to 'the club'. I recognise and have openly admitted to the things I have said yes to on numerous occasions. This is not enlightenment- just me saying, 'yes I do them things and so?'. However, like I've said, my 'success' (pfft) is due to another reason. I'd prefer joining that club and hopefully intend on doing so. Although one doesn't want to disregard such a thing, one is tempted to 'ignore' it and place 'little' significance on such things (in the sense that I won't be taking too much from it). We get to a stage in life where we have 'formulas' that allow us to produce 'certain results'. I mean, we know what we can and can't do, to achieve certain things and so we try to do what we know will be best for us. Interesting blog indeed!


Now to other business. Initially this post was going to titled something else. It's only now, when I went linking around the Internet I changed my mind. Today I have felt a certain calmness. A welcome feeling if I may say so. One could call it a disjointness from the world. The cause of this I'd rather not say, however the cause has motivated (to a certain extent) how I feel. You could say I feel a certain 'coldness'. I'm seeing things in black and white. This external coldness however is generating much warmth inside me. I feel like a different bean. A bean whose priorities are slowly sliding into place. I hope they stay there as well. That's the problem with me. I have on numerous occasions experienced this cold-joyful feeling, but only to let it go again.

Obviously this is going to have something to do with my future studies. Today I realised that I'd taken my eyes of the ball. Completely off it. There is nothing wrong with being 'obsessed' with maths, however you should never take your eyes of the ball. I don't know what I'm going to be doing in the future - I can only dream of that. What I do know is that at the moment I'm doing a maths degree. A maths degree which I should aim to complete, whilst of course keeping my eye on the ball. After all, it is only by keeping your eyes on the ball that you can hope to score. I think to myself- why? Why had I taken my eyes of the ball? Why had maths become so important for me, namely more important than other things? I will aspire to do further studies in maths, but today I realised that just because one door closes on me, doesn't mean there isn't another open door. I can only hope of doing certain things but as I've been saying I should make the most of what I'm doing.

The phrase(?), 'Your feet are going to your grave, but your eyes are on the world. Where are you looking and where are you going?' springs to mind. I found my school autograph book and was reading the comments that my teachers wrote. Especially my Maths, English and form teachers comments. I needed encouraging in the right direction, and they provided me with that. :) Now, if you're wondering whether this is a maths blog or not, then I apologise. This week has indeed been one in which I have had an internal conflict of some sort. I have to solve this. I have to know where I'm going and only then will I able to see things properly. Rather obviously, one of my college friends (e) once said to me, '... you know what Beans, you think a lot'. I laughed at that time and agreed. It's true, I do tend to sometimes(!) over think things but this outlet seems just the place to 'over think'! [Is it ok if I blame my dad for this over thinking business- he's sort of the same. Gosh- where we would we both be without my mum!]

I'm thinking of things being like a jigsaw puzzle. In my first year I badly messed up this puzzle. Is redemption the right word I'm looking for, about my second year? I've been lucky to have found great friends in school. Every year since school we have a 'reunion' of some sort, mostly starting at my place- the common meeting ground. That's because although we keep in touch- from the group I've only properly kept in contact with three of my friends. It's always a good day, and we finish with promises of trying to keep in better contact during the year. That very rarely happens. The point I suppose I'm making is, that I've been lucky to find friends who have helped me positively. I spoke to Ash yesterday, and that is one of the reasons that things are sliding into place. Naturally the company you keep has a large influence on what you do and what type of person you may turn out to be.

Before I go of another tangent, I thank you for your patience! By following other links I have now discovered this site. Newton has a new best friend. :D I can't help but laugh- I'm over Newton but....!

