Work Life: Tell the negative committee to shut up

Fanuel Muindi in Science:

WorkWhen I started out in Stanford University's biology doctoral program, I didn't feel ready. My feeling that I was poorly prepared was corroborated by a committee that told me often how underprepared and unqualified I was. I attempted to argue my case, but the committee held to its position: I was unworthy. Fast forward 2 years: Just before I walked into my qualifying exam, the committee convinced me that I was going to fail. I succeeded, but that didn't change its low opinion of me. Then, at the end of my third year, I was selected to receive a Diversifying Academia, Recruiting Excellence (DARE) fellowship, which targets students in their final 2 years of graduate school who are interested in pursuing academic careers. The committee now argued that I didn't belong in the company of the other fellows, who, it insisted, were way more accomplished than I was.

Later, when I interviewed for postdoc positions, committee members had nothing positive to say. “You are not ready,” they said. “You are not good enough.” When the time came to defend my Ph.D. thesis, they were at it again: “You don't deserve this,” they said, after I had succeeded. “Your work isn't that good. You won't get it published anywhere decent.” It was a continuous barrage of criticism aimed at undermining my self-confidence.

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