I recently attended an event related to graduate student mental health. One point of emphasis was imposter syndrome (something I’ve blogged about before), and one thing the presenter stated was that it’s important to remind ourselves that it’s okay not to know what we’re doing. As a strategy for doing that, he suggested listing what you most think you should know but don’t. I thought this was an interesting idea, and thought it would be interesting to think about this question in three different areas:
- a specific area of ecology
- something that relates to my professional life but isn’t a content-related thing, and
- something outside my professional life.
I then wrote Brian & Jeremy who were on board with thinking about those questions, too, leading to this post. Read on to see what we think we should know but don’t, and please tell us what your responses are in the comments!1. What we most think we should know but don’t about a specific area of ecology
Meghan: various specific statistical approaches (but maybe this isn’t an area of ecology?). I feel like I should know so much more than I do. To give one recent embarrassing example, I had to look up last week to understand whether it really made sense to have treatments with overlapping 95% CIs but statistically significant differences.
That’s more stats than ecology, though. I guess maybe, within ecology, I would say that I feel like I should be able to better evaluate some of the back-and-forths in the literature related to biodiversity loss and its consequences.
Jeremy: I’m going to have to improve my knowledge of some topics when I teach graduate biostats for the first time. Hierarchical mixed effects models, planned contrasts, nonparametric smoothing…I do know something about these topics, but I don’t have the deep, in-your-bones familiarity needed to teach them really well. For a more ecology-specific topic, I need to get to grips with modern coexistence theory. I feel like I have a good grasp of the fundamentals, but I want to know more about the nuances and technical details so that I feel confident doing coexistence research. I also need to better understand the mathematical theory of synchronization, both within and outside ecology.
Brian: population ecology (I was up on it during my graduate career but have drifted away and have come back just enough to know lots of cool new things have happened) or disease ecology (never really engaged in the topic beyond Anderson-May SIR models but know it has gotten to be a huge and interesting and important field)
2. What we most think we should know but don’t about something that relates to our professional lives but that isn’t a content-related thing
Meghan: I have a couple of ideas for this one: a) how to have difficult conversations. This is one reason I’ve been reading Crucial Conversations! And, b) how to not take criticism personally. I am so variable in this — sometimes really tough criticisms don’t bother me, but other times even very gently worded things that suggest maybe I didn’t do something optimally send me into a tailspin.
Jeremy: How to write a book. I’d also like to improve on writing up papers quickly. How to budget my time more effectively and be more efficient, so work doesn’t expand into times I don’t want to be working.
Brian: Looking for a next career step beyond publishing more papers to have a different/bigger impact on science and society – pretty sure department chair is not it
3. What we most think we should know but don’t about something outside our professional lives
Meghan: Something that’s intermediate between 2&3 is how to make my brain turn off from work. More solidly into 3 territory, I am having a tough call deciding between a) how to identify birds & plants (I’ve improved very slowly over the years, but am nowhere near where I’d like to be), and b) how to speak another language.
Jeremy: “Learn to garden better” would probably be one of my picks for #3. Right now my procedure is basically “buy plants, plant them, if they die that means they were weak and deserved to die. Repeat.”
Brian: How to thrive in an emptying nest (first kid off to college in the fall, 2nd in 4 years) – presumably time to pick up old hobbies etc but it feels a little overwhelming to start reinventing life after 18 very busy but very fun years spent primarily as a parent (and yes I know parenting is never over, but it sure changes)
What about you? What would be your answers for:
- What you most think you should know but don’t about a specific area of ecology
- What you most think you should know but don’t about something that relates to your professional life but isn’t a content-related thing, and
- What you most think you should know but don’t about something outside your professional life?
Tell us in the comments!