One of the first pieces of careers advice I can remember receiving was from my father. I was aged around six when he sat opposite me and said:
‘Lisa, you know, you’ll never get rich by working. You’ve got to have an idea.’
I’m hesitant to disagree but after four years of working in research and a year into a PhD, I’m beginning to wonder. I’m a second-year PhD student at Goldsmiths, University of London and I love spending every day working on my idea (this does not make me rich). However, one of the more striking things I have noticed amongst us aspiring academics/writers/’ologists’ is the difficulty in writing something which will be read by someone else. I am hugely guilty in this respect as I’m only starting this blog 15 months after registering for my PhD. Many PhD students I talk to mention feeling like an ‘imposter’ in academia and then reluctantly confess they fear other people ‘finding out’ how little they know.
Four years ago I made the decision to pursue funding for a PhD but in the midst of contacting lecturers, speaking to other doctoral students and applying for studentships I realised I was researching research. So I had little understanding of ‘imposter’ syndrome until I started doctoral studies myself. ‘Imposter’ is insufficient – I had gate-crashed and everyone knew it (or so I thought). I had never sat in a room full of professors or tried to write a paper for publication and I had never heard of Foucault.
It makes me wonder what kind of doctoral student I am. At my selection interview, I remember the first question being ‘Why do you want to do something as awful as a PhD?’ and I think it’s because I want to find stuff out. Curiosity is motivating and this never seems to fade away and, finally, I’m in an environment which aids that. I’m also conscientious, organised and I rarely leave things unfinished because I want to see things through to the end.
I also wonder if the ‘imposter’ feeling ever goes away or whether everyone is a gate-crasher but some are doing it more skilfully (or subtlety/confidently) than others. Recently, I read an article by a post-doctorate worker who decided to publish a ‘negative’ CV of all his failed job interviews, rejected publications and awards never won (tinyurl.com/ahornercv). It raises an interesting point about whether research environments attract those who are most academically able or the most resilient and willing to face rejection.
The first year of doctoral studies has been exciting, confusing, stimulating, tiring but I’m never bored and I have enjoyed every single day so far. So, if you’re also starting out on something as daunting as a PhD or you’re at the beginning of a research career and you feel like an ‘imposter’ – then you’re in the right place.