After a week of glorious warm, sunny days and cool nights, yesterday stayed foggy the entire day. It was the damp kind of cold that makes you want to be at home in front of a fireplace with a good book and a hot cup of coffee.
When I finally got to graduate school, I was in shock. There was me, one other woman, and a classroom full of men. It might sound like heaven, but it was testosterone-city. We were studying national security affairs, a sub-group of International Relations, and most of my classmates were in different branches of the military.
My professor, a former military intelligence colonel, was knowledgable, and good at presenting his lessons. He was very professional, very businesslike. Not exactly cold, but neither was he collegial.
In any graduate courses, there is a whole new vocabulary to master. I felt like I had grabbed onto a train that was leaving the station; I was holding on for dear life. I read all my assignments, made sure I copies all my notes, and . . . never said a word in class for the first two weeks. I was too scared. All the guys were blah blah blah and I just hoped they wouldn’t figure out that I barely had a clue.
One of my fellow students came up to me on break. He was nice. He asked if I had seen a recent article in the paper on The Fraud Syndrome, and I said “no” that I hadn’t. He just happened to have a copy of it with him, which he gave to me.
Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the Fraud Syndrome:
The Impostor Syndrome, or Impostor Phenomenon, sometimes called Fraud Syndrome, is not an officially recognized psychological disorder, but has been the subject of a number of books and articles by psychologists and educators. Individuals experiencing this syndrome seem unable to internalize their accomplishments. Regardless of what level of success they may have achieved in their chosen field of work or study, or what external proof they may have of their competence, they remain convinced internally that they do not deserve the success they have achieved and are really frauds. Proofs of success are dismissed as luck, timing, or otherwise having deceived others into thinking they were more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. This syndrome is thought to be particularly common among women, particularly women who are successful in careers typically associated with men, and among academics.
When time came to take our first test, I studied and studied. I knew I wasn’t getting any credit for participating in class, so I really needed a good grade on the test. I did my best. I hoped to pass.
When the professor gave us back our tests, he put the scale on the board. The lowest grade was a C-. I had passed! Even if I got the C-, I had passed! Then he started talking about all the mistakes, including one really bad one – a person who had used a quote, and the quote was not accurate.
My heart fell. I had quoted George Kennan on deterrence, quote marks and everything. I thought I had it word perfect, but I must have screwed it up. I was so embarrassed.
One paper, he said, had no red marks on it. He said he has never had a paper before on which he didn’t make a single correction, that this was a first in his history of teaching. I barely paid attention – I had passed, even if I blew the Kennan quote.
Yeh – the paper with NO red marks was mine. I thought there must have been some mistake, but the professor held me after class, and told me that for my next homework, he wanted me to speak up in class. And he congratulated me on the test. Only one guy guessed it was my paper with no corrections – the same guy who had told me about the fraud syndrome. Through our two years in grad school, we became good friends, and would share notes with one another if one of us had to be out of town on assignments.
It was October. I remember there was fog on the road, and a great big full round white moon glowing through the fog on my drive home. I had so much adreneline pumping through me that I howled “Wooooooooo Hoooooooooo!” at the moon that night.