In currently serving as the Blogger-In-Residence for the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities, I’ve had the unique opportunity to weight-in and reflect upon various aspects of the doctoral experience. Via weekly posts, here are my varied insights into this process known as Earning the PhD.
It’s likely you’ve heard about it—in passing, in a lecture, in a TED Talk. It’s even more likely that you’ve experienced it, whether or not you knew what to call it: that nagging feeling that you’re not really equipped to be where you are, doing what you’re doing; that you haven’t quite earned it like other people, that you’ve likely just waltzed your way in unnoticed, allowed to skirt the edges by chance and luck without begin caught out as the fraud that you really are. Maybe you were assigned a book for class and only skimmed it, where your course mates have the margins marked with notes, and you take this as tangible proof of your status as less than deserving of your place. Perhaps you’re offered an opportunity to speak at a conference with tenured professors and experienced professionals whilst you’re simply a doctoral researcher, and you’re absolutely convinced that they must have made some egregious error in the selection and acceptance process, or perhaps you’re just the token doctoral researcher to secretly criticize, only there to make the real researchers look good. Or, maybe the name of a particular scholar gets tossed about in a lecture, someone everyone seems to know and you’ve never heard of, and you’re reduced to the shameful search on the library catalogue for titles like Guide for the Perplexed, proving yet again that you’re just not up to snuff, that you’re masquerading as a real scholar, that someone along the line was just horribly mistaken at precisely the wrong moment, and in reality, you’re not able to hack it.
This desperately unpleasant spiral of questioning and self-doubt is most frequently referred to as Imposter Syndrome. The good news is: it’s not a disorder in the sense that something wrong, or even that it’s all that uncommon—quite the contrary in fact, it is seen in countless high-achieving individuals across numerous cultures, both male and female, throughout the age and career spectrum.
The not-so-good news is: because it’s not a disorder? There’s no tried-and-true treatment. You can’t take a tablet and go about your day, confident that your pesky Imposter Syndrome will be taken care of in the meantime. So, in lieu of a quick fix, here are a few things to keep in mind in trying to manage the relatively repulsive phenomenon known as Imposter Syndrome, and in so managing, hopefully doing your best to come to terms with the lies it tries very hard to make you believe.