Thursday, December 1, 2016


As much as I convince myself that I do not want to pursue an academic career, academia has a sneaky way of making me question that choice. Now, I should say that I am very happy in my current career and fully intend to try to make an impact in Higher Education administration. But every now and again, the thought of academia creeps back into my brain. Sometimes it is when I give the odd seminar paper that goes down well, or the invitation to contribute to a volume. But all that I can reasonably and happily do in my spare time (albeit not without some sacrifices and caveating that not all ECRs have such a luxury. And I derive contentment from doing that, from feeling that I still have a toe in the water.

But if I am being truthful (and that it the whole point of this blog) one of the main drivers for not wanting to pursue academia full-time is a self-consciousness about my own abilities as a teacher. It is imposter syndrome - not that someone will discover my research is awful, but that my students will somehow expose some awful inadequacies in my knowledge.

Yet, that is unfounded. I have received detailed and positive feedback from secondary school students who I taught on summer programs for 4 years. But experience from teaching university students at Oxford can often feel like you are flying blind. The one-to-one tutorial system leaves little in the way of concrete feedback so you do your best and hope that your students succeed. 

I have often wondered if my students are as nervous as I sometimes am when I walk in the room.

Surely their other tutors are vastly more superior to me!

And so I go through swings and roundabouts. I get offered a term's tutorial series (I usually only teach one student a term because that is all I can manage with a full-time alt-ac job). I accept it because I want experience (just in case) and because it is additional income. And then the nerves start, the anxious lesson planning, the fear that the student will expose my ignorances. And then I get through the tutorial series, find out the student really enjoyed it or find out that they got the top marks in an externally graded paper, and I think "hey, I can't be all that bad at this". Maybe I could do more of this. Then I have a break, get offered another student, and it all starts again...

I guess what I am trying to say is that imposter syndrome is frequently equated with a fear that your research is going to be pulled apart, that the academic community will expose you for the fraud you really are. I have rarely (and correct me if I am wrong) seen a discussion in the context of teaching undergraduates and I think that those feelings of being an imposter in the classroom may resonate with many people. 

But for now, I received some amazing feedback, and I'm going to revel in my Sally Field Oscars moment before the self-doubt returns.

Image result for sally field like me

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