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There are a few things in a grad students life that really affect them. The approval of their adviser,. finishing their research, having enough food to eat, and lastly, feeling like they belong and good enough, are all very really things that dig into a grad student’s soul. For the most part, we can handle these things, but sooner or later, we are more than likely going to have to tackle one of the hardest things in grad school, IMPOSTER SYNDROME!!!!
What is it?
So, imposter syndrome is the feeling of self doubt. You tend to feel that you are not good enough and that you do not belong. This feeling is heightened in grad school because you are surrounded by individuals from all over the globe, who went to really prestigious schools. On top of that, you may meet professors with curriculums vitaes the length of CVS receipts. No wonder there is a feeling of self doubt. Plus, it’s even worse the first couple of years because you are still comparing yourself to your peers. Please, please, please don’t do this.
Types of Imposter Syndrome
Superhero: So this person completely overworks themselves to try and show that they are not inadequate
Natural Genius: This individual sets extremely high goals and feels crushed if they do not meet them.
Expert: This one isn’t too bad. It’s an individual that is never satisfied with their level of understanding and are always trying to learn more.
Perfectionist: Self explanatory. This individual is not happy with their work and focuses on flaws instead of strengths.
Soloist: This individual works alone and never asks for help because of fear that others will say they are weak or incompetent.
If you have read any of my blog posts or literally just have gone to school and met grad students, you can see that grad school is definitely a place where all of these people exist. I have experienced every one of these the first year of grad school, heck, the first year of undergrad. I have also found out that professors experience these feelings just as much as grad students do.
Ways to Cope with Imposter Syndrome in Grad School
If you are just starting grad school and are afraid of imposter syndrome or if you are in grad school and dealing with it currently, there are a few ways to combat it. Let me share with you some ways that I have found extremely helpful to combat imposter syndrome in grad school.
1) Talk with others about your feelings.
This is a great way of letting other’s know that you truly care about your mental health and it opens the floor up to them telling you about their feelings. More than likely, your other classmates and lab mates are experiencing the same feelings you are. This is a great thing to talk to them about because you might help them feel less terrible too.
2) Talk with a therapist.
This helped me a ton. I used talkspace because it was covered in my insurance. My therapist helped me realize that my thoughts were not necessarily telling me the truth and I did belong in grad school. This boosted my confidence greatly. Talking to a therapist is the best thing I have done. You can read more about it in my blog (here).
3) Stop comparing yourself to others
This one might be hard to do and you have definitely heard it before. There is truth in it, though. As humans, we tend to only look at the highlights of other individuals. We also love to share our highlights too *cough cough Instagram*. Of course this would make us compare ourselves to others. I have heard countless times how someone thinks their life is bad because they aren’t on a crazy adventure somewhere or they are still in school while everyone else is at a job, making real money. It took me years to finally cut the habit of comparing my life to other’s. I had to to reduce my imposter syndrome. Everyone goes through struggles and everyone’s life is different.
You may meet some of the most successful and brightest people in academia, while in school. I guarantee their lives are not as amazing as you see it. They have also worked countless hours to get where they are. You will get to that point eventually, but it will take time. If you compare yourself to other people’s highlight reels, you’ll always feel inadequate.
4) Question your thoughts
This was covered in my blog about cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). I didn’t cover it in too much detail (potential blog post?). Anyway, one of the best things that I learned in therapy was to question my thoughts. When I start thinking that I am not good enough to be in grad school, I ask myself why I feel that way as well as is it justified. Am I actually a fraud or do I just feel like one at the moment? Does my adviser really think I am a terrible student or am I just frustrated right now and a bit overwhelmed? Question your feelings every time you have something come up that is negative. You will quickly realize that you mind likes to exaggerate things.
5) Aim for Done, Not Perfect
This was one of the single best pieces of advice that I ever got. I think it was from R3ciprocity, but I am not sure. Either way, go check out that channel on YouTube. It’s worth it. Anyway, go for done, not perfect. This is what I do with my writing. If you aim to be a perfect writer, you will never finish. Yes, you want to give your best, but do not obsess over one sentence or paragraph. In fact, just write out whatever pops in your head and just get it on paper. Then you can edit later.
This is the same with everything you do. Aim to get it complete and not perfect. First, you will get comfortable with the thought of not being perfect, and second, you will actually be moving in the right direction with your studies. You will develop skills along the way that wil hone your skills and perfection will naturally come. It may take a while, but it will happen.
Social media, especially twitter, can be terrible when it comes to having imposter syndrome. One of the things that people tend to do when starting grad school is get a twitter and add every person with a PhD. This seems like a good idea until you spend hours reading about all of the amazing things that they have done and the projects that they have completed. Then you start comparing yourself to them. This can cause a ton of anxiety and feelings of self doubt. I am not saying to not follow these people, but just do it sparingly. If it is affecting your mental state, please, please, please just delete it. Your mental health is way more important than twitter.
Remember that you are not alone. You are an amazing individual that DOES deserve the recognition and praise for all you have done. Imposter syndrome does not have to affect you. you can combat it and thrive in a place where it is so common. I promise you, if you are experiencing imposter syndrome in grad school, it is only temporary and will go away. That is if you do something about it, and I know you will. If you have any questions about grad school imposter syndrome or just want to say hello, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to share more insight with you.
**If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, I highly recommend that they seek help. Online–Therapy.com or TalkSpace.com are great ways to reach out to a licensed therapist and get the help needed. Therapy has 100% helped me and I know it can help you.
Some More Stuff on Imposter Syndrome in Grad School
I want to add some additional resources that you can use if you are experinecing imposter syndrome in grad school. Below are some links that I think are super helpful.
Headspace: Imposter Syndrome
The Imposter Cure: Escape the mind-trap of imposter syndrome (link to book here)
Contextualizing the Impostor “Syndrome”