So I'm an impostor.
February 14, 2011 3:13 PM   Subscribe

I've written the standard textbook about a topic. I'm teaching a regular class at a college (in summer) and at a research university (winter term), as well as some summer school courses. Instructor of record, giving exams, all those things. I'm rather good at it, or so I think - at least for being hired as a so-called outside expert. Yet I'm incredibly anxious about this and feeling like an impostor. One of the reasons? Well, nobody knows, but when I'm not a lecturer, I'm still a freaking undergrad who is failing most of her classes.

The book I wrote at age 18 (at the time, there wasn't one in my language, and I basically summed up what I had found on the internet - published it with a minor house, but it took off) gave me credibility to write another one, about a topic where I felt like an expert.

I sort of accidentally got a teaching gig at a college. Honestly, they asked for "course proposals" for a summer school, and I didn't quite get that this was a regular call for lectures and everything - I just thought this was some sort of skill training for grad students :-).

They hired me on the base that I had written what has become the standard textbook about this topic. I overprepared the course, got good evaluations, and a contract for the next year. One person at HR knows my age, but probably assumes I'm sort of a whizkid.

I'm 21 now. I've taught four semesters with one class each. I've attended seminars on teaching, boring staff meetings, listened to my collegues complaining about "snowflakes", discussed the merits of powerpoint in class,..
But that's only one part of my life.

Secretly, I'm one of those "snowflakes". I'm an undergrad, and in the lower bottom of my classes. It's always the same: I start off very well for a week or two. I'm excited about classes, and research a lot and read ahead. Classes get boring because of that (I'm a good researcher), I stop attending. Two weeks before finals, I panic, lock myself in a room, and study for 5-6 exams. I usually pass, but with grades that reflect the amount I studied. In very rare instances, I get hooked and get an A+.

I know the problem. I'm terrible at doing boring stuff, I need a certain level of stress and challenge to function.
I also have some sort of impostor-syndrome, but I considering that nobody knows about my "second" life, I sort of am an impostor.

I do not know what to do about this. I've considered therapy, but I've read way too many training books for therapists to not recognize most of the textbook methods. I do not have friends who know both sides of the story. My family thinks it's hilarious. It sort of is, if you're not me.

I've gotten and read good advice on this board. I'm looking for concrete answers, opinions, and strategies I can implement.
These are my goals for next year:
a) Graduate. Finally, pulling my GPA up one grade. (will be very, very hard)
b) Teach two classes, finish my third book (I'll manage to do that)
c) Feel better about myself. Meet with the dean, talk about my students and not secretly panic: He's going to find out. He's going to find out. Not fearing birthdays (oh god, what if they want to send me a card), not being anxious all the time.

Throwaway : impostor@women-at-work.org
posted by anonymous to Education (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
So you need to learn how to work at things that don't interest you. This is a really useful skill in life, and will stand you in good stead after you cease being a wunderkind.

You're not an impostor about the area in which you have knowledge; you actually have that knowledge. You actually wrote that book. If they found out that you were failing your course on, let's say, Cycladic Greek sculpture, how would that take away from your knowledge on the specific topic area you are teaching about? Nobody in the academic or scientific research world is expected to know everything in all disciplines equally.

As for outsmarting the therapists, don't worry about it. Good therapists have wisdom to share, as well as information. Information only gets you so far in life; experience is, as they say, the best teacher.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:23 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


And I would suggest that you take time off from teaching and original research to focus on finishing your undergrad studies with a better GPA. There will be plenty of teaching and research in grad school, but your GPA will be a part of determining which grad school you go to (and, in the US, how much funding you get--I can't speak to other countries' systems of funding graduate study).
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:25 PM on February 14, 2011


There's not a single question mark in your entire post. What are you asking?

First of all, are you sure that your dean doesn't know? Are you teaching at the same school in which you are enrolled? Did the school require a CV/resume/transcript when you submitted your course proposal and signed teaching contracts? Did you lie on that document?

