Unqualified: getting used to feeling stupid

by Sarah Luna

Tomorrow I have to lead my TA sections in an epidemiological exercise. Looking over the assignment, I am so not qualified to teach this stuff. I’m just learning this stuff in my own epidemiology course.

And then I remember: I don’t have to be an expert at something to be able to teach it. I just have to know more than my students. Do I know more than my students about this? Yes. Therefore, I have something meaningful to give, and they can benefit from my knowledge.

Likewise, I can benefit from the older graduate students. Yet there are times when I seriously question what I am doing here at Cornell, and that lack of academic self-esteem has deterred me from introducing myself to them. I think to myself: “Wow, that person really has her stuff together. I need to know what I’m doing before I can approach her with questions.” Not true. Relatively speaking, she does know more than I do, but in the big picture of graduate life, she’s just as clueless as I am.  I can benefit from even the small difference in knowledge, and I don’t need to feel shy approaching her.

A crazy part of grad school has been the blurring of boundaries between professors and me, older graduate students and me, my first year peers and me, and my undergraduate students and me. Simple lesson: I can learn something from everyone if I only have the guts to introduce myself and ask.

Goal for next week: email two graduate students I admire and ask to get lunch with them and pick their brains.

Have you ever felt unqualified to even ask questions?
Have you ever explicitly asked someone to mentor you?