Those of you who know me now, but didn’t know me when I was a Ph.D. student won’t believe this. But, it’s true. Ask anyone who knew me back then. I was a QUIET person… in class, in lab meeting, in seminars, I never said a word… for 5 whole years.
I was afraid. Afraid that I wasn’t smart enough, afraid that I couldn’t do it (the Ph.D.) or wasn’t cut out for it, afraid that would say something stupid and everyone in the room would KNOW I wasn’t cut out for it. Afraid that I was admitted to this distinguished Ph.D. program and Veterinary school by ACCIDENT, and sooner or later they were going to figure out their terrible mistake. Afraid that I had to figure out everything on my own.
But that slowly changed. How? Well, one very fine mentor had more confidence in me than I had in myself. He spent endless amounts of time reading my drafts and listening to my practice talks, changing every slide, not letting me quit the Ph.D. or veterinary school, no matter how bad things were (and they weren’t really that bad, I just had to be dramatic). At my thesis defense, my advisor said some kind words about me,-that I actually listened to –maybe for the first time.
When I returned to veterinary school after the Ph.D., I was different. Something about facing down your thesis committee for 2 hours will do that to a person, I suppose. I stopped caring so much about what other people thought of me- smart or stupid. I started speaking up in class (instead of mumbling an answer to myself), peppering the presenter with questions about techniques and experiments during lab meeting. At a national meeting for my field that I attended, I began a conversation with a senior faculty member that I did not know- and this led to an invitation for a job interview at his institution… and I credit that conversation for setting me up to get the job I have today.
Anyway, what’s my point? Its not that I am gloriously good at this (because I’m still learning)- but that many things improved when I learned how to ask. Don’t wait as long as I did to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to ask people for what you need- whether it’s a protocol, a collaboration, advice on looking for an academic job or being junior faculty. You will be shocked at how forthcoming most scientists are, if you only ASK. And don’t let it stop you if someone doesn’t respond- make sure you ask again!