If you did mislead the school in any way, frankly, you should feel like a fraud, because, hey, you're a fraud. I'm not saying that you're an imposter regarding your knowledge. However, no matter what you've written, a 21 year old without a BA of their own is absolutely not qualified to be teaching college-level classes if you haven't even passed similar classes yourself. Imagine how pissed you'd be if it turned out your own instructors were also unqualified autodidacts. Is that really what anyone is paying for when they go to college?

Come clean. Maybe they already know. If not, you might lose your teaching position, but you'll have time to actually graduate well, finish your third book, and you'll have a much better reputation than you would if you get found out another way. The college will probably be enormously embarrassed and not spread the word around if you take care of this yourself. But academic communities are small, and you will be completely burned if this sneaks up on you.
posted by amelioration at 3:31 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Realistically, do you believe that no clinical mental health professional has ever dealt with any clients as intelligent or more intelligent than they are? I guarantee you that many of them have, even the best.

This is a common AskMe theme: what do I do when I (believe I) am smarter than (read: more competent/better than/able to defeat) any mental health professional who might be able to help me?

Here is your answer: all right. Let's accept your implicit premise as a given. You very well may be more intelligent and better at spotting what you perceive as tricksy clinical modalities than any mental health professional you consult for your problems. Guess what? At the end of the day, health professionals only have to be a certain level of smart. After that they have to be empathetic and dedicated and hard-working and practice the hell out of their craft. Smart only gets you so far.

A decent amount of the time, I technically recognize what therapeutic modalities and framing my therapist uses. I've learned that recognizing what she's doing doesn't necessarily undermine our therapeutic relationship or the benefits I gain, any more than understanding the principles of other health interventions undermines their beneficial effects. She and I make jokes about different paradigms and approaches all the time. We have a strong working relationship and I've made great progress with her collaboration and help.

Therapy is not supposed to be a 'trick' played on you, the ignorant client. Why do you think therapists sometimes consult their own therapists when they need support or guidance in their own lives? If intellectual knowledge were all there was to therapy, good therapists and mental health practitioners would never need to ask anyone else for support in that way.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 3:37 PM on February 14, 2011 [18 favorites]


However, no matter what you've written, a 21 year old without a BA of their own is absolutely not qualified to be teaching college-level classes if you haven't even passed similar classes yourself.

I think that would depend on the particular subject matter. I have taken courses from people who were still undergraduates, or who had never earned a BA of any kind, on specific things they knew boatloads more about than I did.

Obviously, if the OP did lie to anyone about his or her credentials, then yeah, he or she is an impostor and needs to come clean. But if information about a very specific topic isn't available to many people, someone without a BA might be the best available person to lead a course on the topic as far as the people planning a university's curriculum might decide.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:40 PM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


However, no matter what you've written, a 21 year old without a BA of their own is absolutely not qualified to be teaching college-level classes if you haven't even passed similar classes yourself. Imagine how pissed you'd be if it turned out your own instructors were also unqualified autodidacts. Is that really what anyone is paying for when they go to college?

This is total crap. An acquaintance is an incredibly successful professor, leader in his (technical scientific) field, of course tenured, wrote the book on a topic (literally), widely courted by other universities, and is a college drop-out. No bachelor's degree. He does have a Ph.D. (and his graduate institution was fully aware of his lack of an undergraduate degree when they accepted him) in a different field from what he is a professor in. He is largely an autodidact, and he certainly didn't take similar classes to those he teaches to his undergrads.

As long as you didn't lie, there is nothing to feel fraudulent about. They know how old you are.

As for the rest of it, if you can't Just F'in Do It, then I fully agree with Uniformitarianism Now! about seeking therapy regardless of whether you understand therapy, even better than the therapists. Getting an outside opinion, outside help is very useful -- if you can't get yourself to go to class, maybe a therapist will have ideas you didn't have. Experience counts for a lot, not just intelligence and knowledge of the facts.
posted by brainmouse at 3:49 PM on February 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


I think you're great. Don't listen to amelioration, who is being very judgmental. People pay colleges for the expertise of teachers (which you have) among all sorts of other things. I didn't get the impression you actually said you had a B.A. when you don't. Is that true?

