My voice as a researcher

So I am currently on a university writing retreat in a beautiful countryside location where the sun is shining and there is lots of lovely food. And here I am…doing writing… therefore my time has been used appropriately and I don’t need to feel guilty later on tonight about avoiding my lit review. I have been reflecting lately on how I feel about talking to people about my research, largely because I realised don’t really like talking to people about my research. Now I am well aware that I need to talk about my research, otherwise my supervisions are going to get hella awkward. Also conference season is approaching and I am planning to actually present for the first time (as opposed to doing a poster and then hanging around it awkwardly) so I need to be able to actually articulate what I am researching, my thought process etc. Upon reflection I have come to the conclusion that there are three main reasons why I don’t feel comfortable talking about it.

  1. I don’t feel like I have enough clarity in my thought process to confidently be able to succinctly and clearly articulate what I am doing without sounding like  I don’t really know what I am doing.
  2. I haven’t had much practice in holding my own in conversations where I have to justify my academic position.
  3. I feel like my voice and what I have to say isn’t valid and won’t be interesting to other people (this gets much worse when talking to people who I have cited in my work, I literally get starstruck and have nothing to say).

Now this isn’t an issue with my writing, in-fact I feel like the PhD has really empowered me to find a voice in my writing in the sense that I have the autonomy to be able to position myself and my study within the field and be critical within that. My problem is purely verbal, it’s like I have an academic speech impediment. I think a lot of this stems from the fact that deep down I am quite shy, particularly in situations where I feel inferior (which I do when surrounded by academics) and this makes me clam up because I don’t feel that my voice is legitimate. I don’t feel like people will be interested in what I have to say, or even if they were, that I would be able to articulate myself in an appropriate way. It’s like at conferences – at the end of presentations when people ask for questions. Firstly I can never think of a single question and secondly even if I can think of one I can never actually make myself put my hand up and ask it. I watch other conference delegates and I am amazed at how much confidence they have in what they are saying and with how much ease they just speak up.

Now I do recognise these feelings as being a gift from my old friend impostor syndrome and I know that the best way to counteract impostor syndrome is to call it out and reflect on it – which is what I am doing here. I also wonder if this is partly a ‘hidden injury of class’ as Sennet and Cobb (1993) might suggest (i.e. lacking in self-belief, never feeling good enough especially when often surrounded by confident, middle class colleagues). I used to be shy as an undergraduate too and I managed to overcome that, and I was petrified when I first started teaching and I overcame that too. It’s just that as a student I was surrounded by other students (therefore all on an even keel) and as a teacher I am legitimised by the fact I am teaching, which automatically gives my voice ‘value’. I know that to deal with this I need to push myself out of my comfort zone and instigate conversations with people but whenever I do this I find myself casually discussing the quality of the buffet (always a priority for me) as opposed to my actual PhD. So….I am going to set myself a challenge of approaching and talking to at least two people about my research at each event/conference that I attend from now on, practice makes perfect right?

Anyway I better carry on attempting to write some of my lit review, I’m not having a great time with it but that’s another blog…

Thanks for reading 🙂

Beth