Thursday, 10 December 2009

My apologies, but this may be a rather lengthy, self-indulgent entry.

There are times on this course when I really need to take a deep breath and swallow down the surge of inadequacy that I feel building up inside me. It is something akin to those moments in life when one almost throws up but somehow at the last second manages to swallow down the noxious brew. Both avoid leaving oneself in an unpleasant position, but equally leave you with a revolting taste in your mouth.

A tad overdramatic? Perhaps.

It is fair to say, however, that I often feel out of my depth on this course. Those of you who have read my past entries in this blog will know that my school record was far from exemplary. You will also know that I have felt more than a slither of trepidation at being accepted to study at such a prestigious institution, a world leader no less.

It has not been the finest of weeks. Monday started off optimistically enough, with a meeting at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience (ICN) to discuss my upcoming research project with my soon-to-be collaborator, Dr Christian Kluge. I left the ICN buzzing at having drawn up an exciting and original piece of research with Dr Kluge, and feeling a lot more confident about what would in the new year become the embryonic stage of my thesis.

How crushed I was then, on returning home to see in my inbox the following words from Dr Kluge:

“There is an ongoing project with quite similar designs that i did not know of. Therefore, we will probably have to re-think what we want to do”.

A lesson in expectations management, perhaps. That’ll teach me to curb my enthusiasm!

Anyway, there was little time to waste, as in seven days I time I would be required to make a brief presentation to my peers and the course administrators outlining my research project. What Dr Kluge proposed was we meet with Professor Jon Driver, one of the directors of the ICN and the man who would be supervising the project that myself and Dr Kluge will spend the next nine months on.

It didn’t go well.

I came across as a bumbling, poorly read amateur. Prof Driver was clearly unimpressed, and Dr Kluge was visibly embarrassed at having brought me into his office. Nevertheless, between us we managed to thrash out a viable research project which certainly has potential to be an exciting piece of work.

The one advantage of making such a poor first impression on such an important figure within the ICN is that there is now only one direction in which his opinion of me can go. The last thing professor Driver asked of me, as he was on his way into a two hour meeting, was to draw up the slides for my presentation on Monday, and to do it before Friday so he could take a look at it.

It was in his inbox by the time he left the meeting.

The best thing about fighting down those feelings of inadequacy is that it resets ones perspective in order that we may replace them with feelings of pride and self-congratulation; quite rare for me to feel and even rarer to voice. But if I am honest I have done bloody well to get here. It can be off-putting at times to hear some of my fellow students list their accomplishments, to reel off terminology that leaves me perplexed, and to have to take the time to explain things to me in simple terms.

I should not lose sight of the fact that I came into this course without a single science A-level, and ten years after a decidedly average performance at GCSE science. In addition, contrary to what some may think, a psychology degree is far from the ideal prerequisite for a cognitive neuroscience MSc, let alone one with as little scientific content as my bachelors degree had. But then again, I had no experience of psychology before undertaking my degree, and emerged with first class honours.

This may all be new to me now, and I may have to endure some snobbery, condescending comments and pangs of self-doubt, but I will learn fast, improve exponentially and come out the other side with one heck of a valuable qualification.

And then, just maybe, repeat the whole cycle again with a PhD.

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