Look at how much you've done so far in your life! You are obviously not a conventional learner and you don't fit into 'the system.' You are a Workarounder, not a Workthrougher. Good for you.

You have some difficulties concentrating on stuff that bores you. A lot of people do. It would be good if you could work on that. You also, mostly, need to work on your anxiety. I agree with those who point out that intellectual understanding is only one aspect of therapy. Reading the books on training therapists does not make you a therapist. That's why therapists don't stop at reading the books. They practice with people under supervision for years.

I suggest you find an empathic therapist to work with on these issues. Good luck. You have so much going for you!
posted by DMelanogaster at 3:55 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


If your CV isn't fraudulent, then don't listen to amelioration.

There are fields in which technical certification or license to practice doesn't require a bachelor's degree, or coursework is waived for the licensing exam with a certain level of professional experience, depending on your area of residence.

For example, I could try explaining to any LVTs (licensed veterinary technicians) I know that unless they also possess a BS or BA (not all do), they have no right to be teaching college coursework in their field, or assisting in graduate-professional education, but I'd get my ass handed to me, and rightly so.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 3:55 PM on February 14, 2011


You might consider taking your unusual background and talents to a school that doesn't have traditional coursework. For instance, I've spent many years as an undergrad or grad student in my life, but the best experience I had was getting an MFA at Goddard College, where students plan their work in conjunction with an advisor and then are evaluated--and evaluate themselves--at the end of the semester based on how well they met their plan. For someone who enjoys reading and research, the opportunity to set your own goals could really help you get around that slump into failure by letting you do an end-run around the stuff that doesn't hold your attention, and focus on what really does. I think you'd be a good fit for Goddard, or another school like it.

Goddard does low-residency programs, so you can keep living (and teaching, if you want) where you are while you're in the program. Your teaching, and the book you're hoping to finish, could be part of your academic work there. And there are no letter grades!

Other than that, I would make sure you're not in any *real* trouble with the school you're teaching at--being surprisingly young is one thing, but if there's a professional credential or something they think you have and you don't, you should straighten that out. Otherwise, the cure for being a very young teacher is to get older--when I first stepped into a college classroom, I was 26 and looked younger and a lot of my students had trouble believing I was old enough to be there (and I once got yelled at by a librarian: "tell your professor that we're not baby-sitters, the next time she schedules a library session she has to come with the students." I was like, "Um, I am the professor." But amazingly as the years passed that kind of thing stopped happening. It will for you, too.)
posted by not that girl at 3:59 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


a 21 year old without a BA of their own is absolutely not qualified to be teaching college-level classes if you haven't even passed similar classes yourself. Imagine how pissed you'd be if it turned out your own instructors were also unqualified autodidacts.

Pissed? Try - refreshed and thrilled. As a recent college grad I would have been totally psyched to have a professor who wasn't an academic drone.

Assuming that the classes you are struggling with aren't the entry-level's to the one you are teaching, don't worry about being a fraud. You sound like a passionate teacher who comes from an untraditional context, and I think your situation is helping, not hindering, your abilities as an educator.
posted by pintapicasso at 4:00 PM on February 14, 2011


The fact that you're an expert and a teacher is actually pretty irrelevant here. I get that it adds a dimension of pressure and tension to your impostor syndrome, but honestly, it doesn't matter--except that you've chosen to prioritize it above the things you say you're really more concerned about. "Teach two classes, finish my third book (I'll manage to do that)," but you will find it very hard to graduate? There's a problem here.

