Yesterday, after Karl's Most Amazing Thesis Defence Ever (seriously: wow), he and I were talking over our work and what frustrates us. And as we were talking, I started coming to terms with my own academic self-image. (Warning: I'm in a hurry right now, and so this might be a little stream-of-consciousness.)
I realised that -- as a result of my lack of major funding and awards, the general frustration that is comps reading, and my own tendency to compare myself unfairly against others -- I've come to view myself as a mid-range graduate student. Nothing special or earth-shattering. I do see myself as a good teacher, and so I began to focus on the teaching aspect as my future plans, so that I could ignore my own frustration with myself as a researcher. Honestly, I started viewing myself as "Not Very Clever."
There is so much wrong with that attitude. First of all, I'm measuring my self-worth by external validation (awards, money, profs acting like I'm someone extra special), and that is absolutely not the reason why I got into this line of work. And nothing drives me crazier than people acting as if graduate students who have won major funding are worth more than those who have not. My current university is pretty good for not making that difference, and yet it's still there in any university in this country. And that attitude is a bunch of garbage, and I want nothing to do with it.
Secondly, I know that the reason why I'm really feeling frustrated is that I am still figuring things out with my research. My supervisor and I have been challenging a lot of the assumptions I made with my previous work, and are in the process of making major changes to the foundations of my dissertation. That process is slow right now, because I'm having to focus on the comps reading. But that's okay. This degree is a process and I'm growing and learning like crazy.
It feels better to recognise the problem. Now what I'm going to do, over the next few weeks (at Karl's suggestion), is I'm going to start identifying exactly what I love about my research. What I'm doing and why. I think that will help a lot, because I seriously love my research, and I've hardly let myself think about it lately.