Feeling inadequate


I'm four weeks into my PhD, and while I'm mostly loving it, there are some days when I get an almost overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. I felt the same at the start of my MSc project and I expected it with the PhD but there's a bit more to it this time round. I'm using a new model organism and while the techniques have the same names and the same end result the protocols are completely different. I did my MSc project in a tiny new group- just me and the PI- and now I'm doing my PhD in a massive lab group and being supervised mostly by postdocs and technicians. I only had a year between my MSc and PhD but I'm surprised and embarrassed at how much basic stuff I'd forgotten and I'm convinced people here must think I'm an imbecile who keeps getting under their feet while they're trying to work. I'm also writing a literature review and am aware that while there are some papers I've read and understood well, with others I'll get to the end and realise I've understood nothing at all.

I understand this is normal (isn't it?) and that I'll probably be feeling like this at several points... but how long does it take for the initial feelings of clumsiness, incompetence and inadequacy to subside a little?


I think it is normal. I felt the same when I first started my PhD, but that feeling slowly diminishes as you progress. I recently finished my PhD and am now doing a postdoc in a different country. That feeling returned because of the new environment/different project and different ways of doing things, but as time passes it gets easier.



In my case it took roughly 18months-2years before I started to find some footing, but even then I was still battling inadequacy. Most PhD students I have had conversations with don't really have a clue what they are doing for a year really (this is in computer science). It's all about finding some groundingand discovering what your new area is all about. It takes ALOT longer than in the case of a masters.

Just keep plodding away at it and try not to be too embarassed by what little you know or stuff you think you have forgotten. EVERYONE has that in the first few months and even the postdocs you are working with will remember how it felt in the very early days. No one will be expecting you to have a grasp of much at all at this stage. You have ALOT of reading to do ;-)

Good Luck with it and calm the inner self doubting voice. The more you get used to doing that, the less of an issue it becomes.