Just pretend that you're like all the other snowflakes and figure out what to do about your garden-variety procrastination, motivation, and quite possibly mental health issues. We've all proven we can succeed, in one way or another, too. How you've proven it doesn't make you nearly as distinctive as you think you are.
posted by liketitanic at 4:06 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sounds like you are quite precocious with the good and bad that comes with that gift. The problem with anyone precocious (and there are many out there) is they reach a point where it becomes hard to really pull it off.. stand out and have things just come easily to you. When that happens it's painful as you become confronted with your own identity. You literally can't pull it off anymore. In the past, maybe high-school, you could have become bored with a topic waited till the end crammed and gotten a good grade. You've become used to that pattern. Not only that, on some level it reflected on who you were, someone precocious. Now it's doing you a serious disservice. As you're still living that pattern which became part of your identity. Teaching the classes is also part of being precocious ...

Look, you're obviously bright, a good researcher and that's important. But it doesn't have to be all your identity.. you can also be someone who can work hard for her goals, someone that can overcome obstacles, etc ....

You might be able to make some of those necessary maturation shifts on your own .. some people just do .. or you can talk to someone .. there are many alternative forms of therapy that I doubt you know about that could be beneficial. In addition to the typical psychodynamics or CBT you can look at various forms of hypnosis, EMDR and its offshoots, NLP, etc ...
posted by blueyellow at 4:08 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


"There's not a single question mark in your entire post. What are you asking? ..."
posted by amelioration at 6:31 PM on February 14

Actually, amelioration, anonymous did post a sentence fragment ending in a question mark, namely, "One of the reasons?" but let that go. What anonymous wants is: "I'm looking for concrete answers, opinions, and strategies I can implement."

Anonymous, you're asking your question in a forum where you must realize that accredited for-profit institutions are regularly trashed as diploma mills, and yet they apparently do as good or better a better job of vetting staff, in my experience, than the institutions, including a "research university," at which you teach. As a graduate of such a for-profit institution, even with my weak morals and stunted academic sensibilities, I think that you're probably only "getting by" on faculty requirements at the institutions employing you, if you don't have the requisite academic background. But, even if you are not, because of being hired as some kind of "outside expert," I think that you should clarify this, straight out, with your HR department, and institutional officers. If they're OK with you teaching undergrad classes without a degree, please come back and post the name and address of that/those institutions, so that it/they can be equally disparaged here with the money grubbing for-profit schools, which generally demand both master's degrees and current employment in the field being taught, from the instructors with whom they contract.

After you've been forthcoming enough with your employers to verify that they understand your current academic status, buckle down and do your course work. Teach your classes, if you are still allowed to do so, as professionally as you can, or be upfront with your students about the reasons why you've been suspended from teaching, if that's the way it goes. Then, graduate, if you can, with the best GPA you can manage, from the school you attend. If you intend on trying to make a career in academia, pursue graduate school thereafter.

Resolve never to stand in front of another class, or group, if ever you reasonably feel a fraud.
posted by paulsc at 4:15 PM on February 14, 2011


First, I sincerely apologize for the overly strident tone of my first answer.

Secondly, I'd like to reiterate my stated opinion that there's no reason for you to feel like an imposter about your knowledge. And as many folks have pointed out, there are certainly a broad number of ways in which one can become qualified to be a college instructor.

However, the anxiety that you express about having your dean discover your status as an undergraduate student strongly suggests to me that you've not been honest. Indeed, you even state that you submitted your initial course proposal thinking that it was a program intended for graduate students, and you are not a graduate student. One very direct, if uncomfortable, option for you to alleviate your anxiety over being discovered is to come clean about your true credentials, and let the chips fall where they may. Colleges and universities have reasons for requiring particular credentials of their instructors, and instructors have an ethical obligation to be forthcoming about their qualifications. It is absolutely possible that your outside expert status is sufficient, but why not be sure?

Again, I apologize for my judgmental tone in my first response. Clearly this question hit a sore spot in me, and I should have previewed more clearly and breathed a little more before hitting post.
posted by amelioration at 4:38 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Everyone teaching college feels like a fraud. We all think there should be someone more expert than we are answering questions, etc. In your case you're not credentialed, but you're doing an excellent job. There are LOADS of credentialed-out-the-ass instructors who are terrible at the teaching side of things.

