By Siobhán O’Connor:
My sister, who is younger but much wiser than me as she is coming to the end of her PhD, warned me of the sneaky “Imposter Syndrome” that inevitably sets in for any student once they begin the lonely road to being doctorally qualified. At first it begins by questioning yourself – what you are you doing here? – you don’t know enough – you’re not clever enough! Then you start comparing yourself to those around you who always seem smarter and appear to work harder than you. The nagging part of your brain keeps reminding you – you shouldn’t be here, you’re a total phony and somebody is going to find you out!
As I come to the end of my first year, I realise that all PhD students experience this phenomenon. There has even been research done to explore this facet of human psychology and apparently women are more prone to it, so you are NOT alone!! Here are some simple tips on how to manage it. Firstly, take a deep breath, you are where you’re supposed to be and you are just as competent and deserving as those around you. Secondly, some suggest keeping a written record of your short, medium and long-term accomplishments as you move through your doctorate. This way you can prove to yourself that you are making progress and it’s down to your hard work and support from your supervisors and other colleagues and it is not your imagination or blind luck. Thirdly, talk to other students and you’ll quickly realise that everyone goes through the same thing, so get involved in postgraduate activities in your department and sit in on annual reviews or viva presentations if possible to put yourself at ease – you CAN do it!!
Remember that self-criticism and self-awareness is an important component of academic life and actively encouraged in researchers. Apparently even Albert Einstein suffered from the syndrome towards the end of his life, reporting to a close friend that, “the exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler” (Holt, 2005). So don’t be too hard on yourself but do welcome and appreciate that imposter feeling as par for the course because by the time you don that red, black or blue gown in two or three years time you’ll wonder why you ever questioned yourself.
- Holt, J. (2005) Time Bandits: What were Einstein and Godel talking about? The New Yorker: USA. Available at: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/02/28/time-bandits-2 [Accessed 29 March 2015]