I’ve just come off of a two-day writing workshop with mature students who have been out of academia (in some cases) for decades. There was a pivotal moment, about halfway through the second day, where one person in the Zoom space I was facilitating had a moment of vulnerability. In a panic (and rather loudly) they told the group that they were freaking out about writing and felt like an idiot.

This was immediately followed by a look of terror on their face. He realised that he might have just made a fool of himself in front of his peers.

But the opposite happened. The room breathed a huge sigh of relief, and one by one participants expressed the same frustrations, and they built on that initial moment of vulnerability to open up about their pain points and challenges.

It took one person to be vulnerable for everyone to be. Without that spark, it remained hidden.

And that’s when the workshop kicked into full gear. It was at that moment that we were able to actually talk to the human and to do deep work solving problems.

All it takes is for one person to be vulnerable to set off a cascade.

In your PhD cohort or peer group, it’s likely you all share broadly similar emotional and practical struggles. You’re reading this and, chances are, feeling like an imposter, or a fraud, or like an idiot. Or all three. Most PhD students feel one or more of these (regularly), but you don’t realise that until you talk about it.

So next time you’re in a group, open up about a struggle. The response will surprise you.


Hello, Doctor…

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