On Banishing Impostors

Impostor syndrome is a commonly discussed topic in academia. It’s not unusual for a postgraduate researcher to feel they’re somehow not good enough as they get closer to their viva.

I don’t know that anyone has a 100% solution to getting rid of these sorts of feelings, but I have some ideas of what you could do if they feel particularly difficult around your viva.

  • Check in with friends. Talk to trusted friends and colleagues who have already passed their viva. Ask about how they felt. While it’s not comfortable to feel like an impostor, knowing you’re not alone can be the start of helping yourself.
  • Be honest with your record. Look at your progress, the real progress you’ve made. Look at what now exists that did not before. Reflect on how and why that has come to be: you did this work.
  • Imagine what an impostor would really do. How would they act or behave? What would they know? Now compare that to yourself. Do you act or behave like a fake?

I think most thoughtful PhD candidates and academics would admit that they are not perfect. They’re always learning and always will be. Sometimes knowing you don’t know everything or can’t do everything can make you compare yourself falsely to others. Sometimes being around other talented people means that you feel smaller by comparison.

Start by being honest with yourself. Not only about how you feel – because then you can act to change that feeling – but also with the reality of the situation. You don’t feel good, but you couldn’t have got as far as you have if you hadn’t done the work and found success.