Imposter Syndrome or Depression? - PhD Student

04-Aug-16, 00:53
edited about 4 seconds later
Avatar for PaperLantern
posted about 3 years ago
Allow me to offer a little background information before I get into my whole spiel. I'm a 26 year old female and I'm just finishing up my first year of PhD studies. I did very well as an undergrad and had a 4.0 during my MA. I got accepted into this PhD program with a supervisor at the top of his field and a scholarship for the first two years. My PhD is interdisciplinary (literature & philosophy). I feel like the program is eating away at my soul.

I adore my program and the research. However, my self doubt and constant feelings of panic and anxiety are beginning to take a hold of me. They are interfering with my work, I often procrastinate because I keep doubting myself and I'm petrified to start things. I know about imposter syndrome but I often feel that it is beyond that. I literally feel as though I am too stupid for this program. My supervisor mentions texts in our conversations that I have never read and I feel stupid for not having encountered them during undergrad and grad school. I feel as though everyone is more advanced than me. They are better writers, they are smarter and better at research. I've had a lot of publications but mostly in the field of creative writing. I've only published two academic papers so far.

Now I'm starting my second year in the Fall and so far the only thing I've done is read a bunch of research, write some papers, and complete my mandatory 5 courses. I haven't done comprehensives and my supervisor doesn't think it's a rush to do so. I don't know if I'm falling behind or not. Do people usually do comprehensives in their first or second year of PhD studies? I'm petrified that I've fooled everyone and/or they let me in out of pity. What if I fail my comprehensives? What if I pass them and then fail to write a good dissertation?
04-Aug-16, 07:32
edited about 1 second later
Avatar for ApolloBullit
posted about 3 years ago
Hi PaperLantern,

I'm sorry to hear that you are having these thoughts and feelings. I understand how stressful a PhD can be, There are a couple of things I wanted to say to you that may or may not help.

The first is that nobody here can tell you if your feelings are depression or imposter syndrome. You should really seek professional advice on that with a full consultation with a mental health professional. Does your university offer free or reduced price consultations? If so, I would seek that out. If it is depression or anxiety, you may require medication or counselling to stabilise this.

Secondly, I think its quite usual to feel out of your depth. I am currently writing the thesis, and I often feel that I am not adequate. The only thing we can do in that kind of situation is do our best. The PhD is a learning process and sometimes to learn we have to make mistakes and be corrected. Just keep swimming.

Thirdly, is there anyone in your department you can talk to about this? I find that talking to other PhD students can help with feelings of inadequacy. It doesn't even have to be overt on your part. You don't need to find someone to tell all your worries to, just have a coffee or something and make general chit chat. I'm pretty sure that within a few minutes you'll both be opening up and talking about stresses and worries.

I strongly feel that you should seek some support/advice from a mental heath professional - depression and anxiety are not just thoughts in your imagination, and need proper medical care. Sending you vibes for a good day today, and hoping you can reach out and get the support you need and deserve.
04-Aug-16, 10:16
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 3 years ago
I agree with everything ApolloBullit said, but I would like to assure you PaperLantern that it sounds like you are keeping up with everything as you should.

It's totally normal at your stage to have your advisors talk about papers you haven't heard of - they are experts in their field and you are just beginning your career!

You have two papers and you are only in your first year! I know plenty of people that graduate from their PhD with no papers!

In science, I think comps are done in the second year, so I'm sure you're fine and your advisor isn't worried about your progress so you shouldn't be either.

You will be absolutely fine.
04-Aug-16, 12:22
edited about 9 seconds later
Avatar for DrJeckyll
posted about 3 years ago
Hi there,

I agree with the comments above, you might want to seek some specialised help. To some extend, what you are feeling is normal - (not healthy) - in the sense that many PhD students have the same thoughts.

My method to overcome these feelings was as follows: treat the PhD as a job. Set targets. Work a specified amount of hours, exercise and vent daily. For example, I would set short-term targets (finish this graph today) or long term targets (publish that paper by X-mas). My daily routine would be go to the swimming pool in the morning, have a coffee outside, work 2 hours, lunch break, 2 hours, coffee break, 4 hours, meet my friends/watch a movie, repeat. Everyday I tried to do my best, and if I didn't, I hoped that the next day would be better. Just stick to it, keep swimming, no thoughts "Am I good enough", just try to finish your daily tasks. And you will get there.
08-Aug-16, 10:59
edited about 24 seconds later
Avatar for mannuela28
posted about 3 years ago
Hey PaperLantern,

as far as I understand, you have been too tooo tooooo anxious. Just take one step at a time. Set daily targets with the small aims. Eventually, you will attain momentum. Plan your time Properly, that would give you confidence, with each completed task of the day.
Most important, Do not compare yourself with others or to even supervisor. He is well read, for >10 years in the field of study, of-course he will cite many references that you have not come across. But that should not discourage you. Take it positively, Go, back, search again and read.

Getting into a program is a big task. You are doing great, you completed coursework. If you plan your further tasks properly, nothing will stop you. Do not waste time in thinking negative.


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