Defying Impostor Syndrome in Academia

It’s something that I never really understood until I came to academia, but impostor syndrome is the worst. It hit me, I think, in those first few weeks where I didn’t quite understand what I was doing and somebody had already gone to Harvard to deliver a lecture, whilst somebody else had cured world hunger in the first fifteen minutes of their working day. Your achievements, of being in the right place at the right time, or simply managing to read a book and make some constructive notes from it, never quite seem to compare. Surely somebody’s going to find you out, surely somebody is going to discover that they made a mistake in letting you in? That’s impostor syndrome, that little edge of doubt that cuts into your thoughts and seals the hole behind it. It doesn’t want to leave and if you try to make it leave, it’s going to do one hell of an exit.

Fun, right? You’re doing something you love, intensely, but you’re doubting it, every step. It can be exhausting. It is exhausting. It’s also impossible to explain because you don’t quite know what it is. I know that I didn’t. I thought it was normal. I thought that coming home from tutorials and collapsing in tears was – normal. I thought it was, somehow, part of the process.

It’s not. It’s not remotely.

I’m blogging about this on International Women’s Day for a reason because, for me, the defiance of impostor syndrome required scaffolds. Supports. Women. Men. Friends. People who believed in me and who supported me through those moments when everything just seemed incomprehensible. Research is life-affirming. It doesn’t require one life for another; you are equally as important as that which you research. Sometimes it’s hard to see that. Sometimes it’s hard to even ask for support. Impostor syndrome, stress, that closing, narrowing of the light around you, can make the world feel very distant. And acknowledging that can be the hardest thing in the world.

But people will bring you through it, and you are people, so I suppose this blog is to tell you something. That if you are experiencing a darkness of your own in academia, that if you are feeling isolated, reach out. You are not alone, and there are people out there who will help you get through this. And here’s the thing; that’s exactly what makes impostor syndrome wither away and die.

You defy it with people. You write and you work for the people who love you and believe in you. You write for them, and you keep going because your voice is important, and the world needs it, and impostor syndrome is nothing, really.

Doubt won’t keep you silent.

Keep speaking.



4 thoughts on “Defying Impostor Syndrome in Academia

  1. Pingback: The legitimacy of critique : or, who am I? | Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again?

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