Still, you aren't credentialed. That could be a problem for some people. I'd guess it would depend on your area of expertise -- if you were teaching, say, literature, one could easily argue that you don't have the depth of experience and breadth of knowledge to give your students needed nuance. But if you're teaching, say, Microsoft Office classes to undergrads? Probably not an issue. (I say this as someone who taught Microsoft Office classes to undergrads...)

It's really the school's fault if they never requested your CV or transcripts (unless they did and you lied). Perhaps Sidhedevil's idea about stopping teaching is the way to go. Focus on your own work, then once you graduate -- and enter grad school -- you can go back to it. It's one year? I'd do that. If you plan to continue in academia, it might be a good idea to get your house in order now.

Also! See an advisor at your undergrad school and see if your two textbooks and several years of teaching experience can count as credit toward some classes you have left. It seriously should.
posted by clone boulevard at 4:40 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think you're an unusual and extremely accomplished person. Writing multiple books and getting one of them to become a standard course text are extraordinary feats. What more, you have the skill, poise, and expertise to teach successfully at the college level. This is more than many people twice your age can boast about.

Consider an alternative of some sort. Ask your school about taking a semester off, if you have the resources and material support. Use the time to focus on writing and teaching.

What do you want your future to be like "after college"? Why not try pursuing it now? If you like the subject on which you're an acknowledged expert, why not get in touch with companies or organizations that deal with that topic and see if you can work for them? You'd be a unique applicant.

If it's not a technical subject, how about contacting graduate departments to see if you can leapfrog the remainder of your undergrad classwork altogether? Because it looks like you've already found your "thing" and gotten extremely good at it, and the other stuff is just weighing you down.
posted by Nomyte at 4:41 PM on February 14, 2011


Wow, didn't preview at all, sorry! So, what everyone else said. Except also see your advisor. Try for credits!
posted by clone boulevard at 4:45 PM on February 14, 2011


Many many people feel like frauds in some area of their life. In my experience, many are very conscientious, often anxious people who have an idea that they are missing something which, if they had it, would make them feel whole and complete.

You don't have to have a PhD to make a pretty good guess about what happens if they get that thing that they believe will make them feel complete. They are rarely comforted for long.

If you didn't lie about your qualifications, you are objectively not being a fraud. If you are getting good evaluations, you're probably a reasonably good teacher. What makes it hard for you to allow yourself to know and be comforted by these two very obvious points?

A therapist might be helpful, if you're willing to do the work, as opposed to trying to figure out what technique he or she is trying to "use on you."
posted by jasper411 at 4:47 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll be a bit more positive than the others, mainly because you made me grin :-). Have you ever seen the movie "Catch me if you can"?

I'm going to assume that you didn't lie about your cv.
From what I read, you're also NOT teaching at the institution you attend. People are not that stupid.

Actually, you sound like you come from an educational system similar to mine - where colleges are allowed to hire experts for certain topics in demand.
They hired you because you wrote that standard textbook. So you are that kind of expert. Yes, you summarized what you found on the internet. Guess how books get written? And then you wrote another book. Believe me, if your book sucked (even if it's the only one available about some topic - tech?), you wouldn't get another contract. Not at your age or without a really good reputation backing you up.
Your teaching was okay, so they hired you again. Since HR seems to know your age, you probably didn't lie about your cv - your dean (or whoever hired you) just assumed things.
They know that you're young. They just don't realise how young.

Most people here will tell you to quit, come clean,.. If you were able to do this / would dare to do this, you probably would. I don't think you want advice about that. I think you want help with your academic issues.

1) From what I can read, you have at least two talents: Communications (writing + teaching) and whatever subject you're teaching (is it different from you major? If so, why?). Do yourself a favour and don't do any other subjects.

