"There have always been highly capable women wanting to be scientists." Rita Colwell, PhD
Guest Blogger: Denny the Scientist!
November 09, 2021
Today I invited Denny the Scientist to be a guest blogger! Don't forget to follow Denny on Instagram at: denny.the.scientist.
Denny's advice for potential and current PhD Students:
If you are afraid you aren’t smart enough to start a PhD, don’t be. A PhD is not about being the smartest person in the room, but it is much more about being passionate and disciplined even when things get tough.
Many PhD students are often deemed smart and intelligent by their friends and family who haven’t studied science. I’m not sure about others but being labeled as smart and even jokingly called a genius by others because I am doing a PhD makes me uncomfortable. I know my friends are being supportive and there is only good intent behind these compliments, but it doesn’t make me feel good, and I’ll explain why.
When people give me these compliments, it sounds like they think I am inherently intelligent, and that I intuitively know how to do things. Being called smart suggests that I am able to get this far because I can easily solve complex problems. However, that is very far from the truth because my journey in scientific research has definitely not been a smooth one. I encounter problems every day and I have no immediate or clear solutions to some of these problems.
Like other graduate researchers, I have to work for weeks or months to solve the problems I am having with my experiments. To make things worse, I don’t know for sure whether I’ll actually be able to fix some of the issues I’m having, and maybe the experiment just won’t work out in the end. Not knowing whether I’ll be able to fix all these problems or how long it’ll take me gives me feelings of anxiety and self-doubt. It takes a lot of perseverance and discipline to work on these problems with unknown results, and I definitely don’t feel smart doing it.
So when people say I am smart, it actually doesn’t make me feel good. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. It triggers my imposter syndrome because once again, I feel like I am faking my way through my degree and have somehow convinced others that I am smart when I don’t think I am at all. But that’s okay because the reason I am doing a PhD isn’t because I think I’m smart. Doing a PhD means so much more.
Doing a PhD is about grit and not giving up when things get hard (which is most of the time). Its about being passionate and curious about your work and wanting to dedicate years to doing that specific thing because you deeply enjoy it. Being smart can definitely help in research but it is definitely not a defining feature that makes someone a good PhD student or scientist. It might be weird to say, but if you want to compliment and support your friends doing a PhD, try to compliment them on their determination, work ethic, passion, and their unwillingness to give up because these are the traits PhD students want to be recognized for, not for being smart.