You're a Fraud and Everyone Knows It: Imposter Syndrome in Grad School

Our next guest blog post, written by PhD Candidate Wes Farmer, is the second in a series on mental health and graduate school. You can access the first post (on coping with anxiety) here. Be on the lookout for the third installments on Friday.

 

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 Imposter syndrome: the dreadful feeling that, some day, everyone will realize what you have realized for a long time . . . that you don’t know what you’re doing and you don’t know what you’re talking about. They will see you for what you really are. A fraud. This feeling will never completely go away while you are in grad school.

 

During my first semester of grad school, I had a class with a couple of older students who were, from my naïve perspective, way beyond anything I could hope to become. They were very nice and easy to talk to, but when it came to academics, I was intimidated to the point of not wanting to speak, as I feared sounding like an idiot in front of them. The way they spoke, the words they used, the way they approached the readings . . . I did not belong with these people.

 

Or so I thought. I ended up graduating with my master’s on time, and I even graduated before one of these students and at the same time as another student (who was at least a year ahead of me). I am currently in a PhD program, and as far as I know, these students are not getting their PhDs right now. Yet, I still think of them as my intellectual superiors, and I would still be intimidated to speak in front of them today. I suspect I will always have this feeling to some degree.

 

I tell this story mainly for new grad students or for those thinking about grad school. Especially early on, you are going to think you are not worthy. You are going to hear how other grad students talk and you are going to want to run home and never return. Don’t.

 

You will become more confident in your abilities. You will see that you do indeed belong. Imposter syndrome, however, will always be a part of your life and that’s okay. One day, you might even become the person other new grad students look up to. 

 

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Wes Farmer is a PhD student in American history at the University of Kentucky. He holds a B.A. in history/political science and comparative religion at the University of Pikeville, and an M.A. in history at Eastern Kentucky University. You can (and should!) follow him on Twitter: @wes_farmer 

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