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Conquering the Challenges of PhD Impostor Syndrome

Table of Contents

Today, let’s delve into the topic of impostor syndrome, which entails feeling like you don’t belong or deserve to be pursuing your PhD program. This sentiment is incredibly common and can arise from various factors. Perhaps you perceive everyone else in your program to possess superior knowledge and skills, or maybe you have set exceptionally high expectations for yourself that you believe you are failing to meet. Additionally, the overwhelming workload, extensive reading, learning, and problem-solving can contribute to this overwhelming feeling. Ultimately, you may find yourself convinced that you are undeserving of your place and plagued by the fear that you will eventually be exposed, whether it be by your supervisor or the examiners. This fear can consume you and impede your progress. Consequently, you may avoid submitting your writing, presenting your work, or making any decisive actions that carry the risk of being wrong.

The Paralyzing Cycle

This approach, aimed at evading discovery, may temporarily shield you from scrutiny. However, in the long run, it significantly increases the likelihood of failure. Paradoxically, the very thing you fear becomes the very thing you gravitate toward. So, what can be done to address this predicament?

Reframing the Situation

First and foremost, it is crucial to recognize that you are not an impostor attempting to deceive others. You did not manipulate your way into a PhD program. Rather, you genuinely desired to pursue this path and did your best to secure your spot. Genuine impostors, on the other hand, do not experience feelings of guilt or doubt; they actively conceal their true selves and assume false identities. Therefore, it is essential to discard any negative emotions and assess the situation objectively. Instead of trying to be someone you are not, acknowledge that you lack confidence in your abilities and skills. From there, you can choose to either perpetuate this insecurity by doing nothing or embrace it and seek ways to improve and enhance your competence in areas where you feel inadequate. This mindset shift transforms the problem from an overwhelming burden into a challenge that you can tackle.

The Power of Openness

One effective strategy is to openly acknowledge and discuss the areas in which you struggle. By sharing your difficulties with others, you take the first step towards dispelling the notion of being “found out“. Furthermore, this openness opens the door to learning and skill enhancement. When you express your need for assistance, you increase the likelihood of improvement. Remember not to fixate solely on your weaknesses. Instead, remind yourself of your strengths and areas where you excel. If you encounter difficulty in identifying these strengths, reflect on past moments of confidence and enjoyment, and channel your energy toward developing those aspects. It is not necessary to excel in all areas as a PhD student; being highly proficient in a select few is often sufficient. Work on your weaknesses and skills, but do not hesitate to seek help for the rest.

Embracing Growth

It is important to recognize that nearly everyone harbors doubts and concerns about their abilities and goals. Everyone possesses areas where they lack confidence. In the comments section below, feel free to share your perceived weaknesses and the concerns you fear others might discover. This simple act of openness marks the first step towards growth and improvement. So, go ahead and leave your comments, and remember, you are not alone in this journey.

About the author:

Picture of Dr. Friederike Jurth
Dr. Friederike Jurth

Possibly you already heard of me through different media channels. My name is Dr. Friederike Jurth, and I hold a certificate from Harvard in Higher Education Teaching. Since 2010, I have given lectures on Methodology, Empirical Research, Anthropology, and Transcultural (Music) Studies in collaboration with universities in the United States, Germany, Spain, and Brazil. In 2010, I began a 7-year-long fieldwork project in Rio de Janeiro and have since presented my research at conferences worldwide, including in Japan, the United States, Australia, Brazil, Thailand, Switzerland, and many other countries. Additionally, I have worked as a lecturer and researcher with Germany’s renowned UNESCO Chair.

After completing my doctoral dissertation with summa cum laude, I aimed to unite, condense, and share the steps, ways, and details of my unique methodological and structural approach that I developed during my Ph.D. and that ultimately helped me achieve this result. By concentrating and putting them together into an elaborate academic conception, MyThesis Academy was born. Motivated by the sole aim and objective to help my students through all steps and stages of their thesis journey, MyThesis Academy enables them to achieve their best possible results in the shortest time, independent of their specific area of research.

In addition to my extensive teaching and research experience, I am part of the authors of the Cambridge Companion to Music in Brazil 2024, published by Cambridge University Press & Assessment, where I contribute as a Cambridge Author. This work is a co-operative project conducted remotely from Cambridge, England, United Kingdom.

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