I have always been near the top of my class. Always. From elementary school through middle school (when I discovered that checking out thousands of books from the library was more fun than doing my homework) and into high school, I always maintained pretty good grades. (Middle school was actually barely average--see the part where I preferred reading to working.) I did well in college, too. Since starting grad school, the lowest grade I've received was an A- (which is really the lowest acceptable grade to get in grad school, but it's still good). GPA-wise, I'm in the top third of my cohort. But in terms of actual intelligence, I always believed I was firmly middle-of-the-road at best. I can regurgitate information with the best of them, but I really struggle with critical thinking and have believed for a very long time that I don't have a single original thought in my head.
This morning, for the first time, I spoke to a group of graduate students and faculty members about my thesis project. This was at a conference, the first one I'd ever presented at, and I knew only two people in the room. I delivered my paper smoothly and clearly, and then was able to thoughtfully engage with the questions I was asked and express myself cogently. After spending nearly a year with this material, it seems that I may have actually mastered it. I'm so incredibly pleased with how this went, and am feeling ever so much more confident about all the speaking engagements I have coming up.
At the end of this month, I get to present my thesis project in a bit larger scope, as I deliver a presentation to the entirety of my graduate community. In mid-March, I present a different portion of my thesis at a conference at UNC Greensboro, and at the end of March, I present a non-thesis-related paper at an enormous conference in Indianapolis. Almost as soon as I return from that conference, I get to defend my thesis. After today's experience, I'm hardly anxious about these events at all.
And, you know, the director of my program is writing a book chapter--WITH ME--based on an idea that I had. So, maybe my brain is actually doing something right. Maybe I'm getting my start. Maybe I'm going to do good and great things. This is a very exciting prospect.
A post-script on 2/10: today, a very smart man told me my thesis is publishable. Last night, a very smart woman told me I should apply to the PhD programs at Harvard and Stanford. Eeep!