Struck with a severe case of 'imposter syndrome'...

02-Oct-17, 20:32
Avatar for thesislife
posted about 9 months ago
Hi all,

I'm in the second year of my PhD and recently had my upgrade viva meeting. Whilst I was accepted for the upgrade, the materials I had submitted were ripped to shreds by the panel and I was left feeling very emotional and rather humiliated. I have had a long, hard think about what I want to do and have now revised my research question into something with which I think I will be more confident. I have written a revised chapter plan and just emailed it to my supervisor, but it took an awful lot of willpower to do so. Since the upgrade meeting, I have been gripped with severe anxiety every time I even think about my PhD. I worry that my revised attempt will not be good enough; I worry that my supervisor thinks I'm an idiot (I'm quite intimidated by them already, as they are so intelligent and a very well-respected academic); I worry that another 18 months/two years isn't enough time to complete, etc etc. It's the last thing I think of at night and the first thing I think about in the morning. I have had thoughts of quitting, especially if I still can't somehow get my thesis focus right soon. I know that it's natural to feel bad after such a dressing-down, but this anxiety is honestly crippling my ability to work and write, even sending emails to the person who is supposed to provide guidance and advice! But I don't want to have to admit this to my supervisor.

Does anyone have any advice as to how I might regain my confidence, and recover from this severe 'imposter syndrome'?

Many thanks in advance!
12-Oct-17, 14:51
edited about 14 seconds later
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 9 months ago
Can anyone on here offer any insight if they've been there before?
13-Oct-17, 12:58
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 9 months ago
Virtually everyone suffers imposter syndrome at some point.
I forced myself to stop caring what other people thought of me because I realised I couldnt control that.
You might want to stop white knighting your supervisor as well. These people are not as intelligent as you think. No human is. You are psyching yourself out.
13-Oct-17, 22:12
by Pjlu
Avatar for Pjlu
posted about 9 months ago
Hi there thesislife,

I know we all get imposter syndrome at various times and I think most of us will have had the experience of extreme criticism of our work or presentation, or have been shredded at an interview panel or similar. Sometimes this is in academia, in the PhD program, through responses to articles or work, sometimes it happens at work or in job reviews or interviews. Quite often now it occurs in social media on a daily or local basis. (I deal with a lot of similar stuff occurring in secondary schools with teenagers and sometimes their parents using social media as a platform and it is a serious issue).

It is a horrible experience and depending on our circumstances at the time, can range from an upsetting experience, that we do recover from within a few days to a week or so ("with a bit of help from our friends"), to a gut wrenching experience that colours our interpretation of events for some months to follow.

My thoughts are, based on what you have written, that this experience for you was very upsetting and has now linked into any anxiety you may feeling, and the anxiety itself has now become the problem-not your PhD-which-based on my interpretation of what you have written, seems as if it is going really well.

Because your supervisor does appear so competent and experienced, it seems that you are worried about approaching them with your feelings about this (and they may not be the right person to help at the moment as while they need to be supportive, they also need to be critical in order to help you advance).

Do you have any other supportive people in your program who you can talk to? They may be a more experienced (and 'non-competitive' candidate or post doc), they may be a counsellor at the student centre, they may be a younger academic who you know through meetings and presentations who you click with? This person may help you through conversations in exploring your feelings about your academic work so they don't just build up inside you and become frightening.

I would also recommend seeing a GP (General Practitioner-local doctor) regarding your feelings of anxiety if they continue, as the GP will be able to assess whether you need some further support (for a little while at least) and/or can listen and offer an informed perspective. They will also be able to link you into any local services that might help.


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