Advice / Reflection

They’ll figure out soon that I’m an Imposter…

This is a guest post by Robyn Dowlen . Robyn is a PhD student in the school of Nursing, Midwifery & Social Work. Robyn also makes up one half of bloggers Twophdgirls.

Since starting my PhD I have had a constant voice in my head telling me at some point someone will figure out that I am an imposter, and I am no way qualified to complete a PhD. It’s draining, it really is. The annoying thing is that I have all the evidence externally, from my academic success to date and the fact I got offered the PhD, but I just cannot internalise that evidence to dull this feeling that I am not good enough. Constantly doubting your own ability is something that is actually very counterproductive, but its something that is experienced by those right at the beginning, such as me, and those well established in their careers. It’s been given a term – Imposter Syndrome.

So what can you do to tackle imposter syndrome head on? Here are a few of the strategies that I have implemented in the last few weeks to help me overcome this issue.

  1. Develop a positive mantra – whenever I have had the feelings of doubt over the last couple of week I just say a few key phrases over in my head, or out loud if I am alone. I tend to go with something along the lines of “I am good enough. I was chosen over over people to do this PhD. I have worked really hard to get to where I am today”
  2. Know that you’re not alone in that feeling – At every event that I went to in my induction week Imposter Syndrome was mentioned. Having talked to a number of other PhD students starting at the same time as me it was clear to see that this was not something only I was feeling. Knowing that you’re not the only ‘imposter’ can really help.
  3. Talk to someone – I have had many a discussion with Katie over the past couple of weeks about feeling like an imposter. Every time that Katie mentioned that she felt like an imposter, I went through with her all the reasons why she wasn’t. It helps to have someone challenge your view on yourself, so you can begin to see that you are completely competent to do a PhD.
  4. I am not an expert (yet) – I have to keep reminding myself that I am at the very beginning of my research career. In fact, this is the first time I have ever done research in the field of dementia care. I have to accept that at this early stage I will not know everything there is to know about the impact of music on people with dementia. I am a PhD ‘student’, I am here to learn. Even those who are at the top of their field had to start somewhere, at one point they were completely new to a topic area.
  5. Accept the external evidence – I have to sit myself down sometimes and remind myself that getting a PhD is really competitive. I demonstrated, through my application and interview, that I was more than capable to do this PhD. I was up against a number of people, and they chose me. I remember getting the phone call a mere 2 hours after my interview (which happened to be on my birthday!) from my supervisor to say that my application and interview placed me right at the top of their applicants, and they would love for me to get on board. I was so overwhelmed that they chose me that I asked for the weekend to think about it, convinced that they would realise their error and call the correct person.
  6. If someone says something nice, write it down – produce a notebook, or word document, in which you take note of what people have said about you and your work. Having this on record means that in times where you may feel like an imposter you have evidence from the words of other people that suggest that you are good at what you do. We as humans have a tendency to have a negativity bias and so only focus on the negatives, what about the positives! You’ll be surprised how many people say nice things about you if you keep note.

I hope these are useful, they have been for me. At this stage it is so easy to feel like this and miss out on opportunities because you feel as if you are not up to the job. The fact of the matter is, you were in fierce competition for your PhD and you came out on top. You are not an imposter, you will not be figured out.

And if you are an imposter….

What did I say? You’re not an imposter, don’t worry I’ve not figured you out.



2 thoughts on “They’ll figure out soon that I’m an Imposter…

  1. Good piece Robyn.
    I would add a seventh point, if someone says something harsh, read between the lines and find something constructive to improve on, depersonalize it and press ahead. Negative people drag us down.

  2. Pingback: 24 – robynwritessite

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