All posts by Bill Genereux

Imposter Syndrome in College

Imposter syndrome or the imposter phenomenon is a situation in which an individual feels that their current level of achievement and status is a mistake or accident that is unrelated to their actual knowledge, skills, and abilities. It is fairly common among Ph.D. students because that level of education requires blazing a trail into new territory that has not been fully explored before. However, I also think that some college undergraduate students, particularly non-traditional aged students, also have similar feelings of being found out that they are an unworthy imposter who does not belong in college.

I started college ten years after I graduated high school. I can remember sitting in certain classrooms, my math class was one of them, when I was looking around at my classmates and thinking to myself that they seemed so comfortable with the environment and the topic of study that I must not really belong there. Certainly, age played a factor in that kind of thinking since college seemed to be arranged more for the benefit of an 18-year-old than a 28-year-old student. But there was also the fact that my classmates had likely been studying math the previous year and were far better prepared for it than I was.

Or so it seemed.

I don’t really know how well prepared my classmates were. I didn’t have access to the grade book to see how others were faring. All I really know was that outwardly, no one besides me seemed to be struggling. What I didn’t realize then that I know now is the fact that we all wear masks, we all put our very best foot forward and we mostly strive to outwardly appear to be doing fine, to have everything under control, and to by all means show no weakness.

In our online social media environments, this is especially the case. People online rarely share the struggles they are going through and mostly keep things light, upbeat and positive. This tendency can make us feel as though everyone else has a perfect life compared to what we are experiencing. Because of the mediated format and the social distance between individuals, violators of the unwritten rule of not sharing personal problems or concerns are often met with shame or ridicule.

In most cases, I think it is the fear of being found out, shamed and ridiculed that sufferers of the imposter syndrome stay quiet. To students of all levels who feel like they might not belong, that they might not be up to the task I would like to offer some thoughts.

I have been there. I have struggled in isolation and felt like no one else could quite understand what I was going through. But I was wrong because at some point most people have similar feelings. In fact, I think that students who have the “education game” all figured out–that is to say that they know all of the ropes, all of the tricks and shortcuts, including the shortcut of not thinking deeply but simply giving the teacher or professor what they want–these students are the real phonies. Such students are not challenging themselves and their own thinking. They are not trying to grow and to change. They see school as a game in which if they figure out all of the rules and shortcuts to success they never really have to expend a lot of energy discovering themselves and growing from the experience.

All of this comes from comparing ourselves to others around us. It is better to run our own race and to be our own best competitor. Compare yourself now to where you were when you started. If you see changes and improvements, you are on the right track. If you are basically the same person you were, perhaps it is time to re-examine why you are in school in the first place.

I want to encourage students everywhere to be open to constructive suggestions for improvement. Find mentors who are older or more experienced than you. Don’t be afraid to talk to your professors after class. That is why we are here–to help you. I sometimes even see students having conversations with custodians and maintenance workers around campus. I think this is a good thing because those folks are part of your educational experience as well. They have a perspective on things that no one else at the school can possibly have.

In any case, don’t keep these concerns you have bottled up. Find someone who cares, and share your concerns. Even if there are no easy answers, and sometimes it is the case there isn’t an easy answer, you will be better off in sharing what is on your mind with someone once in a while. In fact, you might even be doing that other person a favor too, because it is good for their soul to do kindness for others like simply listening to a person who is struggling.

Finally, I would say this, if you are there in that class, in that school, you do belong. There used to be popular sayings like he’s not college material. What does that even mean? This person or that person doesn’t have a right to further their education? To expand their knowledge? To get ahead in life? Don’t be silly. Everyone is running their own race. Find someone who recognizes this fact and will do their best to help you. The people who fail at college usually are those who give up. Yes, life can present some difficult circumstances, but honestly I have seen students give up over things that are far less cumbersome than what some other students plow right through right up to graduation day. Persistence is your biggest ally. Don’t try to do it alone and don’t give up. If you do these things, I think you can make it.

 

Finding Copy-Paste Legislation

Pay attention to how this unfolds, it is important. This news is both fascinating and disturbing. Special interest groups write models of laws they want to be passed. Large verbatim copies of these models appear in bills and even final laws that are passed.

