Hi everyone,

I can't tell you how excited I was to find this forum. Although I meet other students regularly who say they find it hard to work and think they're no good, sometimes I'm not sure if they're just saying that. It's great to find a forum that tries to bring us all together and be completely honest about everything. And looking through the old posts is so heartening - everyone really comes together to help each other.

So a bit about me - I started a PhD a couple of months ago, moved to England, and I feel that perfectionism gets in the way of my work. Does anybody else feel this way? I can't stop comparing how 'few' hours I've done to how much other PhD students appear to be doing. I can't help but feel that I'm an absolute fraud, very unintelligent and that I'm missing the plot - that I can't do this.

Any ideas about how to curb perfectionism? Is it fine to do a reasonably good PhD or does it have to be amazing? I have been trying to write a piece for my supervisor but all the time I can see his face in my mind and it's laughing at me.

My questions are: Is it normal to feel as though one's work is no good? Does anybody else suffer from trying to excel in everything? Is it alright to have bad days without feeling guilty about it?

Everyday I keep thinking that I'm not doing enough and I convince myself that everyone around me is smarter, better and has more friends. I meet up with people and chat about it, but these are the same people who seem to me to be really smart and have nothing to worry about.

I have been productive over the past couple of months (since September) but I fear that it will never be enough, and that it is nigh on impossible to get a good balance in the PhD lifestyle.

Anybody out there who is really confident about their abilities that can give tips? I would be really grateful to hear your thoughts...


Hi Beave,

I've been reading this forum for a little while now, but this is my first ever post :-) Like you I was so relieved to find a bunch of people who seem to be sharing the same feelings as me.
Unfortunately I have no tips at the moment...I just wanted to say that I feel exactly the same as you in terms of inadequacy. The word 'fraud' rings particular bells with me. I keep thinking that I must have somehow tricked my supervisors into thinking I was good enough to do this (not sure how, my interview was terrible too!) and that they're slowly realising that I'm not cut out for it at all.
With me it's also complicated by the fact that I'm fresh out of uni at 21 and I haven't done a Master's. When I think about it logically I'm not even convinced that a masters would have helped me all that much with my specific topic, but every day a new 'crucial' text seems to pop up that I've never even heard of and I feel utterly unqualified to be doing what I am.
I think what you're saying is right; we need to stop focusing on being perfect and realise that we're 'good enough' for now. I also try to tell myself that there are a lot of advantages in being the way I am: I'm not a typical academic but this might help in relating to students once I (hopefully) start lecturing and maybe means I might even stand out from the crowd a little.
I was warned that doing this would be hard but I didn't really understand what that meant until I started. The hardest thing is not the volume of work but getting over these feelings of utter hopelessness!


Hi Beave and Keep_Calm, it's really nice to see some new people on here!

It's good to have high standards for your work, but it can make you a bit anxious if you start comparing yourself to other people! I've found doing a PhD one whopping great learning curve, and it's not ended yet! Everything I had to do was something I'd never done before, so I got anxious and worried about not being good enough, but I realised that there'll only be one first time for all these new things, and my confidence grew slowly with each new thing I had to do as my PhD progressed. Funny to look back actually, as I realise loads of things don't bother me any more, so I suppose you have to just give it a go and try to improve each time you do stuff. I felt like a nervous fraud at my first conference when I was presenting my PhD work, then when I did my first teaching sessions, seminars, thesis dissertation tutorials etc etc. The list goes on, but every new thing you tackle makes it easier and the feeling of being an imposter goes away. I suppose I just settled into it with practice and my confidence in my abilities must have grown a hell of a lot since the start without me even realising, which is good to know.

Oh yes and that perfectionism thing... my supervisor said once she'd rather I had really high standards and got a bit anxious, than being over-confident in my abilities, because sometimes students like that think they know it all and don't bother, so often don't do as well.


Rubyw is right, it's all about finding the balance between having high standards and yet not being too anxious that your work needs to be perfect. I had lunch with an old friend who is a successful researcher and has been for many years. He told me that a PhD is a hurdle that you need to get over, it's a high hurdle but it's certainly not the beginning and end of your life and career. It's easy to lose perspective so don't be too hard on yourself Beave, we've all been there thinking that we're hopeless in comparison to all the fantastically gifted people around us. The truth is that those people you think are so smart probably think the same about you. Good luck (up)


Hi to everyone who replied - such a response! It's so great to hear that there is hope.

When I think about it, I did my first presentation in over six years (and only my third presentation ever!) a few weeks ago. Everyone in the class said it was good and my supervisor was happy with it. I guess that could be one hurdle that I've gotten over, the next step is to get over the writing piece that's due soon, then so on and so on, until I face all the challenges and my confidence grows. I have always wanted to be a lecturer and an academic but I felt that I wasn't confident enough, so I guess that my doing this will be the best thing I could ever do on both a personal and professional level. I've seen people who are unconfident garner much more self-assurance over the years (a healthy dose) so I know that it does happen.

It will be hard and I'm so relieved that other people out there felt the same way and have gotten through it. We see others around us who seem so confident but that doesn't neccessarily mean they always feel that way.

I had a bad day where I thought I'd wanta just give up, but now I know that the only thing holding me back is ME and I have to learn how to get through those feelings.


That sounds really positive if your presentation went down well! I think it's great to try hard with everything, but try not to see whatever you do as the final piece of work, as it's one tiny part of a really long process stretched over years of work so it doesn't have to be perfect. Plus we are there to learn from people and develop as researchers, so it's ok not to be perfect for that reason too. I'd imagine as you grow in confidence academically it will also show in your writing style, mine has done as my supervisor frequently remarks!! Another thing I realised a while ago is that your PhD will never be the final word on a topic as it's one part of a much bigger academic body of knowledge. I'm nearly at the end now, but my whole subject seems like a piece of an intellectual jigsaw, lots already done in that area, my bit fills another gap but there will be many more developments afterwards, by me and other people, no doubt. I think it stops me thinking it has to be the perfect thesis, which it won't be anyway now as there's not enough time, but that's a different issue!


Hi everyone! This is a great piece of advice i heard from someone and thought that i could share it with you...He said that PhD is not the end of the life, just a degree that you are studying for and the thesis is just something that you submit to convince your external examiner that you are worthy of getting a PhD, striving to be perfect is not worth it, as it sometimes holds you back from the bigger picture...


Quote From sammy:

Hi everyone! This is a great piece of advice i heard from someone and thought that i could share it with you...He said that PhD is not the end of the life, just a degree that you are studying for and the thesis is just something that you submit to convince your external examiner that you are worthy of getting a PhD, striving to be perfect is not worth it, as it sometimes holds you back from the bigger picture...

I completely agree with this.

A PhD is just an answer to a hypothesis, but it isn't necessarily the perfect answer.

Perfectionism and comparisons to others will no doubt lead to procrastination and feelings of inadequacy. Just concentrate on producing good quality work, but necessarily the 'best'.


you can't possibly know or do EVERYTHING. Like someone said a PhD is AN answer, not THE answer to a hypothesis. As long as you have made a contribution that you have 'tested' beyond all reasonable doubt, I'm sure it will be enough. In the end, there will always be more you can do to strengthen your argument, but doing a PhD has a time limit and you must do the best you can in the time you have. Worrying too much about perfection may hold you back! On the other hand, it is important to have high standards and think about your work critically, but perfection I think is a step too far and you will end up wasting time. Take it from someone who was stuck with a perfection obssessed supervisor for 1 year. It did me no favours! Progress is important.