5 Tips to Beat Imposter Syndrome and Keep Motivated in Your Pursuit to a PhD

Whether you're a wizard scientist, an award winning social justice warrior, or a dedicated professional in your field, imposter syndrome will rear its head throughout your entire career.

Nowhere else will it be more present than in graduate school, where your professors will become colleagues, other students may become coworkers and you'll get a first hand 'slap in the face' also known as experience of academic culture.

This internalized fear that you have no idea what you're doing, what you're talking about and that you're don't belong affects all identities, all levels of competence in humility, and all manner of educational or professional arenas.

Now this isn't necessarily a bad thing, humble pie is best served fresh out the oven sometimes. What you want to avoid, is allowing this fear to decrease your feelings of motivation and crush your goals.

So how do we process this feeling while staying motivated to beat imposter syndrome, even if it's only for that moment, so we can reach out goals and perhaps even surpass them?

1. Use a Daily Tiny Affirmation that Only you Know About

When I decided to apply for PhD programs in 2019,I changed the password to my email account to include PhD. After a few weeks, my computer would auto log me in, so to continue to write the password out, I changed another password to include PhD.

This wasn't an obvious affirmation like 'I will get into a PhD program', it was as normal as making a cup of coffee in the morning, took less than two seconds and was consistent without me having to even think about it. But for two years as I researched, applied, completed interviewed, got denied and applied again, I had a tiny affirmation that only I knew about.

It worked so well that I still do this today.

2. Watch PhD Student YouTube Videos

I know this may seem counter intuitive to watch PhD students on YouTube but I didn't just watch PhD students. You forget that you've accomplished so much already, you've completed a BA, you've completed several years of service, you have a successful side hustle, you were accepted and perhaps completed a graduate degree and you are not the only one out there who have a history of successes but continue to doubt themselves.

I choose to watch students who were not in professional arena, they were chemists and medical doctors, and engineers, and history PhD students. I watched students who were women and women of color, I watched students who struggled with imposter syndrome and who worked hard to process and overcome it. I watched students who were way more brave than me, completing a degree I had absolutely no experience in and people who lived all over the world.

We all had two things in common, imposter syndrome and experiencing academic culture.

3. Do Something Else other Than School

Again, this may seem counter intuitive as PhD students often don't have much time to sleep and eat let alone do anything else but school. However, the art of 'doing way too much' is a skill and maybe a habit which was honestly formed well before my decision to go into a PhD.

But if you've learned anything about academia so far, that multi-tasking, why are you working at 5am, I have twelve projects going on at once mentality is actually 'normal'. Now, I would say its a good thing but I will say, that for some people, it is their thing.

I enjoy school but I enjoy work more, and I love service. So for me, my life includes all three, it has for a very long time and it will for a very long time to come.

4. Make Friends but Don't Make Friends

This hypocrisy is on purpose but what it really means is to make sure you clearly define 'friendship' as you make friends. Assume that someday you will work with every single person you meet in academia. Because in some capacity, they will definitely see your work, check out your LinkedIn, send people who have the same interest as you to you, or invite you to participate in something years down the road.

Assume other students will someday be your supervisor, your colleague, or a reviewer of your performance or article. So make friends, be genuine, be kind, don't allow the culture around you to make your dream job a competition but also remember that not everyone can or should be in your inner circle of friendship. Make sure to be secure about your boundaries.

5. Have Fun

I know, this one seems a bit off but let me explain. If you think about your most favoritism hobby or the funniest activity you do, you don't feel imposter syndrome. You know what you're doing, even if you kind of don't, you know why you're there, because you love what your doing, and you may feel fear but it's quickly followed by euphoria and remember why you continue to do what you do.

You need to more than love what you do, you need to have fun doing it. Writing 20 page papers about a mythological method may not be fun. But taking a few moments in the morning with a hot cup of coffee and your pet rabbit eating breakfast next to you, to write a short blog that will hopefully be useful for someone else out there in the world going through the same thing you are - that's fun.