Confidence can go a long way in any field and science is no exception. I got a helpful reminder of this notion last week at my TAC meeting (thesis advisory committee meeting for those of you not hip to graduate student acronyms). If you recall from my post about why getting your PhD takes so long, a student’s TAC is made up of 4-5 faculty members—of the student’s choosing—who will ultimately decide when they defend/graduate. My committee is great and I feel fortunate that I don’t dread the onslaught of criticism that sometimes typifies these meetings, but I also took care when choosing my committee not to select anyone who I know would relish in making me cry. Self-preservation is nothing to be ashamed of…to each his own right?
At any rate, I got some helpful advice from my committee about how to present my data more effectively. I have a really hard time finding a balance between the “here are the 10 controls that would make this more believable” level of confidence and the “this is the science gospel and you will worship it” level. I have a tendency to lean towards minimizing my data and it doesn’t do me any favors. In my defense it is a mighty intimidating feat to stand up in front of 5 crazy smart brains with years of experience on you and lay out your hard earned results. If I know where the holes in my experiments are you can certainly bet they do and I don’t want them to think I haven’t thought about the caveats. That being said, however, it is incredibly important to speak with conviction and focus on the forward progress that’s been made even if it’s not perfect. In addition to the science they are looking to see whether I’m progressing as a professional who will eventually have to stand on my own. I am going to have to convince a potential employer and later potential employees that I’ve got the goods and being able to market myself and my accomplishments is a must. So I will do my best to bend to the wishes of the TAC gods and wow them the next time around.
Just as a side note, I’m sure my friends and family are rolling their eyes at the prospect of me gaining more confidence. They’ve been listening to me champion myself (particularly my incredible domino-playing skills) for decades now. Jealousy is not pretty 😉
Anybody get the Julie Andrews reference? Anybody? Beuller?