I've been awarded funding but I can't shake imposter syndrome.(12 Posts)
Has anyone else experienced this? I feel slightly embarrassed just posting in here, not an academic (yet). Went straight from A levels at a very academic school where I could never really compete with most of the others in my year group (possibly relevant, it affected my confidence hugely) onto BA degree, graduated from that last summer and went straight onto MA. Missed a 1st on BA degree by 1% and felt like an utter failure. I've known I've wanted to do a PhD since my first year, not so much that I wanted to do a PhD but that I knew I wouldn't be ready to give up my subject at the end of a BA. I'm in humanities, so not really applicable to careers outside of academia. I thought the MA programme I applied for would be a compromise of sorts, and then my dissertation supervisor last year suggested I think about applying to do a PhD with them. I realised at that point that it was what I desperately wanted and applied, and mentally prepared myself for working part-time throughout the whole thing- funding in my field is extremely hard to get.
Earlier this month I found out I'd been awarded funding. To say I'm over the moon is a huge understatement. Lots of others on my MA programme applied for PhD funding, none of them have been successful. I was quite shocked by that. All year I've been feeling like I don't really know what I'm doing with the MA, although just had results back that suggest otherwise. But there are lots of students on the programme who I feel are streets ahead of me, more knowledgeable, generally more intelligent, who didn't get funding. I really did think it would be them, not me, and I feel like a total imposter. I'm worried once I start they'll realise they picked the wrong student and that I don't really know what I'm doing. I'm excited to start properly once I've finished my MA but at the same time I feel as though the whole PhD world is still venturing into the unknown, if that makes any sense. No one can really tell you how your own PhD is going to be structured, I get that. I mentally prepared myself for missing out on funding to the point that now I have it I feel guilty that I'm the one who got the opportunity, which I know is absolutely ridiculous.
I could have written your post word for word.
I spoke to my supervisor about it and he said absolutely everyone feels like that and you just have to get over it. Harsh but he's right. I still feel a total fraud every day but you just have to fake it I think.
Oh, that's the other thing- email from supervisor the day I got the funding. I replied thanking them for all their help, they sent another back generally asking how my MA was going- MA is at another university. I agonise over sending emails, and yet somehow in my numerous read throughs I didn't notice a typo in the first line until the moment I pressed send and it was too late Not an awful typo, but still a typo. Sent another email back quickly correcting it, but the embarrassment. He's known me for three years which I hope makes it a bit better, but still. I am so not grown up enough for this.
I think your supervisor is right- and possibly an element of the people who don't think they're awesome are the ones who work the hardest and break through in the end, as someone pointed out to me recently. I've had a similar thing with grades as they've been released for my MA over the last couple of weeks, some people in my classes who come across very confident and self-assured in seminars scoring lower than me in assignments, when I would have expected the opposite based on how they come across in class settings. My immediate reaction was mine must have been marked more leniently.
I possibly need to stop basing everything off of that.
When I did my PhD everyone was smarter and worked much harder than me. I still got my PhD. The imposter syndrome meant that I left academia, which is a shame, but having the PhD is useful for reminding myself that I am quite smart and capable.
It's great that you are really invested in your subject and that is probably reflected in your successful funding application.
Take the funding and do the PhD. Trust their judgement. They've seen it all before. But, you really need to sort your head out before you start. My imposter syndrome wasn't too bad when I started and definitely got worse as I went through. If you feel like this now, you could be in danger of screwing yourself up and dropping out.
Read up on Carol Dweck's research on growth mindset. Take up meditation (I am serious. Improving your focus and not letting your emotions take over will help no end). Good luck.
I identify with this - I spent years being confused why 'better' people than me weren't funded or getting jobs they deserved; and unsettled why people I didn't think were so hot were forging ahead. But this was a really thin and ill-informed way at looking at career progress, and the emotion around this perspective held me back.
At the PhD funding (and PhD) stage, there's an element of randomness; hard work and resilience really matter; originality matters; the quality of proposed supervision team counts a lot. We intuitively believe in 'raw talent' and that it's a pure meritocracy; it's obviously not quite as simple as that. If you do interesting work, and work hard and effectively, you should be okay, but there are no guarantees, and you need luck too. Keep chipping away at what you're doing, day by day, and keep performing competence even if you don't feel it inside.
