I don’t remember how I found this article by Martin Schwartz but it hit a nerve right away. The more I got into science, real independent science, the more I felt like a complete ditz. That took some getting used to. Like Schwartz says in the article:
For almost all of us, one of the reasons that we liked science in high school and college is that we were good at it. (..) high-school and college science means taking courses, and doing well in courses means getting the right answers on tests. If you know those answers, you do well and get to feel smart.
And then when you start a PhD, there are no textbooks that tell you the answers. There might not even be an answer. You are mostly figuring out exactly how little you know about something. And that, to us former know-it-alls can be pretty scary. It can even lead to a bit of an existential crisis. If you aren’t the smartest person in the world then what are you?
Schwartz comes up with a wonderful way to deal with this. Embrace it as the most important thing about science and yourself. You feel stupid because you are a true scientist.
Focusing on important questions puts us in the awkward position of being ignorant. One of the beautiful things about science is that it allows us to bumble along, getting it wrong time after time, and feel perfectly fine as long as we learn something each time.
In the end I suppose it’s all about growing up, accepting reality and coming to favor it. Contrary to what you might think, that doesn’t make your world smaller and more predictable. It actually shows you the terrifyingly beautiful vast expanse of the great everything that you can be a part of.
Or you could always go see a career adviser..