Blog Post

The Myth of Expertise (Or: Where Did the Semester Go?)

Hi, everyone. This is a post I meant to write back in October, but somehow it never quite materialized (more on that in a moment).

I'm Isaac Bell, a second-year MA student at the University of Kansas, studying Digital Rhetoric, with special focus on online storytelling and creator/audience interaction. I'm also teaching for the first time, and therein lies the rub.

I'm a returning student, after an uninspired undergraduate career, a decade or more toiling in the world of online journalism, and ultimately figuring out what I want to be when I grow up, which is what I wanted to be as a kid: a professor, a teacher, and a writer.

At many points in this journey, people have assumed that I possess a kind of expertise in whatever I was doing. Even when my grades and attendance in classes were poor, I'd have teachers telling me that I clearly understood the subject. I got my job working on the website of a newspaper without having any real experience in journalism (unless you count an opinion column for the college paper) or any knowledge of HTML. I quickly become the person training others to do the same job, even though I often was teaching myself these techniques the day before the training session. I eventually was managing a news website without any real management experience or a clear understanding of what my bosses expected me to do.

Back in school, I found myself having to pretend to be an expert in rhetoric, or pedagogical theory, or literary analysis, or whatever else was required in the class. Now I'm having to pretend expertise in the basics of Composition course even though I didn't really take such a class myself, and it's been a long time since I was a freshman in an English class.

This myth of expertise is fascinating, because I find myself adapting to the role, picking up enough pieces to just barely act the part, and learning something doing it. But I'm always running to catch up with myself. What really gets me is that I know I'm not the only one who does this -- it sounds like everyone in similar positions go through the same thing. Now that I'm asked to read articles and research from other experts, I wonder how much confidence they had in their own expertise, or if they thought they were all just dancing as fast as they could.

So being slightly overwhelmed by teaching, as well as having to act like I'm a thoughtful grad student, led me to putting off stuff I keep wanting to do in order to live up to the myth. For example, I kept thinking, "I'll say hi to the HASTAC group when I catch up."

We never do catch up, though, do we? There's another three projects that I want to accomplish in the next week, and a few projects planned for Winter Break, and then of course I'm starting my thesis next semester. I'm going to be running to catch up with myself for months and years to come.

But in the meantime, hey everyone. How's it going?


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