When I was an undergrad, I did a stint as a teacher and residence advisor at a summer boarding school. This school had a niche preparing international students to enter American schools, so we always had a strong contingent of internationals, particularly from Thailand.
I helped teach writing (with another, more experienced ESL teacher) to these kids, and I quickly learned about the differences between American and non-American education. Essay-writing in the U. S. is a strange business. Children who have no exposure to any sort of scholarly research on a novel are expected to craft arguments about that novel, after a single read-through and with nothing but their opinions to guide them.
My Thai students frequently commented, when learning of their assignments, "But I don't know anything! How can I write this kind of essay? I'm not old enough to give my opinion!"
I have recently found myself feeling just like those students. The transition from "writing papers for a class, which no one but the professor will see, which will receive grades and then be thrown into the fire to be burned" to "writing articles, which will be published for all the world to see, and will constitute a permanent record, allowing things that I wrote ten or twenty years ago to come back to haunt me" has not been an easy one. I find myself thinking, "But I don't know anything! How can I make constructive proposals?!" Where I used to write with ease and fluency, I now write only with great and painful effort.
From time to time, I evaluate my knowledge base a little more realistically. I actually do know a few things, and I might have something remotely interesting to contribute to The Conversation. But most of the time, I am keenly aware of my knowledge deficits.
How about you? Has grad school sharpened your sense of your own inadequacies, or do you claim mastery in your discipline? Or can you remember a time when you started to feel more competent as a scholar than you felt, say, during your third year of doctoral work?