We’ve all had those moments at orientation. You hear a speaker say, “Look to your left, now look to your right…these are your colleagues but some of them might not make it to the end of this academic journey.” These moments can be taken in a plethora of ways but it’s hard to look at it in a positive light, especially when you are just starting out in graduate school. The concept of impostor syndrome is the feeling that you don’t belong. Whether you feel out of place in your lab, academic institution, or your job, impostor syndrome is more common than you think and you are NOT the only one feeling it. If you were to search “don’t belong in grad school,” in about 0.58 seconds you will come across over 26 million results of multiple blog posts and forums written by people feeling the same way. It’s a matter of perception.
Here are a few helpful tips to fight impostor syndrome. As classes start in the fall semester, impostor syndrome typically runs rampant. As a post-comprehensive student, I wish someone had given me advice about impostor syndrome as I was starting out.
- Be honest; especially when you do not know something. If you are confused about a certain topic, it does not mean that you are stupid and do not deserve to be here. If you do not know something, chances are that the people sitting next to you do not have a clue about it either. We are all unique and have different backgrounds. Sometimes you might not know something and that’s okay. Asking questions can help you make a great first impression with faculty and can also help your fellow students.
- Find YOUR work-life balance and live a little. Just because you have entered the world of grad school where everyone seems to be drowning in papers, experiments, classes, teaching, and meetings, it does not mean your social life and extracurricular activities need to take a back seat. Spend time with friends, start a game night, go on a hike, go to one new place every week—it can even be as small as a coffee shop. Finding a work-life balance helps you build support networks and also offers you a break from graduate school. You would be surprised how many students have the same questions, fears, and insecurities about themselves. Talk about your own work-life balance; you may be helping someone without even knowing it.
- Talk about what you are feeling. More often than not, in your graduate program you will come across some form of teaching where you can be a mentor to other students. You can bring up issues like impostor syndrome. You can educate others and help them out through this process as well. If anything, by bringing up the issue, you have opened yourself up to students who may not have had the opportunity to share something about it before.
- Model good academic behavior. As an upperclassman, you are a role model to underclassmen, whether you acknowledge it or not. Lead by example. Support work-life balance in this process. Help your peers by ensuring they don’t go through the same perils that you did. Simple acts of kindness will carry forward.
Think about it, if we all feel like we do not belong….who is the real impostor? Graduate school is tough but that does not mean we have to suffer through it needlessly. We can make it fun. Graduate school is what you make it—the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.