PGSA Newsletter Editorial: May
Ever get the feeling you shouldn’t be a postgraduate? Surely you’re just one meeting away from being found out and asked to leave forever. How come everyone else knows what they’re doing but you don’t? Should you be sitting there reading newsletter editorials rather than that latest academic article? Should I be writing them?
Good news: we all feel like that from time to time. So much so, it’s even got a proper name: the Imposter Syndrome.
The other week I had the pleasure of attending a PhD workshop at VUW on this very subject, given by Hugh Kearns from ThinkWell. I’ve always enjoyed Hugh’s sessions, and not just because his accent reminds me of Father Ted – quite simply, he says what we’re all thinking (even if we don’t realise we’re thinking it). So I’m going to shamelessly repeat his ideas here, and then feel like an imposter because I couldn’t think of them myself.
Basically, whoever you are and whatever your background, you have evidence that you belong here. You put in an application, you spoke to the right people, and the grown-ups of Victoria University let you in. And when we manage to engage the logical parts of our minds, we can see that no one expects perfection from day one. Postgraduate study is often a big leap into the unknown, and you may even be the first to investigate this particular shadowy corner – so don’t be afraid to take a wrong turn and learn from it!
Other than the revelation that Milli Vanilli didn’t record any of their own songs (it’s true, I checked), the part of Hugh’s talk that made the biggest impression on me was the advice to turn your ANTs into MAThs. That’s your Automatic Negative Thoughts into More Accurate Thoughts. Every feeling of anxiety and self-doubt can be countered with the sort of hard, empirical evidence that we researchers love. So if you’re brain’s telling you you’re not on track, dig out your last progress report or an encouraging email and prove that you’re doing just fine. You can even write a chart of ANTs vs. MAThs to give you a boost when you need it.
Most importantly, imposter feelings can be appropriated and used to inspire progress. Look at the evidence and adopt a growth mindset, to motivate yourself to take the next step in your research or career. Hugh wants to replace the ‘fake it till you make it’ idiom with ‘be brave and take action’, and I think that’s something we could all do with remembering at times.
You can read much more about the imposter syndrome here, or even check out Hugh Kearn’s book, The Imposter Syndrome: Why Successful People Often Feel Like Frauds. Te Waharoa reliably informs me that a copy will be in the library very soon!
Remember, you deserve to be here. Unless of course you’re currently posing as your own identical twin in order to infiltrate the inner circle of the postgraduate community. In which case, we will find you.
You’ve got this!
Will Stanford Abbiss