I was proud of the fact that people see me as a good researcher even when I didn’t know what made them feel that way.
One of the all-time highlights of my time in physics has been when I got my first batch of feedback from teaching. To my shock and surprise, most of the students took time out of their days to write quite a lot of gushing things about me. Teaching is something I’m really emotionally invested in, I realize, and to see that my own investment was something that they saw and appreciated was just very moving. This goes back to that thing I mentioned above: I have a deep insecurity/desire about being useful in some way or another, and this moment really made me feel useful.
Another moment was getting my first paper published. While I didn’t feel like I contributed much to that project, it was extremely gratifying to see my name on the arXiv and also to see my colleagues of all seniorities congratulating me on my first paper after years of work. It made me feel like I was really a colleague as opposed to an underling. It also helps that in my field we don’t have any “first author” conventions — the authors are listed alphabetically, and my last name comes early in the alphabet!
There are a lot of differing ways that I’ve felt really affirmed as an engineer, and genuinely proud of myself.
One is looking at a final product, not as the finished piece, but as all of the thoughtful work, development, research, and testing that went into it, and reminding myself that I did all of that. That I pushed myself and my work, and created a better product for it. Because sometimes, you can look at a final product and say, “Well ya, if anyone put in some time and effort, this would be the inevitable end point,” and you sell yourself short. But when I look back at the prototypes, intermediate steps, messy blackboards, math and scrap notes, presentations and models, I realize how much knowledge, effort, and skill went into producing something, and I can be really proud of that.
Another thing that brings me a lot of joy is talking to others about my work, teaching people, and talking about things that I’m passionate about. Like I mentioned previously, I sometimes doubt if this is the place I want to be, because other things seem to come easier. But having really in depth conversations about topics that I’m learning about or working on helps me to always rediscover my passions and excitement. I – and others – can see the way I get invested in conversations and content. And when I can teach that to others, I can really find that place of discovery and amazement in my brain that you sometimes lose when you’ve been working on something for so long and get stuck in the minutia.
In general, I’m really proud of myself for being able to do and communicate difficult things, and to share that work and experience with others so that they feel empowered to do the same. I know how much I benefited from role models and mentors who believed in me and showed me the way that I didn’t even know existed, so I always want to pay that forward.