“One of the struggles of education we don’t talk about much is that most of us hit a wall where our knowledge seems to run out and we start feeling like we don’t belong. This happens at different stages for different people (first year of college, first year of medical school, first day on a new job, etc).
“For me, I hit that wall the first day of graduate school (at Carolina) where I was expected to already know how to read scientific papers and perform basic molecular biology lab techniques. Yet, my background was different from my peers, I hadn’t been the given the opportunity to do these things at the small school I attended for college. Everyone else seemed smarter and ready for an experience that was making me feel like they had made a mistake letting me into the program.
“Today, as a professor that interacts with hundreds of first-year students a year, I know this is a common feeling in a life transition. It has a name, “imposter syndrome”, and it doesn’t feel good.
“I overcame this feeling through hard work and practice. While I wasn’t feeling successful at first, I had to admit I enjoyed this new challenge. (And challenging it was! One of my most difficult professors, Aziz Sancar, has since gone on to win the Nobel Prize.) I worked through each assignment and took each day as it came. I realized that people were willing to help me if I could identify what I needed.
“At some point, after about a year, I realized I was actually a scientist! I had probably grown more than my peers — but I had caught up. I was and still am really proud of all I accomplished in that first year of graduate school.”
—Dr. Kelly Hogan, Senior STEM Lecturer, Department of Biology