I see a familiar pattern over and over again. I speak to a PhD student I’m working with and they tell me with great sorrow that they’re writing isn’t that good, or their research is under-developed, or any other myriad things that are wrong with they way they work and the way they’re developing their PhD.
Then they send me a chapter to read, and I’m blown away by the quality.
Often, many of the fears that the student had about their own abilities are completely unfounded. Sure, it’s rare to read a PhD (particularly in the draft stage) that doesn’t need more work, or which has bits that are rough around the edges, but on the whole the disparity between the student’s assessment of their own ability and their actual level of skill is great.
This raises an important point: we’re the worst possible critics of our own work. For two reasons.
First, we’re too heavily invested in it. We can’t see the wood through the trees – often it can all look awful. Even the great bits.
Second, our minds are great at conjuring up horror stories about how awful, incompetent or stupid we are. That little critic in your head is doing it’s very best to convince you of your own inadequacy and when you’re writing drafts, you’re a sitting duck.
But all it takes is getting an outsider’s perspective. As I say, there will always be room for improvement (and be wary of the supervisor who tells you otherwise), but I’m willing to bet that most or all of your fears and anxieties about your own ineptitude are unfounded once you get a fresh set of eyes on your work.
So remind yourself: you’re not a terrible student, you’re just a terrible judge of your own work.
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