2) You're a teacher. Think about your students - if you had someone who struggled with an issue like this, what would you suggest? Ask your collegues (but invent a hypothetical persona)?

3) Next semester, you'll take "Underwaterbasket Weaving 101". Prepare lecture notes for that class. I don't encourage you to teach that class (not even accidentally submit a proposal for a summer school - honestly, that's beyond snowflakey), but you seem to be able to deal with that sort of work. And you'll learn the material that way and maybe, later (!!!), you are happy that you own lecture notes.

4) If you need a challenge: From now on, you're only allowed to study five hours a week.

5) Go to a professor. Ask them for independent studies. Find a paper of interest. Recreate it, and train your academic skills.

You know all of those things. You know what you're supposed to do- But - and that is my honest opinion - you are young. I know that this is a problem for you, but it is also a fact. You might be smart and able to fool everyone else - but you do not have the experience. I'm quite young myself. Starting my teaching career is scary, and I know all about impostor syndrome and anxiety and pressure - and I do not have the pressure of your "secret life". You don't seem to have anyone to talk to. You haven't spent the years in grad school to be broken into academia. It's perfectly reasonable that you are freaking out a bit.
You shouldn't have taken your first teaching post once you realised that you answered a CfL. However, you did. You were 18 or 19 at that time. It's no more stupid than trying drugs or getting pregnant, if you ask me.

I would take a semester off, if you can afford it, and do some hardcore studying. Take double the amount of classes. If you continue to teach - do only classes about subjects you can PROOF your expertise for. And of course, if you really didn't lie about your cv.

Your goal isn't finishing undergrad, your goal is grad school. Sure, grad school often sucked, but you can teach, research, write books and generally have fun. Find professors, preferably in the field where you wrote your books in. Network. Your academic record probably sucks, but your cv should be awesome enough to entice a professor.
--------------------------------

On a side note, if you ever get tenure, you're going to have a really nice story for the department's christmas party.
posted by mathemagician at 4:50 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The inability to engage with material sounds a lot like ADHD. There are some ways to deal with it, up to and including medication. Coffee is a good low-end medication. There have been many threads about ADHD, with lots of valuable advice.

Your University hired you and didn't get your credentials? That's not your fault. In your case, as an undergrad, you shouldn't be expected to know the ropes. Do Not misrepresent yourself. You could try talking about your undergrad status, in a manner that suggests everyone should know about already.

Look at you - you're smart, motivated in many areas, and not perfect. Work on the areas that need work, learn to meditate or otherwise cope with stress. Therapy - even if you recognize the methods, they still work. Really. There's a wide variance in competence of therapists. Get a good one.
posted by theora55 at 5:00 PM on February 14, 2011


Regarding being too smart for therapy: there is a wide, WIDE gulf between reading about something and actually doing that same thing. You may think you know what a therapist will say and do from reading about it, but have you actually done the work that a therapist might suggest for you?

Also, you may well be very surprised at what a therapist will observe about you and suggest for you. The simple fact is, no matter how smart, each person is still locked in his or her own consciousness and it can be very, very difficult to get objective critical distance about self, life, background, history.

Also, not to put too fine a point on it, you are really young. You don't have enough life under your belt to figure it all out, no matter how smart you are. It can be very helpful for someone older and more experienced to help you see connections and put things into larger contexts.

Breathe deeply, value your successes, learn your lessons, and best of luck.
posted by Sublimity at 5:06 PM on February 14, 2011


Are you sure that the problem is that the school work is boring, and not that the school work is just much less pressing and urgent than your teaching responsibilities?

I don't think that it's fair *to you* to be teaching while you're an undergraduate. Even if you have expertise in this area, you're supposed to be working on your own education right now, not teaching others while struggling to get your degree.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 5:11 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


My dad is a pioneer in his field and considered a world authority on what he does - entirely self-learned. So that's neither here nor there.