In a digital world, it is a trivial thing for writing professors to detect and verify when students have copied and pasted large portions of their writing assignments. Now it seems that Rob O’Dell and associates have devised a method to do the same thing for lawmakers taking shortcuts.

Why I do not carry a smartphone

I have been using mobile computing tech for longer than most people. Over two decades ago, I while other college students were still talking on their new cellular phones (college students don’t talk anymore, they text), I was walking around campus with my laptop computer. Few students had such luxuries at the time, but my wife was working full time and I was on the GI bill so I could afford a refurbished laptop complete with a monochrome screen. I loved that machine. At the time, there was no wifi, but at the library and a few other places, I could connect a cable to the school’s network and get high-speed Internet access on it.

I carried that computer with me everywhere. I even browsed the web with Netscape Navigator after going to bed, much to the annoyance of my new bride. At the time, most people who were fortunate enough to have dial-up access to the Internet still did not have a mobile device and had to sit before a desktop-style computer. The computer was a destination in the home; they had to go to the computer.

I was an early adopter of bringing my computer with me wherever I went.

I totally understand the allure of a smartphone. But I don’t own one. For certain, I’ve been tempted to purchase one. I was opposed to my kids getting smartphones. I held it off as long as I could, but around age 14 or so, the pressure for my kids became too great. First, my bride decided it was time for her to get a smartphone. Then one after the other, the remaining members of my family capitulated.

The smartphone seems to be the essential accessory of modern living. Even in less developed countries, people have completely skipped over desktop computer ownership and dived right into owning smartphones.

So what is the big deal? Why am I such a holdout? Well, for one thing, the Internet is the world’s greatest machine for learning, but also the greatest machine for distraction. Making a habit of excessive consumption limits our creativity but most people, myself included, are drawn to the consumption side like a moth to the flame.

There has been a massive cultural shift since the introduction of the mobile smartphone. It affects everyone, but the most pronounced effect has been on young people who don’t remember how things were before we embraced these things. You don’t need to read Sherry Turkle or Jean Twenge to notice that many young people have been socially and emotionally affected by these devices.

I want my kids to be different, to still be involved in the human experience. The jury is still out on how that one is going.

Another reason I carry no smartphone is that I already have no fewer than five or six different devices I can use to connect. Except for one cellular-data enabled iPad mini, all of my devices require WiFi to get online, which usually presents no problem because I typically go online at work and at home. I rarely need Internet access when I am driving in my car, but the cellular enabled iPad works great as a GPS and as a mobile hotspot if I am away from my usual WiFi connectivity.

Another reason I carry no smartphone is the fact that I was raised by people who were raised by people who lived through the Great Depression. As a kid, money was still a thing not easily had. We did without things that were not necessities. As an adult, I’ve been through some rocky financial situations as well. For one thing, we decided early on after having babies that dad would work and mom would stay at home to be there for the kids. To do that, we do without some things.

I think that mobile phone plans are the biggest scams out there. The fees are exorbitant and the cost of keeping up with new tech is always expensive. I rarely adopt the latest, greatest of anything techie for this reason. I bought an internet-ready television that was less than half the cost of the latest model, simply because I bought the previous year’s model. Now that it is a few years old, some new televisions with more capability cost less than my bargain TV. That’s the way tech is.

Now my kids have both had phones for a year or more. The elder child has had her phone for almost three years and claims it no longer works as well as it did when new–and I believe her. Computers always do this. The longer you use them, the more gummed up the system gets from adding and deleting software and from stray files and processes hogging storage and memory.

I bought a $300 bicycle fifteen years ago and I thought it was outrageous since I could buy a new bike at Walmart for $89.00. I still ride the same bike almost every day. So I think my money was well spent. But you can spend $500 on a cell phone that is no good after three years of use? Something is wrong with this picture.

 

I think it is interesting that we are now at the point when our employer expects everyone to own an up-to-date mobile phone and have the technological know-how to set this up on short notice. I expect today will be really frustrating for a great number of my colleagues who will be surprised by this when they try to use our courseware or other university resources today.

