The Student of Laidlaw Past, Present and Yet to Come
As I near the end of my second year as a Laidlaw scholar, it seems like a good time to reflect upon how the program has helped me develop over the past year. This blog post is directed to anyone thinking of applying but unsure if they are ‘good enough’ or in their first year of Laidlaw and struggling with either the research or leadership component – hopefully there’s something to relate to in here!
There’s a lot of great things to attract students to the Laidlaw program; the opportunity for independent research, a network of like minded ambitious students, generous funding and a whole team of people supporting your leadership development. Once you’re ‘in’ however, it can be pretty daunting – at least that’s how I felt arriving at our first leadership weekend. As I looked around me I got this panicked feeling, later identified as ‘Imposter Syndrome’. I didn’t belong here with all these other students who were so intelligent, put together and sure of themselves. I got through the weekend having a lot of fun but feeling like I was a bit of a fraud. Maybe leadership wasn’t my thing but at least there was the research component – that’s where I would come into my element, it would be a breeze. Except it wasn’t. Summer research was an introduction into a completely different way of working compared to coursework and exams. Organising logistics, applying for funding, working closely with academics who are experts in their field and throughout it all encountering setbacks and hurdles. If I was feeling like a failure in both the leadership and research elements what was I doing here as a Laidlaw scholar?
This summer, things have felt different. Along with my Laidlaw research, I carried out five weeks of dissertation fieldwork and spent two weeks working as a research assistant. And it’s not that I haven’t encountered any problems this time, I have (including unsuccessful visa applications, rejected funding, denied access to data, and a few unwanted encounters with snakes!), it’s that the experiences over last summer prepared me to deal with setbacks in a different way. Action learning sets in which other students shared relatable problems and insecurities helped me feel less isolated. Guest speakers who talked about just how scary leadership and responsibility can be, helped normalise fear of failure.
The Laidlaw program is no longer this big scary thing, but instead an exciting opportunity and support system. So if anything I have talked about so far is relatable to you, then here are some major points that continue to help me;
- Whenever something goes wrong (and it happens to everyone!) don’t be too hard on yourself or spend too long feeling sorry for yourself either, instead focus on finding a solution – and ASK for help.
- Communication is so important, and while it can be intimidating to email your supervisor or to collaborate with academics from other institutions it’s good practice to get comfortable doing this now – most people are friendlier than you might expect.
- Taking on responsibility is scary and if you screw up it can feel embarrassing, but it’s much worse to let opportunities pass you by and never try at all.
While the Laidlaw program hasn’t transformed me into a polished, excellent leader or researcher, I do feel I have developed a mindset and confidence that push me to keep taking on opportunities, better myself, try to become more self aware. In hindsight this is all I could really ask for when I first applied for the Laidlaw scholarship and the experiences I have gained will continue to influence my actions and behaviors as I finish my final year of university and begin thinking about my next steps.
I would like to thank everyone on the Laidlaw team, in CAPOD, my supervisor Dr Tim Raub and all fellow Laidlaw scholars whose support and encouragement have been invaluable. I would also like to thank Lord Laidlaw for providing such a great opportunity.