Jennifer Khirallah, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. candidate
Do you ever feel like you’re not supposed to be in a graduate program? Like everyone else is more qualified than you? Like you somehow fooled everyone and you won’t last undetected any longer? This is the imposter syndrome, and you are not alone in that feeling.
The imposter syndrome can be defined as “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.” This is something not only graduate students experience, but professors and post-docs feel as well. These feelings may come and go in high stress environments and may be all-encompassing.
I have had my own share of imposter syndrome, normally during times of stress or near an important deadline. I remember one of the most convincing times was during my qualifying exams. This is an exam that lasts about three weeks and includes critiquing a peer-reviewed research paper, writing an essay on it, and then presenting in front of the entire department. And to make it even more stressful, if you fail twice, you are dismissed from the program.
I was feeling overwhelmed, underprepared, and frankly like I was in way over my head. I wasn’t able to shake the feeling that I had somehow fooled the entire department into admitting me into the program. However, I talked to someone else in my cohort and she told me she felt the same way now and then and told me “It’s the imposter syndrome,” which was the first time I had heard of this term. I still feel like an imposter sometimes, but every time it’s because I’m doing something more challenging than I’ve done before.
Sometimes it’s easy to sink into this mindset and let it consume you, but you have to change your perspective and have courage in your own abilities. You did not fool admissions into letting you in, or your professors for passing you or giving you good grades. You worked and studied for your accomplishments and put yourself in the position you are in now. You deserve to be here! You are in graduate school to learn, become more independent, and challenge your thinking. You may feel out of place and confused sometimes and that is normal. In uncomfortable situations we grow and adapt.
Sometimes just knowing that your feelings of doubt are a common thing amongst your peers may settle your nerves, so talk to your friends about this and you will be surprised at how many of them tell you they have felt the same way.