Hello everyone! It’s been a while, and mostly this is due to the feelings I have been having that I write about in this post. Doing a PhD has so far been harder than I could have imagined, and along with my poor health, impostor syndrome has been a huge factor in this. Hopefully my article can help some of you out.
As you guys know, I started my PhD this year (see my previous posts on it here and here), and I am currently just getting into it. One thing people warned me about before starting is “impostor syndrome”, and I am certainly starting to feel it right now!
So what is “impostor syndrome”? There are many ways to define it, but in short, it is the feeling that you are an impostor in the situation, the feeling that someone made a mistake and you shouldn’t be doing this thing because in some way, your not good enough. In my case “why am I doing a PhD – I am too young and stupid, I know too little about the topic?”. There are many ways you can feel this and in many situations, and believe me, it is very common. And do you know what? It feels crap. There have been times where I have sat and cried at the thought of not being able to do this whole thing.
There are so many factors that can spur on or start impostor syndrome in you. Here I will talk through some of those things, and give you little ways you can overcome these problems:
- Something doesn’t work.
Your idea, your theory, your experiment, it craps out. It doesn’t work, it isn’t right and you’ve just wasted a lot of time on it. So what can you do to fix this? Well for one, it is very easy to disheartened and rubbish after this happens, however there are a few things to bare in mind. For starters, if something doesn’t work once, it doesn’t mean you should give up on it. Change some variables, mix it up a little and keep trying. If you have been spending an awful long time on this, and it still isn’t working, then seek advice from an adviser or supervisor. That is what they are there for. If you have to give up on an idea, don’t worry. This is the principle behind research, and a lot will be trial and error and best guesses. I think this is something you have to get pretty used to pretty quickly in science. Take a week, a day, or even an hour off to just chill out and step away from the project. Clear your mind and new ideas will come with time.
- Someone is putting you down.
I know I have experienced this, and its difficult to overcome. It could be anything, from your supervisor telling you off, to fellow PhD students, or even friends/family who have no idea about what you are doing. They could be calling you stupid or lazy or any number of bad things, or just making you doubt yourself and your project, telling you you are too young or old to do a PhD, that your project won;t go anywhere, that your field is a dead end. It is when this happens that you need to remind yourself of a couple of factors. With regards to your project, it will have funding and a supervisor attached. Just remind yourself that neither of these things would be true if your project was rubbish. I often find it helps to read through some of the core literature again, reminding yourself why your project exist. Seconding, if it is your colleagues, remember that everyone is unique. Their projects and lives are completely different to yours. One person might be ready to do a PhD at 21, one 25 and 62! IT really doesn’t matter, what matters is that you put in the work, you do the time, and you want to be there. Which brings me on to my third point; remind yourself why it is in the first place that you want to be there! Write down 3 reasons why you wanted to do a PhD and stick them on your wall or mirror. Remember these reasons every day, even if they are selfish or silly!
- You are struggling with the work/workload.
This is completely understandable. There is only a few things I can recommend for this, as it is an inevitable aspect of doing a PhD – they aren’t supposed to be easy. Talk to your supervisor about your issues. They should be able to help and guide you with your problems. If they aren’t available, speak to a colleague who works in the same field but maybe knows more than you, eg. a post-doc.
- You are putting yourself down.
STOP! Okay, I know that is easy to say! I completely do this myself. People who succeed, people who do well, they tend to be self-critical, and sometimes, too self critical. When I get like this, I seek comfort in my friends and family, and just chill out with a pizza watching TV. Sometimes you just need to relax. Remember, you got into a PhD, so you can do it!
Hopefully this advice can help some of you through your PhD, and maybe something else if you aren’t doing a PhD yourself. If in doubt, take a little time off, chill out, have fun with friends and family, and most importantly, ask for help.
P.S. : Any PhD students out there looking for a laugh and a bit of relatability, check out PhD Comics!