Our technology dependence and our susceptibility to tech’s vulnerabilities, all weigh heavily on us. Technology is wonderful when it works as designed and is extremely stressful when it falls short.

 

 

 

Duo Factor Problems

This morning I went to log in to my Canvas courseware and I was directed to sign up for our new 2-factor authentication system. I’ve known this was coming. I got the e-mail saying to sign up by April 16th.

Yesterday at work, I tried to download the Duo app and install it on my iPad mini, my preferred mobile device. But I was unsuccessful because the iOS it runs is not a new enough version. Fine, I thought. I will use the iPad Pro I have that is more current. I don’t lug that thing around very often because it is so big, but at least I know it has memory enough and the OS is new enough to make this stuff work.

So this morning (April 4) I was locked out of my school stuff almost two weeks before the announced date. I’d better get the iPad out and finish what I started yesterday.

So I tried to connect to and set up the required Duo authentication system and it timed out on me for a while. Evidently, some others at our university are trying to do the same thing this morning too.

After waiting a while and being patient, I finally got the app installed on the iPad and could login to my stuff again. If others run into what I did, I expect it will be a busy day for the IT Help Desk today.

The Mask You Live In – Documentary

For a number of years now, I’ve been reading and learning about the struggles that young people face and I’ve been particularly interested in the struggles of boys and young men. For a long time now, our modern version of school has not been a good fit for boys, with its model of sitting quietly for extended periods of time, with the declining use of recess in school, with the fact that most teachers in the early grades are female, there are a whole host of reasons why school loses its relevance early on for many boys.

In our culture, there is a “correct” way to be a boy and later a man. You must hide your weaknesses and hide any feelings you may be feeling except maybe for anger. Anything perceived to be weak or feminine is to be avoided at all costs.

Recently I’ve been watching a fascinating video documentary called The Mask You Live In. It is all about the narrative that we tell boys and young men on the “right way” to be a man. The documentary is very engaging and does a lot to explain the problems that boys and men are currently experiencing. It illustrates the very narrow ways in which we expect boys to develop and behave.

I think men need to push back against this narrative that all males need to be one certain way. While I think there is a place for using social mores to control undesired behaviors–any child can become rotten little wild animals if their parents do nothing to control behavior–but expecting every little boy to grow up to be a tough guy goes against the fact that there are many personality types that boys can have. No wonder there is depression and confusion about what it means to be male when maleness is so narrowly defined.

To me, the ultimate expression of maleness is being a husband and a dad. I realize this is not everyone’s ideal and to push my ideal onto others would be just as problematic as having any other narrow ideal. But for me, having a family, providing for them, protecting them, sacrificing for them, teaching them how to live a life worth living are the most important things I can do.

Fortunately, in this country and in this technology-driven world, I am able to do these things for my family without being a muscle-bound behemoth. Intelligence and ambition do just fine. It makes me sad that so many boys (and men) are made to feel inadequate because they don’t meet someone else’s standard of what male should look like. I say find out what your purpose is and do that. Find out why God put you here and you will be fine.

Some other books I’ve read on this subject include:

Consumption/creativity

This article about why excessive consumption limits your creativity is spot on accurate in its observations. We do consume far more than we create. Most people create and add very little value to the digital ecosystem, myself included. As social media (aka web 2.0) has caught on and ramped up, it has become harder and harder to pull oneself from the allure of all that information. But we have to do it if we hope to be more than simple consumers. This is my hope for myself and for my students–that we all become something more than consumers–that we can become makers and creators.

The excessive consumption article gives a number of reasons why we should be conscious of our consumption/creation ratio and I won’t go into all of that again here. It also gives three suggestions for reducing our inflow of information, which I will briefly mention.

  • Use more than one e-mail address

I’ve been doing this one for years. Anyone who wants an e-mail address when I buy something when I sign up for something when I download something gets my junk e-mail address I’ve had for over 20 years. I rarely ever look at what is sent to that address and it cuts down on the clutter in my real address.

