How I learned to stop caring about prestige

Edmond Sanganyado in Science:

I leapt into the air, screaming at the top of my lungs with tears rolling down my cheeks as the news sank in. I had lost both of my parents when I was 16 years old, and I had often been sent home from school for unpaid tuition as I worked my way to a bachelor’s degree in my home country of Zimbabwe. But now, I was a Fulbright fellow. I was convinced that the award would propel my career to unconceivable heights. It was all the sweeter when I thought of my mother and how she used to cry over my report cards. At the time, I thought it was because I had not done well enough, but I later realized she was crying because she could not bear the idea that her poverty would keep me from reaching my full potential. I carried the burden of wanting to do her proud, and the fellowship was a huge step in that direction. It would also help me prove to the world that I was more than my family’s poverty. The numerous first-time opportunities the fellowship afforded—flying on a plane, staying in a hotel, moving to the United States—earned me respect in my small farming town. The chance to study and work abroad raised my own expectations sky-high as well.

But as I completed my Ph.D. about 5 years later, it became clear that, even with a Fulbright fellowship, I would not achieve all I had dreamed of. A degree from a solid but not world-renowned university and publications in journals with middling impact factors were not enough to secure the prestigious postdoc I thought I needed to achieve my long-term goals: opening my own lab and securing tenure. So, on 4 July 2016, while the rest of America celebrated its independence, I took a flight back to Zimbabwe—jobless, dejected, and hopeless. Back home, people respected me. A bank teller insisted on putting “Dr.” on my ATM card. At community gatherings, elderly people offered me their seats when they learned I had a Ph.D. Yet, as I continued to unsuccessfully pursue a postdoc at a top-notch institution, I was haunted by the feeling that I was a failure.

More here.

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