Friday, February 8, 2008

Self-Confidence and Science...

It seems a lot of female scientists actively involved in the blogosphere have been talking about or experiencing low confidence lately and I got to thinking that it seems like high confidence is a requirement in a science career. It seems. But is it, really? Do most scientists have high levels of confidence? Did they have high confidence in their undergraduate years? Graduate years?

I've suffered from a lack of confidence for a long time and have always wondered if I'm fit for a career in science. In fact, what initially steered me away from the sciences was a lack of confidence; I just couldn't imagine that I'd pass all those chemistry and biology courses. It was only after working for a few years in a repetitive, unchallenging job that I decided it'd be worth the possible failure to do something I love. And so here I am...and so far so good.

I have confidence in my intelligence. I also now have confidence in myself as a science student. But being a good student and being intelligent don't guarantee success as a scientist. What about innovation and creativity? Science isn't just about learning things that have already been studied. It's also about coming up with new ideas and putting them to test. I don't have much confidence that I'm an ideas person. Like my art, I can copy something very well, but translating from my head to paper just doesn't seem to work. What if, as a scientist, I can't come up with new ideas?

I hope that as one progresses through undergrad and grad school, that things seem less impossible. I can't imagine coming up with a novel idea at this point, but then again, I don't have a large knowledge base to work off of. Perhaps when I'm more familiar with, say, biology and its language, I'll be able to form hypotheses around evolution. Until then, the best I can do is study what's already been learned.

How did you get through your graduate and undergraduate educations? Did you have your doubts? Did you feel like research was the unobtainable Holy Grail and that the ivory tower was on mars?


Anonymous said...

I believe one of the best ways to increase confidence is to look backward. In other words, think of all the things which used to seem difficult before you mastered them, and now don't seem all that difficult at all. If you love science, then give it your best shot. And enjoy yourself along the way

Zach Miller said...

Right on, Amanda. I had horrifying self-confidence in college, but now I look back and realize that I just didn't know as much as I do now. With higher learning comes higher confidence. I still have bouts of self-doubt nowadays in regards to paleo research and the looming threat of needing to publish something before I kick off, but also realizing that I don't have a science degree and that could be a problem.
But you fight through it. If you love what you do, there is no reason to doubt yourself. Enthusiasm goes a LOOOONG way!

Confidence said...
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