Genuine confidence comes from experience

A lot of books are written about confidence. Confidence is a purely acquired, trained quality, not an inherited one. I remember reading a book about a true eyewitness account of one of the JFK’s speeches wherein during the process of evidently confident public speaking, JFK’s hands were trembling behind the podium. How revealing is that, just think.

If you are in a science field, the most dreaded task is giving presentations or articulating your opinions in front of your esteemed peers. You are continuously thinking: am I voicing something clever or stupid? How is my presentation perceived? Dull or exciting? You seek validation from number of questions asked to gauge the audience engagement level. Even the most seasoned scientists are nervous about it. My former science boss, for example, Polly Matzinger, probably the most brilliant mind in immunology since Niels Jerne, said to get GI tract upsets prior to every presentation, even though she would go on to mesmerize the audience afterwards.

Many science laboratories with 6+ postdoctoral researchers usually run science journal clubs to share recent research development in the field. If you are a PhD student or postdoc and your lab does not have such system, find a way to establish it. Go and ask your supervisor about it. In my opinion, journal clubs are must for young scientists. It is the only venue available where you do not have a personal standing in the work and can discuss and debate research results objectively, thus sharpening your skills as a thinker, not a doer.

I remember my first journal club presentation. I had no idea how to choose a paper for a journal club. I chose the paper that was published 2 years earlier, a clear indication of my lack of understanding how science research operates. I thought I had a confidence but this confidence was clearly based on ignorance rather than experience. I just have chosen the paper because I thought it was telling something “new”. I had no prior experience in lab environment and I did not receive any formal PhD training prior to my postdoctoral research. Honestly, it took me close to 3 years before I started to understand the principles of scientific reasoning relevant for the successful journal clubs.

I even started a blog, called NIHilist’s Immunology where I post my analyses of new research in immunology so young scientists who want to learn the principle of scientific reasoning can go and view my discussions and if it make sense to adopt them for their own purpose. I wish I had opportunity when I was doing my first steps in science.

A true measure of confidence comes when you are convinced and are able to convince others. Such feedback reinforcement happens only with the experience and multiple efforts, not naturally or out of blue.

posted by David Usharauli

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