I also find that running really helps with morale. HTH.
my experience is that this feeling never truly goes away - however, I would advise you to do some work on this.
Do you know your strengths, what would have made you attractive to the panel - I can tell you they were not "lenient". They saw something, that you seem unaware off (or maybe afraid to voice?)
It helps to find a good mentor, and be able to identify, with them, strengths and weaknesses, objectively.
Your peers may appear streets ahead, but their critical skills may be limited, or their thinking dogmatic. Who knows. Youdo have something - and you d benefit hugely from putting your finger on it.
[re the typo - I'd never ever think less of a student for a typo. It happens]
Take the funding. Do the PhD! Funding is highly competitive - use that idea to get over imposter syndrome.
Look, I think it's an ethical, feminist & professional responsibility for us all to get over the imposter syndrome. Try practising the technique of pretending you're competent & pretty soon, you are!
I realised - particularly when I took on more leadership roles post-PhD - that it was an important responsibility to own my competence, to try to recognise objectively (as far as anyone can do anything "objectively") my strengths and weaknesses, my confidences and my vulnerabilities.
First up, as a feminist, it's an ethical duty to be as good as I can be at what I can do. And also - just as importantly - when I'm teaching young women, I need to show them the possibilities of being female, and expert/learned/scholarly, and very good at what I'm doing.
Perhaps if you think of others & your influence on them (how stereotypically feminine, thinking of others!) you can gain confidence from that?
It's honestly EVERYONE that feels this. I'm still surprised that real adults let me drive a car by myself, let alone that I got a Masters and PhD. The thing is, your impression of yourself shows you have humility and do engage in self-awareness. The only people I've known who seem totally without imposter syndrome are arrogant and self- absorbed (and are never quite as good as they see themselves).
PhDs are awesome. Take three or four years to utterly geek out, immerse yourself in stuff you find fascinating and be led by it. It can be a really enjoyable process if you have a positive attitude, and enthusiasm pays dividends. WRT the imposter syndrome, my philosophy is 'fake it till you make it', which you will/have. Tried and tested formula that's helped me so much in my career and in being a mum. Plus allow yourself to get a bit annoyed that (I presume, since it was my experience) men around you will seem unencumbered by these sorts of feelings, or not have them so deeply, and seem to be rewarded for their confidence. Again, practice emulating that confidence (not a arrogance) and you'll reap the rewards!
Good luck and enjoy!
Hugh Kearns has a whole blog (and a career) on Imposter Syndrome. He says, a PhD is 10% intelligence and 90% persistence. I'm still doing mine, going through my own imposter moments but generally loving it.
Oh my goodness FlyAwayPeter I am going to write your comment "it's an ethical, feminist & professional responsibility for us all to get over the imposter syndrome" on a post-it note and stick it on my wall planner. Total game changer.
I never felt like an imposter . Probably some other kind of loser
MNers love to say so but not like an imposter.
You need to stop agonising over typos.
It's ok to feel sad for your mates who didn't get your opportunity. But that's not your fault. Do what you can to support them in other ways.
Congrats on the PhD funding. Hopefully what the imposter syndrome will mean, is that you work harder and that you are therefore ultimately more succesfull. Remember to read new articles about your subject and if you don't know how to make a publishable paper, see if you can find a course or a mentor who can help you. If it is a mentor, ensure that this mentor actually is someone who publishes on a regular basis and isn't someone who is an actual imposter when it comes to giving advice on publishing. Remember, that getting a poster accepted at a convention also counts as "publishing". Take your time in doing the poster, as many conventions give prices for the best posters and this will look good on your CV. If the institute where you do the Ph.D tries to make you do too much leg work for them that isn't related to your PhD, explain to them, that this might mean, that they may have to return part of the funding to the funding institution as the funding contract usually includes descriptions of how much you are to work on the PhD. Know your contract well! I have worked as a research support officer for many years and this trap where the Ph.D is being used as cheap labour is far too common. Good luck!
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