The expectations of publishing as a researcher are intimidating, no matter how seasoned you become in your field. As an early career researcher, it’s common to feel like you’re stepping in over your head, trying to demonstrate that you are knowledgeable in an area where many others with more experience than you have already delved. This inexperience and nervousness often turns into a feeling of being an imposter, thereby coined the ‘imposter syndrome’ by many.
The concerns you have are valid, but you also must realize that every new, early career researcher starts out the same way and that the only way to gain experience is to go through the same steps. You must move beyond your ‘imposter syndrome’ concerns in order to get to the level of greater academic achievement.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Every professional field is set up similarly, in that the newest people to the job are also struggling to fit in amongst those who have already made it their career and are successful at what they do. In extreme circumstances or high-pressure roles like that of the academic researcher, individuals step in to their jobs and develop ‘imposter syndrome,’ or the idea that they are nothing but a fraud pretending to be competent among colleagues who are just as skilled as them. They neglect to see their own accomplishments as equal or superior to others.
Imposter syndrome is possible to feel no matter how seasoned you are, but it’s more common with early career researchers. Still, regardless of where you are at in your career, if you are feeling the effects of this debilitating condition, you must learn how to get past it.
Are you focusing more on the negative aspects of your research and daily activities instead of the positive? Are you listening to criticism and letting it cause you to doubt yourself instead of learning from it constructively? Are you comparing yourself to others instead of appreciating your own strengths? If so, you might be letting imposter syndrome get a hold of your mental health.
How to Tell if You’re Dealing With This Problem
Imposter syndrome, or phenomenon, occurs when you downplay and internalize your own accomplishments but overplay those of the people around you. Your anxiety takes control because you are constantly worried that you’ll be exposed as the fraud you think you are. Symptoms of imposter syndrome include things like:
● Lack of self-confidence in your job role and daily life
● Feeling inadequate among others, even those who are just as educated and skilled as you are
● Always comparing yourself and your accomplishments to others
● Anxious thoughts and worries
● Second-guessing yourself all the time, including your intuition and your own talents
● Thinking and speaking negatively to and about yourself
● Returning to events that happened in the past frequently and berating yourself on your actions
Imposter syndrome is difficult to live with, but it can, and must, be overcome.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
As with any mental challenge, the battleground is in your head. These are often the hardest challenges to overcome, but if you made it this far as a researcher, you can do hard things like this. To overcome imposter syndrome, try to reframe your thoughts and actions using these tips:
● Look at each task as a learning opportunity rather than an action with consequences
● Evaluate your own actions as you approach a task and change them to more successful steps, like avoiding procrastination and setting up an environment that is peaceful and conducive to better results
● Take ownership of all of your tasks, both good and bad; allowing yourself to feel the successes as well as the areas where you need growth
● Look for ways to engage in tasks that you know you are good at instead of always feeling challenged; this will help you to grow your confidence enough to handle the setbacks easier
● Ask for help from someone you trust or seek counseling until you have strategies to be able to handle your negative criticism and self-doubt better
With actionable steps and a strategy similar to what you’d engage in with your own experiments, you can - and will - overcome imposter syndrome! You are a successful researcher in your own right.