Imposter Syndrome and Expertise


So I have just started my PhD and have already been told that I am taking two modules (one in each semester) and may end up teaching about 40 students in my seminar classes. My supervisor even suggested that I might take a couple of the lectures (but decided against it as they didn't want to throw me in the deep end so quickly).

The stuff I am teaching overlaps heavily with my previous research (undergraduate and masters) but I just do not feel like I have the expertise to teach this stuff effectively. I don't really feel like I belong here (I sort of coasted through my undergrad and masters, and somehow achieved good grades - everything just worked out for me) and now I'm partially responsible for the education of others... feels wrong, for want of a better word.

Not sure what to do. I am obviously reading the material to get to grips with it and will be meeting with the module coordinator so that I can go over everything, but it still doesn't sit well with me.

What about you guys? Did this happen to you? Any advice?


Hi Teaddict,

Yes, I was thrown into three teaching roles across two universities in my second year. One module I was teaching was basically a mix of the stuff I had studied at undergrad, but some areas I was less knowledgeable about. I just made sure I did some extra reading on those areas when planning lessons.

Another module I taught overlapped a lot with my PhD and I was made fully responsible for that one- I was the module leader. Even though I knew I knew the stuff, I was still terrified, and I did have to go back and refresh my memory in order to teach some of the content.

My advice from these experiences is then to be honest with yourself about areas that you are weaker in and develop skills in quickly learning them and refreshing your memory before teaching. Another is to admit when you don't know something- this part is very important. If you are ever asked a question that you don't know the answer to, turn it into a learning opportunity in the class- research it together with your students, or make a note of it and tell them you will come back to it in the following lesson. Students have a lot more respect when tutors do this- it shows you are human. It is much better than trying to bluff your way through an answer for instance.

I hope this helps!


Only thing can say is that plan your lessons. I was on the receiving end of a PhD student teaching a module for a professor on my Masters. Put it this way I had put a complaint in as the student rep. All I can say is observe some lessons, learn some teaching practices and remember this, BE THE DUCK!


I was also asked to teach from a few weeks into my PhD, and I remember very clearly the feelings you describe. Looking back now, I can see how my teaching has improved over the years, which doesn't make me feel great about the first lot! However, I can also say that I have seen the same lack of confidence in people who had their PhDs, were employed as teachers and were taking on a new module, so at least part of what you are feeling will be the same that everyone has when taking on a class. Perhaps your uni offers some teacher training for PhD students? I went on training in my second year and it did help.


Thanks for the comment guys. My University makes teacher training compulsory, either in your first or second year. I have opted to do it in my first year. You don't receive the training before you teach, however, they are back to back. So you are taught while you are teaching.

I know the content relatively well - and contributed towards the reading list for this module when it was set up. My concern is that I won't be an adequate teacher and my students will suffer as a result. As with blocksof, I had a PhD teaching me during my masters, and as a result, almost failed a module. Suffice it to say, I wouldn't want to inflict that on anyone else.


Is this just something that funded phd students have to do? Is it commonly the case?


All the funded PhD students in my department are, to my knowledge, GTAs and therefore have responsibilities for teaching.


I think the deal with teaching varies from uni to uni - e.g. you sometimes hear of it being a requirement of funded PhD students, but more often it's offered to PhD students as paid work/the opportunity to get experience.


Teaddict, you will be fine, teaching is a skill that can be developed. Just remember when you sat in the numerous lectures, which ones did you enjoy and the ones you hated? The chances are the one enjoyed is when the Lecturer added humour and information given was short and direct.


Forgot to mention Teaddict, if you are worried about your teaching practice ask a senior lecturer if they have time to observe you. You don't know if you doing great or poorly unless someone tells you.