How DID I get there?

Have you ever had a moment where, when you’re just hanging out in an intergalactic hospital lobby trying to get an iced coffee, and you suddenly find yourself standing on top of a lamp post on a crowded, urban street?  And you just have to ask yourself, “How did I get here?”  Well, I haven’t.  But sometimes, grad school makes me feel that way.

As of today, I’ve been working at Vanderbilt University for 85 days, and classes started just last week.  Every single professor who has given us an incoming grad student orientation speech has addressed the prevalence of “impostor syndrome”, or the idea that we somehow slipped through the cracks and don’t deserve to be where we are today.  And they tell us we should not feel that way and downgrade our accomplishments.  We could have chosen to go anywhere, or do anything, but we’re here now (here is Vanderbilt University), and we totally deserve it.

Most of me knows that they’re right.  Most of me is so proud of the things I’ve achieved and overcome to be here in my program, doing awesome science at one of the top biomedical engineering schools in the country (ok, #25, but also, rankings are superficial and don’t matter, but I digress).  Most of me knows how smart and creative I am, and more importantly, how hard I work to well and to do good.

But there is also a part of me that feels so, so out of place here.  I went to grad school because I love research and I want to be a professor, but I also went to grad school because I don’t know how to do anything else.  Unlike most of my peers, I didn’t have any other options with respect to grad programs; I only got accepted to Vanderbilt.  And this part of me also knows that a new professor at VU just arrived from Cornell who completed his undergraduate degree at University of Rochester.  This part of me is very aware that every student from the U of R who applied to Vanderbilt got accepted to Vanderbilt.  And this part of me is convinced that this is the only reason I am here.

Which is a silly, counterproductive way to feel.  I’m not here because some professor went to the same school for undergrad as I did.  I’m here because I’m smart, and I work hard.  I’m here because I kick ass at science.  I’m here because I deserve it.

 

But what if I’m not?

So here I am, alone in my studio apartment, sitting on my sofa next to a pile of laundry, relaxing after a long day of unsuccessfully analyzing white matter images in rat brains, wondering, “how DID I get here?”

But you know what?  I have to make a conscious decision to answer that question in a healthy way.  I cannot let myself believe that some cosmic force capable of transferring an entire woman from a hospital lobby to the top of a lamppost (seriously, just watch the clip) is the same reason that I got into grad school.  Instead, I must choose to believe that I got here because I deserve to be here, because believing anything else is selling myself short.  And more importantly, I need to stop asking myself “How did I get here?”, but rather, “Now that I am here, how much awesomeness can I achieve?”

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