The pattern you describe, of writing books and teaching courses on the one hand, while on the other feeling unchallenged in your studies, and ending up with a blah-average and vague panic, signals to me that you might actually be a whizkid. Find out about that, (test, in other words) in order to be sure what to do with yourself and, yes, feel better.

If I look at your plan for the next year ("finish my third book...I'll manage to do that"), I'd say that you live so strongly with the experience of being like you are, that you've lost touch with how everyone else is. Takes me years to write a book, youknow, and I ain't stupid either.

Final comment: we've all got a bit of this. If it doesn't completely paralyze you (in which case you might need assistance to tackle it), try at least to smile at it and shake your head about yourself every now and then.
posted by Namlit at 5:12 PM on February 14, 2011


If you can't get credit at your college for the books you've written and the fact that you've taught courses find a college that will give you credit, give you a BA like now, or very soon. I don't mean some disreputable for-profit institution, I mean something legitimate, like Excelsior College. And then apply to grad schools. Any grad school that holds some weak undergrad grades against you isn't the kind of place you want to be. Aim for the best, they'll be happy to have someone like you. And you will thrive in an environment full of really brainy people like you. Good luck!
posted by mareli at 5:46 PM on February 14, 2011


A couple of things.

Your method of studying? That pretty much got me through college. I imagine it gets a lot of people through college. There is nothing entirely wrong with doing it that way, though if you're flunking out then it sounds like that approach is really not working for you. Is there someone at the school where you're an undergrad* that you can get to help you with time management, study skills, developing more discipline, etc? Also, errrrr, is it possible that you don't have time to apply yourself in the classes you're taking because you're too busy trying to teach? Teaching two courses, writing a book, and being a full time college student is a lot of work.

About therapy. I, too, grew up a bit of a wunderkind, and I put off going into therapy (for reasons totally unrelated to your question) for many years because I was sure that I would just go into the sessions, say what I knew the correct answer was supposed to be, and impress the pants off my therapist without getting any real benefit. Last fall I finally gave up and decided to start therapy. So far it has not been like that at all. My therapist can generally read me well enough to know when I'm doing that, and she will call me on it if she needs to. When I decided to go into therapy, I decided to call myself on that crap, too, and often I will even say to her, "I know in my brain that [X] is the right thing to say, but it's not how I really feel," or the like. And then we talk about that. The further I get into the therapeutic process, the less I am tempted to do this, and the easier it is to either ignore that impulse entirely or just cop to it as it happens.

*I'm assuming that you're not a lecturer and an undergrad at the same school, or this would be all fully on the table and you wouldn't be so worried about "secrets" and what people would think of you if they knew.
posted by Sara C. at 6:28 PM on February 14, 2011


My quick take is you sound like one of the standard Myers-Briggs Personality types, the one that loves excitement and challenge (not theory, people or rules), though --- of course --- nobody is exclusively a single type.

Also, quick story...when I was undergrad I worked in the computer lab (standard work/study hourly rate) putting the listings in the students' bins (yeah, I know, I'm old). Many would ask why their program didn't work and I'd tell them...I often had lines waiting to talk to me. Some night school students told me they learned more from me than from their instructors, and even offered me $$ tips. I told them that wouldn't be honest, I was already being paid (I was young and stupid). My point: results count a lot, as long as there is no real fraud.
posted by forthright at 7:06 PM on February 14, 2011


Guys, it's not totally clear the OP is in the US and a lot of these answers make assumptions based on the US college/university system.

Also, lots and lots of your (generic your) professors are teaching outside their areas of expertise, even in areas where they may not have degrees. My college calculus course, at a top-25 US university, was taught by a dude with a Ph.D. in poetry, dissertation on T.S. Eliot, and no degrees in math. Not kidding. He was good. We also had a professor who gained fame and renown through his wide and extensive and super-intelligent writing on a particular area of South American politics ... he had not even finished high school in his native country. No college degree. Got a Ph.D. AFTER he had tenure (from another top-25 university in the US, apparently being on his dissertation committee came with bragging rights). He was too good not to tenure, even though he didn't have the traditional background.

