Feelings of inadequacy...and I've only just started

02-Oct-08, 20:04
edited about 13 seconds later
Avatar for earlydays
posted about 12 years ago

this might seem like a bit of a silly post as it's so early on for me, but last week I started my PhD and already I feel overwhelmed by the huge number of tasks I seem to have: reading, research groups, teaching, lectures, as well as the vast number of social activities. I feel like a big fat fraud - I shouldn't be here doing this, incapable and floundering.

I have a meeting with my supervisor tomorrow and am terrified. The summer after my Undergrad has been spent earning money (and chilling out!), so I feel awfully underprepared for my first official supervision meeting and have little time to get up to speed, although, judging by the reading I was given for summer, I'm sure that there's the expectation I'll already know so much. I really don't.

I suppose, other than to get this stuff off my chest, I wonder, should I be feeling like this already? I seem to have already developed a love of procrastination (I should really be reading now!) and have lost the original bullish self-motivation that I once had as an Undergrad. Did anyone else feel like this so early on, or is this a bad sign? Does it pass?

Maybe my trouble is that I'm used to being super organised, super informed etc. I'm pretty anal in a sense, so feel very unsettled by the newness and my inability to organise everything efficiently. Any advice? Please!!
02-Oct-08, 20:17
by soarous
Avatar for soarous
posted about 12 years ago
======= Date Modified 02 Oct 2008 20:17:41 =======
Don't be worried at all, 'imposter syndrome' seems to be something a lot of us get at some time or another, for the first time in my life I think I'm finally overcoming mine by slowly realising that most other people, even the supervisors and lecturers that I have the utmost respect for, are much the same as me but older and with more years or experience.

Have a look around on google,
us PhD 'imposters' are not alone.

"The Impostor Syndrome, or Impostor Phenomenon, sometimes called Fraud Syndrome, is not an officially recognized psychological disorder, but has been the subject of a number of books and articles by psychologists and educators. Individuals experiencing this syndrome seem unable to internalize their accomplishments. Regardless of what level of success they may have achieved in their chosen field of work or study, or what external proof they may have of their competence, they remain convinced internally that they do not deserve the success they have achieved and are really frauds. Proofs of success are dismissed as luck, timing, or otherwise having deceived others into thinking they were more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. This syndrome is thought to be particularly common among women[citation required] who are successful in their given careers and is typically associated with academics. It is also widely found among graduate students."

02-Oct-08, 21:01
Avatar for eternalvoyageur
posted about 12 years ago
And I though that I was the only one with this problem...
02-Oct-08, 22:24
edited about 6 seconds later
Avatar for PinkNeuron
posted about 12 years ago
I think I posted something similar to this a year ago! Believe me, it does get better. I still feel like a fraud most of the time but confidence does grow and the big bad monster supervisor is not so big and monster-like after all. At the end of the day....you got into a PhD, you were accepted and if you do badly, the supervisor does not look good! They are there to help you through this PhD both for yourself and their reputation. From the beginning, be honest, learn and don't be afraid of how inadequate you feel...it goes with the territory. Hang in there, it does get better, I wouldn't have believed this from someone a year ago. I just cancelled a meeting with my supervisor today because I just had too much to do to finish what he wanted. I was terrified of cancelling but I knew I had to do it. A year ago, I would never have done this. In the end, he said 'no worries' and we re-scheduled for next week. Hang in there, it is worth it :)
02-Oct-08, 22:28
Avatar for MicroGeek
posted about 12 years ago
Hi there,

I started my PhD 2 days ago and have had those feelings and thoughts creep in at least once each day. I just try to remind myself of the nature of a PhD and what it entails. In the end, we aren't supposed to turn up knowing everything; we just need to have the capacity to bring something to the research team. You will probably have a skill that they have identified as what they need and thus were chosen. Don't be disheartened, it's probably just nerves. I think you'll (we'll) feel much more confident soon as you (we) settle in and show our worth. Just keep a positive attitude I guess. Hehe.

I'm worried, because I haven't had an official meeting yet, and have only been working from a 1 page proposal they submitted to get the funding. I've been given random things to do but haven't really been sat down to talk about what the PhD is about. So I'm worried that I may be thinking about it in the wrong way. Eeeep!

