Not An Imposter

That’s not you. Whatever your misgivings, self-doubts or nerves: you could only have got through a PhD to submission and be preparing for your viva if you were good enough. That’s the only way.

If you have a specific concern about your research, talk with your supervisor or a trusted colleague and explore why you’re concerned. If you’re concerned about the process of the viva then find out more, learn about regulations and general expectations to get a full picture. If you’re not sure if you’re ready then learn what it takes to be ready (it doesn’t take much).

If you’re nervous, you’re not missing something. You’re right where you’re supposed to be. Feeling nervous is a way of recognising that something is important, not that something is wrong. You’re not fake, you’re not deficient: you’re human. Do what you can to build your confidence. Count your achievements. Reflect on your talents and how they’ve grown through the PhD. Don’t look for things that could be better, look for things that are already good enough.

You’ve got this far because you are good enough. Keep going.

An Imposter Story

Academia is rife with imposter syndrome. Lots of talented people, wondering about whether or not they are really talented, worried that they will be found it. For researchers at postgraduate level, I don’t think imposter syndrome starts with the viva, but the viva can certainly increase worries about being “good enough” or being revealed.

Working against imposter syndrome takes time, but perhaps a starting point is understanding that even the most high-achieving people in the world can feel it. Author Neil Gaiman describes meeting an older gentleman at an event who had the same first name as him:

…I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”

And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”

Neil Armstrong worried that he was an imposter. Neil Armstrong!

If you worry about doing enough, chances are your examiners do. Perhaps your supervisor does. Some of your colleagues certainly will. And knowing that is not enough to banish your own feelings, but if you realise that lots of people struggle, that you’re not alone, perhaps you can start to work against it.

Seek help. Ask questions. Share with your community. Find out what people do to realise that they are good enough.

Because if you’ve submitted your thesis and your viva is coming up, you MUST be good enough. You’ve earned this. You are good enough. You might not banish imposter syndrome with ease, but you can work through some of the worries that come with it. You can start to feel better.

Take one small step to begin with.