In other words: "Imagine how pissed you'd be if it turned out your own instructors were also unqualified autodidacts." Yeah, that's pretty much how it works. Of a lot of them. Even if they've got Ph.D.s, they may know nothing about the specific class they've been assigned to teach and only be a week ahead of the students in the textbook. They'd better the hell be autodidacts or they have no business in academia, frankly.

"I've considered therapy, but I've read way too many training books for therapists to not recognize most of the textbook methods."

So? I've read a lot about dentistry but it still works when the dentist cleans my teeth and fixes my cavity (just the one!). It's medicine, not magic. Therapy doesn't depend on you not knowing what's going on; it's medicine, not magic.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:08 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


You identified a), b), and c): I recommend adding

d) Broaden your horizons.

That is ultimately what a university education should be about, anyway. You need to use your time as an undergraduate to explore the things you don't know, not the things that you already do. Explore, try, fail, and explore some more. If your classes are boring you, you are probably taking the wrong classes.

You have not identified the field that your textbook was written for, but you have said two things that raise red flags from my perspective: that you compiled your book from material found on the internet, and that it is the "standard" textbook.

Academia is about original research, knowing the breadth (not just depth) of a field so that you can communicate and learn from your colleagues (who have different backgrounds and expertise from you), and being able to defend one's approach/methodology/findings in academic debate.

Academia is fickle. What is today's hot topic is forgotten tomorrow. Technology becomes outdated. There isn't a field I can think of that boasts a "standard" textbook, for just those reasons.

You are not an impostor and therapy may or may not be helpful to you. I suspect that your academic employer sees you more clearly than you think, just due to your age. You are a part-time instructor/adjunct. That is a world away from a full-time teaching position with benefits. You are *learning* something about what teaching entails. You are hopefully learning about and from your students.

You can continue to keep your two worlds (undergrad and adjunct) separate; honestly, no one really cares. (Full disclosure: I am an adjunct at a community college in one field and have a day job in a completely different field.)

I congratulate you for publishing so early in your career--that is great! But understand that publishing is not special in academia, it's just part of the stuff you are obligated to do.
posted by apartment dweller at 7:51 PM on February 14, 2011


Have you been screened for ADHD? Might change your whole perspective. Smart + ADHD = wildly variable grades based on interest, the way the wind is blowing, the angle of light in your room...
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:05 AM on February 15, 2011


I've considered therapy, but I've read way too many training books for therapists to not recognize most of the textbook methods.

As others have said above, this reflects an incorrect idea about how therapy is beneficial. Would you say "I will not use a tennis coach, because I've read books about tennis coaching" or "I will not use a surgeon, because I've read books about surgery methods"? No. Some therapists are not good matches, so you might have to hunt around for one you think is good, but working with someone on your bad work habits, etc. can be helpful even if you know their method.

I second the other advice above, too: don't worry so much about keeping up appearances in your present situation. (Teaching really presses you to live moment to moment, but you need to break out of that and take a longer view of your plans.)

Think about your future, beyond your current teaching contracts.

First, if you intend to keep teaching or stay in your field in the future, then be sure you are totally above-board with your hiring university about your credentials. (Any kind of fraud will come back to bite you. If you've mis-led your dept chair or dean, come clean; it will be embarrassing now but much worse later.) If you have already been above-board, then great. You're qualified by their lights to teach, so just teach. Try to limit the amount of time you spend on teaching - re-use material, don't spend a ton of time grading, etc. Teaching needs to be a lower priority, which is hard because of the constant demands that you perform on-the-spot - but make it a lower priority, because this semester's students will go away, but you won't get another chance to re-do your own coursework from this semester.

Second and most importantly, your own studies: Do your future plans hinge on having a good GPA (eg, grad school admissions), or not? What do you need to do, to get your college degree at a GPA level that will open doors for you in the future rather than closing them?
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:01 PM on February 15, 2011


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