Wow. You all rock. You are good at so many wonderful things – I am impressed.
Yesterday’s question was prompted by the introductory activity at a COACh workshop that I had the privilege of attending. The workshop focused on developing the negotiating skills of women in STEM, and I highly recommend it and the other workshops they offer.
After coffee and bagels, our facilitators asked us to stand up and introduce ourselves to the group by saying what we were good at professionally. And then they showed us how our answers were weak and could be improved.
Here’s my response: “I think I’m good at holding lots of pieces of projects in my head, keeping them straight, and being able to recall the details, but I’m not so good at actually making things happen.”
Like me, other people qualified their statements with phrases like “I think I’m good at” or “I used to think I was good at” or “I’m good at X, but not at Y.” Those sorts of responses (especially when coupled with defensive postures, lack of eye contact, and filler words) put us in weak negotiating positions that make it harder for us to get what we want and need. (More on that in a few days)
But what struck me most, was not the way our answers were phrased, but the content of the answers we provided. Or rather, what we didn’t answer.
A few women couldn’t resist mentioning the personal (e.g., “I make a mean apple pie.”), but I’ll chalk that up to the feeling of a safe space provided by the workshop. But more than 80% of us said something about how we do our job. For me, it was a good memory for detail. For others, it was being good at troubleshooting, good follow-through, good listen, good identification of the heart of the issue, etc. One or two people mentioned good time management, though more freely contributed that time management was not a strong point. One woman said she was good at her field of science.
What’s missing from these responses? They’re all about process and not about product. No one said “I’m good at teaching.” Only one person said “I’m good at my science.” No one said that she was good at getting papers published or securing funding. No one clearly said “I’m good at mentoring grad students.”
Yet our group was composed of faculty from new assistant professors to award-winning full professors. At least one of us had recently won a university-wide teaching award.
Yes, the process skills that we all mentioned are important contributors to good teaching, good science, good publishing, good granting, good mentoring, but why couldn’t we mention those products by name?
As someone who’s been struggling with feelings of inadequacy on both the teaching and research fronts, this is what struck me: None of us actually feels like we are good at our jobs. We feel like we are just getting by – using our process skills and talents to produce acceptable products. We are all facing impostor syndrome in our own ways. But clearly we are good at teaching and research or we wouldn’t have made it to where we are now.
That’s why I’m ridiculously pleased with the great answers you all provided to yesterday’s question. Some of you mentioned teaching, some of you mentioned research (or other important components of your jobs), and all of you had wonderful things to say about yourselves. We are good at what we do, we just need to remind ourselves (and each other) of that more often.