  • Use an extension that removes the Facebook newsfeed

I couldn’t find the recommended extension for my browser and I couldn’t quickly find an alternative. But I have been reducing my time on casual social media use in recent weeks and have been known to take several weeks long breaks from all social media use as well. Making time to do other things is vitally important, and for myself, doing a 30-day challenge project was a great way to divert my attention away from the frivolous and on to something more meaningful.

  • Go analog

This is another favorite thing of mine to do. I always try to keep a paper notebook and pen handy. The author of the article I’ve shared says they usually write all posts out by hand before posting them on the web. I don’t go that far, but many of my post ideas come from ideas jotted down in a paper notebook. Also, I enjoy going back through notes from time to time. Many times I will see great ideas that I’ve never acted on, and in some cases, I’ve successfully resurrected some old ideas, particularly ideas that have to do with my teaching.

So take a look at your inflow/outflow consumption/creation ratio. You might be able to make a simple adjustment here that improves your life.

Freemiums Drive Site Traffic

The enticing post title “How to Make Your Business Videos When You’re Awkward in Front of the Camera” caught my eye. It was one of those serendipitous moments that often happen when browsing the web; I arrived on it from another site where I was looking at some original artwork that I found while doing some other research. The business video post caught my attention for a number of reasons, but I’m sharing it here today, not for the information about video making per se, but because it is an excellent example of something called the “freemium model.”

I don’t recall exactly where I originally heard the word freemium, but it comes from the idea of giving away something of value (free + premium) with the idea that it builds goodwill, brand recognition along with the opportunity to make purchases for add ons or other related products.

Much of the world wide web was built on the freemium model. Early adopters of the web remember the “browser wars” in which Netscape and Microsoft battled for dominance of the world’s browser users. At the time, Netscape offered the basic Netscape Navigator browser for free, but charged a fee for its more robust “Gold” version of the browser. Microsoft entered the browser space with an Internet Explorer browser similar to Netscape’s premium browser but gave the software away for free. Microsoft also included the browser with every new copy of its Windows operating system, which led to a famous anti-trust lawsuit (analysis paper pdf download).

Anyway, the point of all of this is to illustrate the fact that players in the digital world have been giving away digital goodies for free for a long time in the hope of gaining followers, new customers and so forth, and I thought the article about making business videos is a great example of the freemium concept. The advice provided is good advice; it contributes value to anyone who struggles with making quality video content. However, in the end, the article is offered as a service but also as an advertisement for Agora Pulse, a social media management system.

I haven’t used Agora Pulse and can’t comment on its value as a social media tool, but I was impressed enough by the small amount that I saw to write this post. Why? Because the writing I found is superb and of value to me and I liked the simple design graphics that I saw on the website as well. When designing for the web these days, we have only seconds to gain and hold a reader’s attention before they move on to something else. The Agora Pulse site did a number of things right and I thought it was worthy of mentioning here on my own blog.

 

Robot Servers

In Tokyo, Japan there is a cafe that employs people with spinal cord injuries and people with the debilitating ALS disease. These people, confined to a hospital bed, work as servers in the cafe by using remotely controlled robots.

I think this is a brilliant use of robotic technology. I’ve been looking a bit into using telepresence robots in schools and nursing homes.

Professors Genereux & Knopp (appearing on remote-controlled robot screen)

Our English professor, Kaleen Knopp had a surgery that kept her home-bound for some time was able to continue working remotely by operating our telepresence robot. Our robot only provides a virtual presence, it does not have any arms with which to interact with the remote environment. So she needed an on-the-ground assistant in the classroom to help with things happening in class, but with this support, she was able to teach her class without missing a day.

I think having a robot with remotely controlled arms is the logical next step in this sort of technology and I think it is astounding that this sort of technology enables those who could not otherwise interact easily with the outside world to not simply be present to others, but actually have productive employment by serving others in a restaurant. How absolutely wonderful for those people who are doing the serving and who are being served. This is an internet-of-things device that truly makes the world a better place!

