Here's my +ScienceOnline wrap up of sorts. I was thinking on my flights home about the extreme melancholy we all feel (and tweet about) leaving this conference. And, being a writer, I started compiling my thoughts. Perhaps because I was overtired beyond all reason my thoughts quickly turned into a rant, and a very personal one at that. But it's also an honest rant, so I thought I'd share it without the benefit of editing after a solid 10 hours sleep. 

Science Online was terrifying last year because I didn’t know anyone and didn’t really know what to do. This year I was more prepared, but also more terrified because more people know who I am. I missed the session on the Impostor Complex, but seeing the tweets and talking about it afterwards I immediately recognized that as my issue.

I was totally unprepared to find out that a lot of people know who I am. And people that I really look up to, too. It’s exciting to know that I’m apparently doing well, but it’s also entirely terrifying. I actually met fans. People actually admitted to fangirling over meeting me and asked for pictures. I was not at all ready for that. It really freaked me out. I consider myself a new, young writer. And that’s when the Impostor Complex set in: is it possible that I've fooled people into thinking I’m worth my salt in this business? My confidence doesn't match the reputation I apparently have.  

I’ve never been totally comfortable living online; for me with spaceflight, life and work are one in the same. On one hand the online world appeals to the introvert in me, but on the other hand I’ve become increasingly aware of how much I rely on body language to intuit the nature of my relationship with people. Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’m terribly uncomfortable asking a colleague for an introduction to someone or broaching the subject of a collaboration if I haven’t met them. Even the people that I see digitally every week. Sometimes those three line I-just-want-to-connect-with-you-and-introduce-myself emails take days to write. If you haven't guessed it there's a healthy dose of social awkwardness mixed in with my introverted personality.

That awkwardness doesn’t totally go away when you realize that the brilliant minds whose articles and recommendations you’ve come to trust without question are just as awkward as you are. But somehow two awkwards – fueled by gallons of coffee and bourbon ale on too little sleep – balance out. Maybe it’s because we’re all out of our comfort zones interacting in real life or because we’re all fans of each other, but the introverts become at least temporarily extroverted. Everyone’s relaxed. The common interests and shared experiences take over and everything is just lovely.

On the plane – and I’m going to admit to a really embarrassing guilty pleasure here – I was skimming through Cosmo; my brain needed a rest and nothing’s better than a trash magazine. A reader had sent in a letter asking why she seemed to attract clingy men (riveting, I know). The response suggested she look for confident men rather than those whom she had met at a hug convention. I stopped at the idea of a hug convention. I realized that I haven’t hugged so many near-strangers in my life as I did at Science Online. Because those near strangers have all gone from online acquaintances to actual friends.

Science Online has this wonderful ability to break down the barriers that make people seem so scary. Taking three days to write a two-line introductory email feels so incredibly stupid when the first thing you do upon recognizing that person is blurt out a non-perfect greeting and give them a big hug.

The networking that happens at Science Online is absolutely invaluable, but the benefits of this conference go so far beyond making professional contacts. Finding that other people have Impostor Complex issues or are uncomfortable being recognized, sharing strategies about navigating the often murky waters of building relationships through text alone (again, I’m a body language person), learning how other people deal with the positive and negative people in their professional lives… It’s wonderful to meet the people beyond their work, and perhaps better to know that we all have our anxieties. And no shortage of awkwardness.

I’ve decided that the Impostor Complex can be a good thing, which is probably good because I can’t shake it. For me, it’s a feeling that pushes me to improve, to work harder, and to live up to the reputation I apparently have. I've always loved working online, but I feel oddly more comfortable with it now. And that might be the most valuable thing I learned at Science Online 2013.

Bora, Anton, and Karyn, you’ve created something really beautiful. Thanks.
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23 comments
 
"But somehow two awkwards – fueled by gallons of coffee and bourbon ale on too little sleep – balance out." - That perfectly sums it up.
 
I'm crying. Really. Tears in my eyes. Your perspective has made my day.
 
I love this. Excellent. I also love how this meeting energizes me for the next year's worth of communicating. 
 
+Bora Zivkovic - I need to make sure I know about next years conference before everyone is already at the conference. ;-) 
 
I met you first in real life, and am only now just "meeting" your writing online for the first time. So it seems I am one of those who got to know you at +ScienceOnline in the opposite order from what you describe in your piece. So glad that the conference helped bring you out of your shell, as I really enjoyed our chat at the bar and now look forward to reading more of your work. Many thanks to Bora, Anton and Karyn for creating a clique-less conference and building a space where it's so easy to just start talking to the person sitting next to you. 
 
