During your PhD there are probably times when you’re confused, you don’t understand things you feel you ought to, or when you just struggle to keep up.

It’s during these times that we can be most self-critical. We often attach ourselves to the idea that we ought to always understand everything, or that we should never struggle. In other words, we often expect perfection from ourselves.

But in doing so you fail to remember that a PhD is an apprenticeship. By definition, you don’t really know what you’re doing and you’re learning on the job. What’s more, you’re often teaching yourself the skills you need as you go. As a result, it’s inevitable that you’re going to be confused or that you’re going to find it hard to wrap your head around certain ideas, concepts or tools.

Instead of being critical of yourself when you struggle, see struggle for what it is: an unavoidable and completely necessary part of the PhD journey. It’s through this struggle and confusion that you grow and develop as an academic.

Shifting your thinking in this way does two things. First, it silences the inner critic by normalising confusion. Second, it can reassure you that, because that confusion is normal, you aren’t alone in feeling the way you do and there is nothing wrong with you.

Good luck and have a great weekend!


Hello, Doctor…

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