Fireside Chat: A True Story About a Home Run

“You can’t hit a homerun unless you get up to bat.” I am not the best baseball player.  In fact, if you were picking your team you wouldn’t select me.  But I did learn that I can hit a homerun. Let me tell you a story about how I hit a home run out of the ball park.

I was applying for Graduate Dean Positions.  I had served as an Associate Dean and then Interim Dean.  I knew it was common practice at many universities, although not at all, that the internal candidate is passed over. Partly because faculty know where your “warts” are or “you can’t be a prophet in our own backyard.”  It was clear to me that I better hedge my bets.

My campus was searching for the Dean of the Graduate School.  As Interim Dean, I knew I had a shot at the position.  I also knew that I better look for a position outside the university.  I began applying for positions.  It takes a lot of work to apply for an administrative position (but that’s a story for another fireside chat.)

There was one position open at a major research university. I had been on that campus to recruit grad students for my campus at the time.  I was so impressed by the people I met and the beautiful campus.  I could feel the positive energy of that campus and I knew I would love working there.

While I was there recruiting, I met with the Dean of the Grad School.  He told me that he was never going to retire.  I got depressed thinking “that’s too bad for me”.

Shortly after my recruitment trip, that position came open.  The Dean didn’t retire, he was promoted to VP for Research and that left a vacancy.  A vacancy that I knew I wanted and that all my male colleagues and then some would want as well.

As I made applications to other schools, I thought about that one position I really wanted. I kept thinking that I’d never get that job.  I was listening to the “self-doubt mind gremlins”.  Did I have enough experience? Could I do the job at a large research university?  Would they even consider my application? Those were the self-doubt and lack of confidence issues I was facing.

I also knew there exists gender and implicit bias that women may not be able to lead a male dominant large research-intensive university.  The biases affect the decisions that we make such as – not to apply.  They limit us. Or a I say, they become ingrained as part of our limiting belief systems.

It’s wasn’t uncommon for me at that time to feel that I didn’t deserve the position.  “I’m not as prepared.”  “I need to do more before I am worthy of such a position.” I find these thoughts to be a common theme among many high achieving women.  Studies have shown this as well; “I’m not deserving.”  At times it’s difficult to internalize your own accomplishments.   It’s easier for others to see them before you do.

That’s why mentors (peers included) are so important. They can make a difference.  They see in us what we can’t or don’t see.

So, I hope you get the picture.  I wanted that position and I was letting my limiting beliefs get in the way. I thought, “All the guys will apply, and I won’t stand a chance.”  Then I had another thought, “Yes, they all will apply, but if I don’t – I will never get the job.”  That’s when I realized that if you want to hit a home run, you have to get up to bat!

I did get up to bat.  I put in my A+ game.  I paid attention to every aspect of that application process. Did my homework and then some.  I was ready.

You know what? I hit that home run. I hit that ball out of the park.  I got that position. I was the first female to serve in that position. I was the first person from outside the university they hired for that position. In both cases, it only took 93 years to accomplish that. I served in that position for 12 years and loved every minute.

So, the next time you let self-doubt creep in, remember – You can’t hit a home run unless you get up to bat.

Fireside Chat: Imposter Syndrome

As a first-generation college graduate, to earn a graduate degree was a major milestone. A first for my family.  Women did not attend college let alone seek an advanced degree. I was the lucky one – encouraged to seek an education. Education was a gift – a key that opened doors to opportunities

There was no one in my family to advise me about graduate school or how to navigate the path forward. I was on my own trying to figure things out. I realized early on that if I was going to be successful that I couldn’t do it alone.  That is when I became brave enough to ask a few questions of my fellow grad student colleagues; I discovered what today we call peer mentoring.

When I began my graduate education, I remember feeling the excitement of the journey ahead of me.  Today, I can still feel what it was like that first day. I remember the beautiful crisp sunny fall day – stepping onto the campus as a first-time grad student. I can see the beautiful trees, awesome huge buildings – the pathways across the quads. Most of all, I can feel the joy of taking that first step to achieve my goal

My memories flash to my enthusiasm and passion for learning and the degree I was going to earn – that would create opportunities to become a university professor. My enthusiasm and passion were a way to stay focused on achieving my goal when I encountered hurdles along the way. And there were hurdles – small one, large ones, multiple ones.

Self-doubt liked to loom close by.  Early on, I would say to myself, “oh my … They let me in. It must be a mistake. Everyone else here is so much smarter and they know what they are doing.”  What scared me most was that someone would find out that I got in by mistake – then what?

I wasn’t the only student having self-doubt. I heard several of my friends say some of the same things I was thinking.

Today we call self-doubt the “imposter syndrome”.  Letting self-doubt and the “mind gremlins” take over and squash your dreams.  Guess what – they didn’t just let me in. It wasn’t a mistake.

The faculty admission committee knew what they were doing. They saw promise and potential in me. I realized early on not to let the “mind gremlins” get in the way of achieving my goal – earning that degree.

I had a belief that grad school was going to be an extension of what I experiences as an undergraduate – wrong. With no one to share insight, I was clueless especially as a first-generation student.

Much more is expected of you in grad school, much, much more.  I did find my path through trial and error. Asking graduate students ahead of me a mix of questions about the process, about professors, about anything I needed answered. We call that peer mentoring.  Peer mentoring is essential in graduate school. One has to be willing to ask and seek out others who can serve as peer mentors.

The most crucial lesson I learned was the importance of peer mentoring. The experience of those ahead of me helped to demystify graduate education. It was the experience of benefiting from peer mentoring that even as Dean, I served as a mentor to demystify the process of grad education for students and assisted anyway I could to share experience.

Here are a few of my takeaways for you that I learned that assisted me and I have seen it work for many other grad students. The last one especially worked for me at difficult times in my PhD program.

  • When you’re “stuck” or experience a little wobble, remember that first day of excitement, passion, and thrill, of being new – feel it – and remember your goal!
  • Many – especially women, experience the imposter syndrome. Spot it for what it is and move beyond it.
  • Find peer mentors who can assist and answer questions; be a peer mentor to someone else
  • Finally know there will be bumps and hurdles on your journey. Your task is to get around them, through them, over them, under them and Go for your Goal!