Sunday, April 25, 2010

Post-partum depression (of a sort)

I'm surprised and embarrassed that I have already reverted from post-defense joy to grad-student-style self-loathing and shame.  I know this is ultimately my own responsibility, and that I need to just get a grip.  But I would like to blame a little of this on a lovely colleague, Supersmart.

I've known Supersmart since the very first day I set foot in DOU-Town, and zi has always impressed me.  Or, to be precise, zi has impressed me ever since I first read an article zi had written.  Supersmart is, well, look at the pseudonym!  Gorgeous prose, fantastic elucidation of ideas, amazing grasp of theory: zi has it all. 

In a questionable move for my emotional well-being, I attended Supersmart's dissertation defense on Friday.  This set up a comparison that, in hindsight, perhaps I didn't want.  Dr. Awesome is on both of our committees, and the difference was stunning.  Awesome gave me some valid and strong critiques of my thinking, and offered a few small compliments on my methodology.  Four days later, Awesome said to Supersmart, "I learn something new every time I read your work.  You really have to publish this book!"

*cue sound of Koshary committing seppuku with a butter knife*

My friends have told me that I simply can't compare myself to Supersmart, that zi is just one of those prodigies who make others feel bad about themselves for not being geniuses.  They're probably right, but it hurts me all the same that I now feel like my committee passed me partly out of pity, while Supersmart's committee glowed about hir work, and begged hir to put the work out there for public consumption.  It's hard to tell in these situations if I'm good and Supersmart is great, or if Supersmart is actually good and I'm actually crap.

All the tendencies of self-doubt and self-hatred that grad school (and my entire life prior to that) has taught me are feeding on this now.  Am I really going to make a go of it in academia?  Is all of my hard work received as a superficial appetizer for meatier work?  Is this primarily the result of bad advising -- which, everyone in the department knows, is my cross to bear -- that I can/will overcome in the future, or am I just not that bright as academics go?  And for heaven's sake, how many encounters like this will I have, where I feel like I've turned into Salieri encountering Mozart?

Somebody slap me and tell me it will be okay.  I think I need both interventions right now.


  1. ahh, comparisons, envy, discontent ---- you have learned well the ways of the Dark Side, young Skywalker!

    Yeah, that won't go away. But at least you're funny! *takes away butter knife*

  2. It really and truly will be ok. I knew people like Supersmart in graduate school, and you know what? Some of them have ended up as superstars, some of them have decidedly not lived up to their potential, and some of them have left the profession altogether. In other words, being Supersmart in grad school is absolutely no predictor of future superstardom, nor is not being Supersmart any indication of your abilities or future.

    And let me tell you. I was not one of those Supersmart people in grad school. I was a hard worker, an enthusiastic teacher and scholar, but "my ideas lacked sophistication" and blah blah blah. Nobody told me that they learned anything from anything that I produced in graduate school, or complimented me, really, at all. Well, other than on my personality. Which did not make me feel good about my prospects as an academic, I must say. The truth is that getting OUT of that environment made me into a much more interesting and flexible thinker, and it made me much more productive and curious.

    One of the best pieces of advice that I got in graduate school was that I needed to remember that a dissertation is only the first thing you'll ever produce as a professional academic - not the last. And at the end of the day, writing the bestest ever dissertation doesn't really mean anything in terms of a career over the long term.

  3. What Dr. Crazy said. I was sandwiched between two Golden Children, and (as I blogged, once upon a time), really felt like my advisor's forgotten middle child.

    But careers are very, very long, and people mature at different rates and in unexpected ways, as I'm sure you've seen just in your time in grad school. My Elder and Younger Sisters are still doing quite well, professionally, but several years out of grad school the differences among us don't look (or, more importantly: feel) as great any more, and it's clear to me that no one can predict where any one of us will be in five or ten or twenty years--much less what our relative statuses will be.

  4. Thanks, all! It's good to hear these reassurances. (Although I would eventually like to retrieve my butter knife -- the toast is getting cold.) Just having an external voice to tell me these things is much better than trying to calm myself with the same thoughts.

    And yes, Sis, I am shamefully aware of how much I sound like a discontented Jedi. The worst thing about that is that it makes me feel like I'm being mashed up with Hayden Christensen in those godawful prequels. Somehow I feel especially ashamed that my behavior echoes that of a talentless douchebag reciting dialogue written by George Lucas.