Sussex Researcher School

Impostor Feelings

One of the biggest (perhaps the biggest challenge) facing new postgraduate researchers is imposter feelings, sometimes referred to as 'Imposter Syndrome' – the overwhelming feeling that you’re a fraud. It’s only a matter of time, you convince yourself, before you’re found out. Everyone will realise that you’re too stupid to do a research degree. What on earth were you thinking? How did you ever imagine you could write a thesis? These are perfectly normal (if unsettling) emotions. The good news is that nearly everyone experiences them; the bad news is that few are prepared to admit it.

The nature of academic research means that just when you think you’ve got the hang of something, you’re challenged by new ideas or data. And the more you succeed, the more visible you become, and the greater the need to protect your expertise. This is why you seldom hear tenured academics admitting their own insecurities.

It’s helpful to think of these feelings, not as a syndrome (this suggests rarity), but rather as part of being an academic. Accept this is part of the process and don’t let it dominate your thinking. If you find it impossible to shake off these feelings and it’s getting in the way of your research, please talk to someone. Your supervisor may not be frank about his or her own insecurities, so the Student Centre is a good alternative. All discussions are confidential, and they’ll have spoken to many researchers in your position.

If you still think it’s just you, take a look at these online resources:

Sussex Researcher School