The Less I Know About the Better

In 1999, the Dunning-Kruger effect was coined by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. In essence, ignorance begets confidence. 

At the beginning of my research regarding Coastal Geomorphology, my path was clear and straight-forward. I had all I needed to know and with a little bit of hard-work, this was going to be smooth sailing- right?I was in the area of great confidence, I had a plan and nothing was going to stop me.

As I began to learn more sea turtle knowledge, and delved deeper into coastal geomorphology and the barrier islands systems, my confidence in the research project took a plummet.

My novice background was the tip of the iceberg and I often found myself raising the question of self-worth. Was I capable of conducting research in areas that I barely discovered at the beginning of the summer? Days passed by and my research grew in complexity with unfamiliar jargon piling up. Luckily, my supervisors were familiar with these highs and lows of research and were ready to pass the torch to me. While my confidence faltered, their faith in my skills and capabilities kept me afloat. 

Dunning-Kruger Effect visualization
Dr. Donna J. Shaver and Toni Ramos during a public hatchling release.

For every stone that I overturned, a plethora of questions arose. Weekly meetings with a geomorphologist, Dr. Juan Moya PhD, would result in more questions and admittedly, confusion. Dr. Donna J. Shaver PhD, Chief of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery, encouraged me by reminding me how challenging research is. Her best piece of advice was simply stating, “ I have more questions now in my career than I had in the beginning of it. More questions than answers.” This brought a great deal of comfort to me especially in the middle of my research project. During mid-July, I recall a funny conversation with Cynthia Rubio, my supervisor, asking me if I was alright. Apparently, my stress had translated into my physical appearance. “You look like you’re in the middle of finals!” A lighthearted joke was a sure way to make me crack a smile, to maintain my composure and break down my research piece by piece. 

Dr. Juan Moya and Toni Ramos.

It was hard to remind myself that I wouldn’t have all the answers at the end of the research. A tough pill to swallow, but a necessary antidote. At the conclusion of my research, I found myself enlightened and enraptured by the thrill of trial and error. I failed, I learned and I overcame. What a privilege it was to experience these emotions with a sturdy support team ready to encourage me as needed. 

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