What discipline is yours in? x
02-Oct-08, 22:47
by Emmie
Avatar for Emmie
posted about 12 years ago
This post is brilliant because I was feeling exactly the same way today!!! You hit the nail on the head there, I'm happy that I'm not the only one feeling like that! I just started my PhD last week and I'm totally overwhelmed with everything. I've got tons to do on top of research and I'm finding it really hard to read papers and I normally don't have a problem, all I can seem to do is just plan and not getting anywhere..and I do feel like a total fraud. Everyone around me seems to have a lot more experience and are older and wiser in starting wheras I'm just coming straight from a degree from the same University. The project that I'm doing is amazing and I'm so excited about it, but once I go into the lab I just cant seem to get my head around it:$
03-Oct-08, 09:43
edited about 12 seconds later
Avatar for Smoobles
posted about 12 years ago
don't worry, i'm pretty sure absolutely everyone feels like this to start with! i started my phd 4 months ago and the first week was awful, i felt like i had forgotten everything i had ever learnt! my phd is in a subject that i'm not too familiar with so i felt like a total fraud when i arrived, but during my first meeting with my supervisor i basically told them i was feeling really lost and overwhelmed. they were really helpful and gave me lots of things to read (books, journals, theses etc) which made me feel much calmer! your supervisor will understand that you feel like this to start, and you're not expected to know everything from day one - if you did you wouldn't need to be doing a phd in the first place!

another tip i found helpful was to start a phd journal from day one (writing down aims/objectives for each day, jotting down ideas, etc), and also to make a note of everything you read, by creating a refman/endnote database straightaway, which will save you a lot of time in the future

good luck :)
03-Oct-08, 09:48
edited about 14 seconds later
Avatar for stressed
posted about 12 years ago
Count me in too!!! I started this week, well, I registered lol. I have an induction meeting later, and have yet to speak to my supervisor, although I will see him today. He was my supervisor for my MA and banned me from contacting him or thinking about the Phd at all (yeh, lol) until after induction so I guess it will all start for me next week. I'm terrified, I can identify so readily with 'imposter syndrome' and think they'll suddenly realise they've made a huge mistake and will boot me off the course, that I won't cope, that I just can't do it. I've been funded by the dept, by people who I've gone through the BA and the MA with, I should just accept that if they think I'm up to it then I am, but there's that part of me that just can't accept I can do this and am completely overwhelmed by the enormity of it, probably not helped by friends who've decided not to proceed from the MA (I'm the only new Phd student in the dept this year) informing me that I'm totally mad lol.

We'll get there, in 3-4 years time we'll be frantically writing, and i hope that we'll all go though to graduation together and get to wear those mad robes lol. I think that standing at the brink and peering into 3 years of solid research with the size of the thesis we have to write is what does it for me. I'm going to try and take baby steps, not look further ahead for the first few months than the next submission or the next task whilst making notes and ensuring that I keep on top of things so I can bring it all together in the end. I'm not sure if that's wise or not, I just can't cope with the thought of 80-100K words!!! lol lol.
03-Oct-08, 11:39
by A116
Avatar for A116
posted about 12 years ago
I didn't have this in the beginning.


I have just had my first article ever published and it was in a kick ass journal.  At first I was ecstatic. Now I feel completely ridiculous.  The idea that they have accepted my work is beyond crazy. The idea that someone might cite my work is even crazier!  I honestly feel like I should call them and say, now, hang on a minute. Let's talk about this, my research is a joke.

Very very disconcerting when I think about how much faith I put in journal articles.

03-Oct-08, 13:44
edited about 17 seconds later
by Spanner
Avatar for Spanner
posted about 12 years ago
i am so glad other people feel like this too, i have no idea what i'm supposed to be doing and seem to spend all day reading things which i'm not sure are relevant! i'm not even sure what im supposed to do if im working towards a lit review or just reading, and i'm scared of asking for fear of looking stupid! still at least there are other lost people out there too!
03-Oct-08, 20:54
Avatar for earlydays
posted about 12 years ago
Thank you so much everyone for your replies. I feel much better to know that this is fairly normal, and to hear that it should get better!

My first supervision meeting today went really well. As some of you suggested, I wasn't expected to know everything about my PhD topic already (hence why I'm doing a PhD!) and my supervisor seems to be keen to invest the time in me.

I'm going to spend the weekend trying to come up with ways of keeping all of these balls in the air; might go and look at a Blackberry or something similar...

What a supportive family it is here! :p


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