To maths (hurrah!)- I have been brainstorming ideas... with myself, about what I want to accomplish, if indeed anything for the undergraduate maths culture at Manchester. I'm in the process of formalizing (i.e writing up) my ideas and hope to have some idea on what I'd like to do. In situations such as these it is easy to be filled with negativity. The feelings 'what difference will it make?' and 'who cares' can be found when I'm not being positive. However, it is my belief that most people tend to think this way which is why nothing ever happens. Whatever I do, no matter how small, may result in other things happening. Thankfully my positive and negative thoughts of things has a nice balance. The dominant negative thought is that my feelings of generating something for the undergraduates, will not be shared with the rest of the students. To counter that, my head hopefully believes that I'll have the Tweenies to depend on (and hopefully some lecturers if all things turn out smoothly!).

Also I've been BANNED from buying any maths books (for the time being ;)). My argument used to be, 'It's soooo(o...) cheap- if I was to buy this from the shop it'll cost me twice as much!'. What no one realised was that I wasn't exactly buying books for my course. Hehe, the past few days a few books arrived in the post for me and I was exposed (darn Lala). Actually I've not been banned, I've just got to find another means so no one knows. ;) That is, popping into town and collecting them rather than ordering online. So at half time it's one nil to me!

*I seem to 'be' 'doing' 'this' a 'lot' recently!! Well it's probably because in my head, I'm saying them words in a different tone. I'll slap my wrists if I do that 'again'. Ouch. Actually I didn't really slap my wrist... it's just a saying!


steve said...

By following other links I have now discovered this site. Newton has a new best friend. :D I can't help but laugh- I'm over Newton but....!

The author of that blog clearly hasn't heard of non-standard analysis. It's a fascinating way of rigorously defining infinitesimals ('numbers' less than 1/n for all n, but greater than 0) that can then be used in calculus.

You have to understand mathematical logic and the concepts of models to grasp the background but it is very interesting.

Some useful links are Wikipedia, MathWorld and the free downloadable book Elementary Calculus: An Approach Using Infinitesimals which introduces limits, differentiation and integration using infinitesimals. In some ways, the mathematics is simpler than the standard methods.

I should emphasize that this is not blarney but a genuine part of mathematics.

beans said...

I first heard of infinitesimals in one of Ian Stewarts book (and then later in a lecture I think).

I also had no idea what the blog was about, hence, thankfully I didn't comment on its content! Otherwise it'd be another egg on my face moment.

It does seem like an interesting topic, and if this is true: 'Some authors maintain that use of infinitesimals is more intuitive and more easily grasped by students than the so-called "epsilon-delta" approach to analytic concepts., then I'm all for it! (From second year students I have good reason to believe that real analysis is going to be a tough tough cookie!)

Thanks for the links. :)

Anonymous said...

I hadn't realised academics suffer from imposter syndrome.
I think I manged to get to Uni by fluke/luck and don't really think I merit a place. . . but it's something I have never discussed with my personal tutor because I don't what his stance on psychology/mental health is.

beans said...

I think there are certain degrees of this 'syndrome'. I don't think I managed to get into university by just luck, since I know that I slogged it out for my A2s. (That sounded weird!) I mean, after my AS exams, I was brought down to earth and realised that if I want to attend a university I would have to work much harder. When I initially started, I felt that maybe I shouldn't really be there since like I've said, everyone else seemed to be out of this world! I think there are other element involved, but that's my personal take on things. Gah- enough of this waffling! I'm fifty percent flukey and fifty percent work!

With me it's more of a case of certain results which I think I fluked. I guess it's because it's because I always try to put my marker high, and when I sometimes do reach it without doing the amount of work I should have, I'm shocked. I think there are other element involved, but that's my personal take on things. Gah- enough of this waffling-I'm fifty percent flukey and fifty percent work! If I was 100% work, then maybe I wouldn't feel this flukey feeling.

I don't it really matters what your personal tutors take on such a thing is, since it's a personal thing. You must have done some work to get to university, and that's what I'd think mine would say![He's cool. :D] We probably feel that we haven't done as 'much' but may have done it in other forms. I personally think that trying to attend all lessons and doing homeworks ongoing has helped me.