The PhD voice

My take on impostor syndrome

Hi! I was planning on writing this post much later in my blog, but I felt so compelled to write this post today. Because things happen and I felt this urge. This will be a very personal post, not overthought, so bear with me through my confession.

For who comes from outside the PhD and research world, where the impostor syndrome is an issue most people talk about, I was just want to give you a brief definition of what it is:

Impostor syndrome: describes a situation where someone feels like an impostor or fraud because they think that they have duped the people around them, their boss for example, into believing that their accomplishments are of a high calibre, but in fact believe that their accomplishments are nowhere near as good as the praise (…). They have a fear of being “found out” one day to be lacking the skills and intelligence they are perceived to have. (…) It’s especially common in fields where people’s work is constantly under review by talented peers, (…) or taking on a new job. 

Source: Geek Feminism Wiki

In “review by peers”, insert academia for instance. There you go! Recipe for trouble, no? Especially when academia is full of over achieving individuals. I used to hear my PhD level colleagues in former research fellowships I had tell me:

There’s no way to avoid it. A lot of days during your PhD you’ll feel like sh*t.

The feeling that we are not good enough is very present, even moreso depending on your supervisor or deparment pressure to publish or to get results in a certain way. On this I have to admit I am very lucky since I feel my work is valued, so my feelings of impostor syndrome absolutely do not come from supervisor pressure. But, even though I feel I made good advance so far in my PhD, feelings of impostor syndrome of several levels kick in. And today they kicked me hard. If I were a guy, I’d say it kicked me in the nuts.

As I wrote in this post about my PhD journey being more a marathon than a sprint, sometimes going at full force is not good and, even though we want it, we have to acknowledge sometimes it’s time to stop. But lately, since I’m moving to the USA in less than 1 month now, and I feel there’s so much to do until I leave in every aspect of my life, sometimes my thought processes about my PhD go like:

You don’t want to code today. What kind of computational researcher are you?

Should I have spent more time in the lab?

Do I even know enough about stem cells?

Will anyone ever be interested in my model?

I’m sure lots of you can relate with questions like this about your respective topics. And then, this week I’ve taken care of a poster that I put a lot of soul into, and I even recorded a video tour since I won’t be at the said conference. Apart from me thinking my recording voice and presence on camera are not that great yet, a lot of questions about what people will think of my poster have come, since this is the first time during my PhD I will expose my work outside of my group and I won’t even be there to notice it firsthand. Next week we’ll see how it goes, I hope to receive some e-mails.

But where impostor syndrome is really hitting me hard is on the relational aspect. I always put high standards to myself in this aspect so I was expecting to be my always talkative self, make friends with everyone, and on top of this still have time to code, read about stem cells, check out what my colleagues are doing in the lab and even help, blog, social media, workout and all the relationships outside work. And yeah, I should watch more movies and series about Boston and the USA in general. I want to cook…and sleep 7h, very important for me. Right girl? Not gonna happen! But what hurt me most is that I feel I became much more a lone wolf since I started my PhD thesis and I don’t like this at all (I identify as an ambivert btw). With that being said, I feel all the impostor syndrome symptoms got to me and I almost burst into tears in my desk today feeling helpless. I barely held it together because I was having a meeting with the group leader a few minutes after.

So yes, this over achiever had a weak moment. Believe me, it has not been the only one during the PhD. But this will pass, and I know I’m a fighter. So today my boyfriend insisted I’d go with him to dinner with some friends, despite me wanting to save money. I came a little earlier to the neighborhood due to public transportation times, and wanted to do something good for myself. So I decided: I’ll blog! And I’ll photograph. I was going to finish my travel post draft, but I felt writing about what my heart told me was more correct. So I took some pictures in Príncipe Real, Lisbon. Most of them are not good, but they soothed my heart. Because I felt that, despite those imperfections, I’m still not a fraud and I can enjoy my journey with every setback it has. Impostor syndrome will not beat me, and I have to carry on.

Príncipe Real, Lisbon

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That might have been an interesting exhibition about the embyo, I missed it!
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The most perfect sunset and the most perfect bridge!
Principe Real, Lisbon
Such a cute street!
Esplanada Café, Príncipe Real, Lisbon
Looks like I just found a cute place to blog from 🙂

With this post, I not only want to share with you my experience with this hard topic, but also inspire you, who are going through the same, to do more of what makes you happy every day, so that your life improves a bit. I know you are not a fraud, believe in yourself 😉

Are you feeling impostor syndrome? What do you do to fight back?

Cátia

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Impostor Syndrome

2 thoughts on “My take on impostor syndrome

  1. You’ve got this girl! I’ve only recently heard people start using the term “imposter syndrome” but one of the first things I was told when I was just starting out was to “fake it until you make it”.
    In the end you have been chosen as a student, PhD candidate, or person for the job, not anyone else. Part of working is figuring out things that no one else has yet. If they did, they wouldn’t need you.
    Beautiful photos. Makes me want to go to Portugal!

    1. Thank you so much! I will keep this in mind for the future. Today I got back to coding in Python (my main language for the PhD) and started feeling joy in doing it again, I hope to keep up. You definitely should come!

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