Ash Wednesday

Today Christians around the world are celebrating this day as “Ash Wednesday” or the day in which we are called to remember that we are mortal beings, with only a finite number of days. By reflecting on the fact that we are composed of elements which come from the Earth and we will one day return those elements to the Earth, we are compelled to examine how we are using the precious days that we do have while we are here.

I remember the one day during my first year as a college student, my professor, Dr. Chad Davies revealed to us that all elemental matter, including the elements from which our own bodies are constructed, originated from inside of ancient stars that exploded and spread the heavy elements throughout the universe. My mind sort of exploded like those stars! Now wait a sec… I came from inside of stars? How does that jibe with what I was taught as a youngster about people being created by God?

But then I remembered the creation story in which Adam is formed by God from the clay of the Earth. And then I remembered Ash Wednesday and the words of the priest on that day,

“Remember man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Hmm, I am basically made of dirt. I come from the Earth and will one day return to it. The elements come from stars that exploded. The Earth formed from those elements. The Earth’s creatures are composed of the elements of the Earth.

As I learned more, I also learned about the Big Bang Theory of the origin of the universe. It is that point in time where there was nothing at all, and from the nothingness, a big bang occurred. First, a blinding light, followed by heat and some primordial stuff that ejected out and became the first stars.

“Let there be light” -God

Robert Spitzer wrote a fascinating book called, New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy which explores important questions about the formation of the universe. He discusses the precision with which the universe got its start. A few degrees cooler, no big bang. A few degrees warmer, nothing is sustained. It was a perfect setup for the beginnings of the universe and of us.

When I think of Ash Wednesday, I think of the sciencey things I have learned about how the universe was made, how the Earth was formed and how people later appeared, composed of elements coming from exploding stars by way of the dust of the Earth, and I think to myself that there is really no contradiction between the truths of science and the truths of faith in a creator God. Of course there are differences in how these two ways of knowing arrive at what is true, but in the end, the truth is the truth.

Friday & Saturday Writing

I was able to write a good deal over the past couple of days. Much of the writing was simply transcribing entries from my 1991 journal I wrote in Desert Storm. I’m not sure how much of it I will publish in the final version of the book. I may only take excerpts. But it is good for me to digitize what I wrote, and analyze my thoughts.

What struck me most about what I wrote almost 30 years ago is how much I’ve changed and how much I’ve stayed the same. I sensed the attitude of a young man without a great deal of life experience yet. I was pretty critical of my superiors, often unfairly so. But looking back, those who were my leaders were actually pretty good at what they were doing.

I sensed that at my core, I am still very much the same person.

I didn’t and still don’t like to be told what to do and how to do it. I’d rather someone give me the gist of what they are after and let me find a creative solution to the problem. Back then, I struggled with details and keeping track of specific items. I still deal with that, so I have to devise solutions for that concern. Mostly, getting into a routine, putting things in the same place, and automating certain tasks that can be automated has helped me immensely. Interestingly, I struggle the most when my routine gets disrupted. However, I really get bored with the monotony of things that never change. It is a paradox for me.

There were hints in my writing that even back then, I was very concerned about the well-being of others. I’ve had some of my former shipmates over the years confirm this with their impression of me. They would say things like I looked out for others, and I made being in the Navy fun by not always taking things too seriously.

There was at least one incident that I recorded though in which I got on a younger shipmate’s case for not being serious enough. I didn’t name names, but I recall that incident well. We were getting ready for combat, and one of my men was saying over and over, “we’re gonna die, we’re gonna die!” I don’t really know if he was joking, or if he was seriously frightened by what we were getting into, but I told him to snap out of it and straighten up. We didn’t have time for that kind of talk. So I guess I wasn’t always goofing around and being a jokester.

One thing I’ve been doing besides my own writing is reading the memoir of a Pearl Harbor survivor of the USS Arizona, Donald Stratton, a native of Nebraska. I purchased the book a while ago and haven’t ever read it yet, so I’ve been digging into it as time allows. I’m mostly looking at the style of writing it uses and what details he focuses in on. It’s very well written.

Two weeks into the 30 day challenge, the total page/word count for my Desert Storm book to date is 67 pages and 24366 words. I think I averaged between 500 – 1,000 words per day during the past week.