Imposter Complex huh?  I've often felt it, now I have a name for it.  I don't think it's exclusive to online personalities.  Anyone with a professional reputation will notice a disparity between their perception of themselves, and their perception of how other perceive them (does that make sense?). 
 
+Bora Zivkovic - Thanks!  Trying to get out to more conferences.  I missed AAS due to a shortage of vacation time.  
 
This was my second year attending too, Amy, and you described perfectly many of the feelings I have had over the past week. One of the best things I've learned from Science Online is that we're all just people. Everyone has something to bring to the table whether we realize it or not, and that's what makes Science Online such an awesome community. We all help, challenge, and encourage each other to be the best we can be. I'm glad you are a part of that community and I'm grateful to be a part of it myself. Thanks for sharing this!
 
Very nice (and brave) write up. I've never been to +ScienceOnline, but your description makes it sound like a very friendly venue. Thanks for sharing. I'm very hesitant to post publicly or express an opinion online, but I'm trying to get more involved with some of the great online science communities that are available. Your article is very encouraging. 
 
Fantastic piece of writing +Amy Shira Teitel, you should send it into Cosmo. ;-)

I think the Imposter's Syndrome keeps you honest, humble and constantly willing to over deliver on expectations - it's a good thing. You should be nervous when you stop feeling that way, and start believing your own myths.
 
I'm with you on everything you said, Amy. (And impostor syndrome is definitely not confined to women - my own case is particularly bad.)
 
While I didn't 'attend' the conference I 'crashed' it, I do feel what you are talking about.  I've been involved as a volunteer to the VSP because I enjoy sharing my passion for Astronomy.  Seeing other people I look up to, you included, and then yet seeing others look up to me was very invigorating.  It really made my day job dull and boring.  I want to get more involved.  I told that to Pamela as well.  Anyone reading this I give you a big hug to reach out and engage me with your ideas.  
Ed Yong
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"I’ve decided that the Impostor Complex can be a good thing, which is probably good because I can’t shake it. For me, it’s a feeling that pushes me to improve, to work harder, and to live up to the reputation I apparently have."

I'm just going to co-sign this until I'm blue in the face.

Here's the truly awful and yet possibly brilliant thing about impostor complex/syndrome: It scales. I remember discovering this concept when I learned that my boss in my old workplace felt exactly the same way, and she was an extroverted, amazing, personable, networking Jedi.

If you're the type of person who gets it, I suspect you will continue to do so, regardless of how well you're doing. Because you could always be doing better. Because there are always people who ARE doing better. And because your expectations of yourself, and everyone else's expectations of you, will increase in direct proportion will how well you're doing.

To this date, my stomach sinks whenever I get a pitch accepted for a place I've never written before. And I felt pretty unsettled for the first month after Phenomena started because it was such a big gig, and because Brian, Carl and Ginny were producing this constant stream of amazing resonant stuff.

But as you say, this can be a good thing. If keeps you striving and stops you from resting on laurels. And it should hopefully stop you from standing on whatever pedestal, big or small, that people choose to put you on.

Obviously, if it paralyses you, that's bad, but I think the trick is to somehow learn to calibrate it so you feel just the right amount of impostor syndrome that you keep on working, while cutting through your own bullshit.
Ed Yong
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And Amy, with no pressure, expectations or exaggerations, I think you and your writing are fantastic.
 
This was completely fantastic, Amy. I, like Stephen and Emily, also found that your insight about the two awkwardnesses balancing out perfectly described my experience.
 
Thanks for sharing this, Amy. When it comes to science and engineering fields, I think it takes a very long time not to feel like an imposter sometimes. Don't worry, you are in the very best of company!

Everyone who is honest in this business knows how much he or she just doesn't know. Uncertainty is just something we have to accept and be open about. Saying "I don't know" is wonderfully liberating. Also, one thing I've found is that the true experts (the ones who know in their bones that they are among the very few to know their material inside and out) are generally generous of spirit, and honestly want to share their knowledge and make newcomers feel at ease. 

Besides, "imposters" are often the ones who see new connections and push the field forward. When I saw your posts for the first time I thought to myself, "This is wonderful. Somebody with an obvious passion for spaceflight is uncovering all the marvelous history that our current smartphone-addicted generation has forgotten, and reminding us that we have much to be proud of, and much to aspire to." Thanks for leading the way!
 
The wonder, fascination, and terror of Human Interaction.
 
Amy, I did attend the Imposter Syndrome session. There's a lot available out there, especially for women in science community, about it and how to combat it. I was floored by people who made an effort to introduce themselves to me at scio13. Good luck with all you do!
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