They scare me. Every. Single. Time!

This morning it was my turn to present my research to our research group. What can I say? After about 15 years of presenting things on quite a regular basis, these departmental presentations still cause huge anxiety in me.

Every. Single. Time!

I don’t know what it is. It’s specifically these group meetings that scare me. I have no issues talking, or talking in front of a group, per se. Die instance, over the years I have managed to calm myself down when it comes to teaching. I feel reasonably comfortable talking in front of class, and the size of the audience really doesn’t matter to me. Having received repeated positive evaluations from my teaching assistant days, and ever since I have been teaching after my PhD helped tremendously to this end. It took a while to get there, but I’m happy it did eventually. But usually when you teach, it is quite clear what you want or need to teach. And having a clear story and a clear aim helps.

How I feel about teaching, I almost feel the same thing for conferences. They don’t scare me anymore. I usually go in with a polished and submitted story, and this makes it so that I feel very safe talking about it there. Conferences are safe. In and out. Gone and done. Nobody will remember me (or well, I hope some do). You get the point.

With these group meetings. I don’t know. I shit my pants, man. First of all, it’s a critical audience (friendly peeps, but still critical). All experts in aspects of ecology more or less related to work I do (insects, plants, diversity, etc.). Speaking in front of my colleagues brings up the worst in my imposter syndrome. Of course I want to tell a nice story, and want my colleagues to like it too. I’ll be working here for quite some time in the foreseeable future, potentially, so it would also be nice if people are interested in the work I do… Still, with every question I worry that they have finally discovered that I have no clue what I’m doing… That I’m some joker that managed to sneak into the department through some loopholes.

And it never gets better.

Perhaps a difference between these group meetings and other meetings is that I don’t always have the full story yet. I often bring stories that are half-finished. More like updates, framed in a story format, but potentially speculative here and there. This kind of work is usually not yet completely solid, and not necessarily the full story yet. In fact, comments and questions after these presentations may help me crystallize the final story. It should be fine to present these things, and not be worried. However, the only thing racing through my mind is “what if my entire story is complete and utter horse crap, and they’ll find out about it here and now?”

My mind thinks I’m an ass.

Hehe. My mind. Quite a useless pile of goop sometimes.

Well, today, I was extra nervous. (Nah. Maybe I’m always extra nervous…) I presented some work on the effects of artificial light at night on plant-insect interactions. Data from the first big experiment after my PhD. My first work here in Germany, too. It was a lot of work and ended up being a very successful experiment. I think the data are interesting and nice, too. In my mind, the story is almost there, and it feels like the best thing I have ever written. Indeed, it’s almost entirely written out, but REALLY, I hate sending it to co-authors (I’m going to have to soon). I hate presenting it (no matter how much I love the story). I guess all I’m worried about is that my nice story and thoughts will be wiped off the table.

Luckily, it was a relatively smooth procedure. No one discovered how bad my story was today. My talk even sparked a reasonable discussion (which I rarely manage with stories about soil in this group). I got some great ideas for follow-up work. So the whole talk was important and super useful after all. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t mind if I would never have to present to my colleagues again.

Colleagues freak me out.

Every. Single. Time!

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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