Convincing myself of my competence

My shiny new tenure-stream job terrifies me. Just thinking about it gives me a creeping case of Impostor Syndrome. This fall I will teach a course I've never taught before, and I'll be a PI for the first time. The fraidy-cat part of me insists that I can't do it because I've never done it. When I can separate myself from my anxiety, it looks like a classic case of cognitive dissonance: I insist my students can learn to do new and difficult things, but somehow I feel incapable of doing the same.

Last night a tornado siren pulled me from sleep. When the warning cleared, I stared at the ceiling arguing with myself, unafraid of the passing storm, but frightened of the future.

There's so much I need to do! I don't know how to do any of it!

You can ask. You can learn. You don't have to do everything at once and you don't have to do it on your own.

I'm not really an analytical chemist. I'm in way over my head. I don't know what to teach.

You told them you could teach analytical because you have experience with analytical methods, and that will be enough. You can use your experiences to show students how analytical and the other chemistry disciplines are interrelated. There are plenty of resources for teaching ideas; you don't have to make it all from scratch. Follow the textbook to start. Check out the syllabus they've already used. Go through your old class notes and see what's worth keeping, skipping or rearranging. Ask for suggestions. It's just like the first time you taught any other course.

But I don't know how to run the instrumentation lab.

You know how to run instruments, you know how to scrounge up manuals, and nearly every instrument has some expert out there who can answer your questions. You've done that part before in every previous lab; it's no different when you're the one in charge. Besides, even if you were an expert at using every type of instrument, your colleagues would still know more about the specific models in the lab than you.

But what if I break something? What if I don't know how to use an instrument? What if I make a mistake? They'll find out I'm a fraud.

If you break something, you'll get it fixed. If you don't know how, you can learn. You're always telling your students that it's okay to make mistakes because you can learn from them; set a good example. You're not a fraud, you're a newbie. Nobody knows everything, nobody is perfect, and it's silly to pretend otherwise.

What if I can't get published or funded?

Rejection is more likely than acceptance. It's normal. You'll just have to keep trying. And revising. And asking for feedback.

What if I don't get tenure?

Then you'll have had an awesome post-doc and you'll go find another job. It's not the end of the world.

But I'm really not good enough at any of this to do a decent job.

Your new colleagues think you're qualified. Your reference-letter writers think you're qualified. The administration at your previous position thinks you're qualified. Your chemistry friends think you're qualified. In short, people whose professional opinions you respect think you're qualified. There is no sensible reason to reject the evidence that you might, in fact, be qualified to do this job.

Okay, self. Thanks for the pep-talk.