When I started my PhD, I was full of excitement and couldn’t wait to get started with my research! I wanted to meet new people and explore the new University and city I’d found myself in. And while that did happen, it hasn’t all been plain sailing…

Comparing yourself

During a PhD, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially when you talk to other PhD students. You hear about all the amazing conferences they’ve attended or the articles they’re publishing. Maybe they’re involved in lots of academic groups or have written large sections of their thesis already… The list of what you should be doing as a PhD student can feel nearly endless. The reality is that each PhD journey will look different. This depends on your research needs and ultimately what you want to achieve post-PhD.

This makes it easy to talk to other PhD students and think, ‘but I’m not doing any of that?’ Or you might think ‘well I went to a conference, but I haven’t written any articles yet…’ Or maybe you’ve done loads of research but haven’t been able to write anything.

Suddenly, if you’re like me, you won’t feel good enough, or most commonly smart enough to be doing a PhD. You’ll list all the ways you aren’t doing enough – from research to networking and more. You might even start to think you can’t possibly know enough about your topic to do it for the next three years. It can make you feel like an imposter, who somehow managed to trick your supervisor into accepting you.

Everyone feels like an imposter at some point

It can be easy to fall into this spiral of feeling like an imposter, and I’ll let you in on a secret: most people getting a PhD feel this way at some point! Your usual productivity and creativity are replaced by feelings of self-doubt and it becomes increasingly difficult to research.

Imposter syndrome doesn’t just affect PhD students, but it is more common than in Undergrad and Masters students. What is different about a PhD is your research is uniquely yours; you are becoming the expert and often researching areas that are new or underdeveloped in your field. Therefore, it is easy to become overwhelmed and doubt your abilities.

My top tips

Now I can’t offer a magic cure, but I can share what has, and is, helping me:

  1.  You know more than you think. Remind yourself that everyone doing a PhD is on a different journey and the process will look different for everyone.
  2. You don’t need to go through this alone. You probably aren’t the only one feeling this way so talk to someone about it! Be that a friend, a family member or even a professional.
  3. Give your brain a break – you might need to step away from your research for a while. Use this as an excuse to go visit some friends or family members who aren’t doing PhDs, safely of course! Or even take a few days to focus on other hobbies from the comfort of your home.
  4. Set achievable goals. Each day make a list of what you can realistically achieve and work through it. You’ll end up feeling pretty accomplished by the end of the day!
  5. Your research might be unique but there are other PhD students in your field, talk to them! They might just feel the same way as you.

If you’re feeling this way and do need someone to talk to, I’m always happy to chat on my Instagram: @PhDLifeWithLucy