Pretty much every women-in-science workshop I've attended, book I've read, and website I've visited discusses the threat of Impostor Syndrome. If you're not familiar with it, this is the belief that .... *looks both ways*.. someone will find out your deep, dark secret that actually you're faking it! That you don't know anything about anything, and really you're just a pattern matcher in a Chinese Room - sprouting out clever things at the right moment, but actually you're lost and confused and feel like you don't really belong here.
It's funny, but due to how much this is over-emphasized at these women-in-science workshops on some level I think I must have really believed this was just something women faced. But the more time I spend in academia the more I realize that just about everyone faces this - and, in fact, the people who are the most pompous and the most boisterous about their intellect are the biggest self-doubters of all.
Take my recent acquaintance Sam. I watched Sam present some truly ground-breaking research. His work is so ground-breaking I imagine just about every funding agency and venture capitalist on the planet is begging him to throw buckets of cash his way, because this stuff is bigbigbig. But it's not just that - he has published an ungodly number of papers in the past few years in top journals/conferences, is PI on a large grant, is at a very prestigious place, etc.
Sam delighted in "telling me" (read: bragging) about all of these accomplishments. And truth be told, he really has the right to brag - his research is amazing, and he's got the paper trail to prove it. After awhile, I asked him if he was going on the job market this year.
"Oh, I don't think I will."
"Well, I'm not good enough to get a job at the top places..."
Wha?!?!?! If this guy doesn't think he can get a job at a top place, something is clearly very wrong in the world. I told him he was nuts, and he should absolutely try. Of all my friends and colleagues at his career stage, I know of no one more accomplished or doing more interesting research than him.
Anyway, it was eye opening for me to come to this realization that Imposter Syndrome is an egalitarian epidemic, and as I look closely I now notice it more often. I saw a man who is one of the top researchers in his field presenting a poster recently, and as people came by to see it he kept saying, "Oh, this is just simple stuff. Nothing fancy, really unremarkable and unimpressive." This shocked me. And lots of other examples recently have as well.
This is all comforting to me somehow. Especially Sam. If he's self-doubting, by induction it's no shock that we all feel that way from time to time. :-)