This week I admitted that I worry that I am not good enough to do a PhD. I often think that I don’t have the intelligence or research skills to get anywhere with it. I feel nervous when going for supervision meetings as I don’t think I have done enough work or work of any worth. Coming out of those meetings I feel reassured and quite good about it all and this lasts for about a week until it kicks back in again.
I told a friend about this and she told me about Impostor Syndrome.
Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
Thanks to Wikipedia for actually having the most succinct description I could find. Although this article really sums it all up if you have the time to read it – The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention
So, here are things I think about myself:
- I have to work doubly hard to do good work while others just sail through things (this could be true in some cases).
- I have to work doubly hard to show that I can keep up otherwise I will fall behind and won’t be able to catch up.
- I shouldn’t take credit for things I have been involved in as others involved are probably more deserving of the praise.
- If I do promote or recognise my own achievements I am being big headed and selfish.
- Any feedback on anything I do I expect to be really bad.
There are a bunch of other things (being 5’2″, female, not in an academic role for example) that I think go against other things I do. I am not sure how many of those are actually barriers or if I should stop reading articles with titles like Short Women Struggle to Break Glass Ceiling. I often think that I shouldn’t apply for jobs because people in X department know who I am and it will put them off.
Having read more about this, I have realised that this comes into other parts of my life as well. More interestingly (I think*) is that I don’t tell people about my worries or thoughts on some subjects as the response will be along the lines of ‘don’t be silly, that’s not true’ or ‘hugs** – we think you are brilliant’, or I think someone will tell me I am wrong and stupid***.
However, these positive reinforcements are really honest opinions from people and not necessarily people humouring me as no one wants to tell me the truth about my idiotic brain workings!
i also don’t often tell people what I think as I don’t think my opinion or expertise matters. This applies to my academic life, work life and hobbies.
So it is out in the open. I don’t think that there is much I can do about it except be aware of it and that it makes me worried about my supervision meetings and the amount of work I am doing. It is nice to know it is a thing and I am not on my own.
* There is another insecurity right there, I am giving you the option to disagree with me.
**For the record “hugs” and “squee” are two things I despise on social media.
*** I do appreciate a well reasoned debate though.