Writing

People like me will never do things like that: PhD imposter syndrome and academic anxiety

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People like me can’t ever do things like that. You ever feel yourself muttering those words to yourself as you read a great piece of research, or you listen to an interesting lecture? You’re not alone. I did. Everyone I knew did and it’s likely that you and a lot of the people you know do too


You often hear the term imposter syndrome. When you’ve tried to express your concerns to people they’re probably quick to reply: ‘oh, that’s just imposter syndrome, everyone has that’. 


That’s a lazy response. Plus it’s patronising. It’s as if they’re saying, ‘oh, grow up’


The reality is that feeling like you’re not good enough takes over. It becomes your entire world and you become riddled with doubt and anxiety. 


What doesn’t help is the environment you’re in. By definition, you’re going to be surrounded by some very smart people, a lot of whom are thirty, fourty or maybe even fifty years older than you. They’re way better at this academic thing than you are. They’ve had a big head start. 


But, in academia they’re your competition. You’re expected to keep up and it’s just impossible. 


To those who think they’re not good enough I say two things: 

  1. Good enough for what? To be an academic? Well, you are one. You’re a trainee. 
  2. You’re not good enough yet. If you were good enough already, you wouldn’t be where you are.
You’re training to be good enough, and part of that is learning how to do what the people you look up to do. The trouble is, it’s hard and you’re kind of on your own.

But here’s the reality check. You’ve got to work really, really hard. You’ve got to put the hours in, otherwise you’ll fail. You’ve got to learn that theory, grapple that methodology and write that chapter. If you don’t, you never will be good enough. They don’t hand these PhDs out to just anyone. They don’t even hand them out to the smartest people around. They hand them out to the people who put the hours in. 


There are plenty of places you can go to for help. You can find plenty of online resources, whether from blogs like ours, YouTube videos, online courses, or wherever. If you’re an international student and have difficulty writing in English, you can even hire a proofreader to polish your writing. Hire me, I'm great at it.


Put the hours in, get help where you need it and you’ll be good enough. 


I promise. 

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Dr. Max Lemprière is the founder of The PhD Proofreaders. He is an expert in presenting PhD research in the best possible way and maximising students' chances of success.