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February 08, 2012

Everyone's kind of winging it – by Jack

I am not a biologist, but recently I have been spending every day in the Department of Life Sciences, working in the lab and doing my best impersonation of one. How do you impersonate a biologist? Well, it seems to me that the best approach is to be friendly, welcoming and competent. The first two I can just about pull off but I think that I'll be way in to my final year before I master the third.

I did my undergraduate degree in mathematics but as a MOAC student I now have supervisors in physics and biology. The advantages of spending time in two or more departments are many but I know first-hand that a Biology Imposter can spend a lot of time feeling inept. I often find myself playing a ‘nodding and smiling’ role in a conversation about something I don’t understand. I’m sure over time the nods and smiles will be replaced by interesting comments but for the moment I’m sticking to this approach.

Sometimes, however, you’re given a glimpse behind the veil and realise that these feelings of incompetence are common.

Stan Laurel looking confused

A few weeks ago my supervisor gave me an unexpected boost after we attended a seminar together during which he looked typically discerning. My mind had wandered early on and so when he confided that he "didn't understand a word of that" I was delighted! He must have noticed my joy at his lack of understanding because he followed it up with the comment: “you know, everyone’s kind of winging it”.

I found this motivational rather than depressing, and have kept hold of this comment for reassurance when I’m baffled by bio-jargon. It’s a confidence booster, preferable to alternatives such as picturing everyone on the toilet.

Does everyone else feel similarly drowned in jargon? And what are your tips for feeling less lost?

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