Are you an impostor? A fake, fraud, charlatan or what have you? Are you only pretending to be an academic, playing dress-up as it were, hunting around in the clothes box for the blazer with elbow patches because that might make the illusion more convincing? This is how I feel quite often. Somehow I’ve conned the University into giving me a place, conned the funding body into giving me money, conned peers into thinking I’m an academic. At any moment I could be found out, the illusion would come crashing down and people would see that I’m a fraud, I’m not a proper academic, I’m just me.
Apparently impostor syndrome is quite common amongst PhD researchers. It’s not very nice at all. I do wonder if we talked about it a bit more openly, it might not be as bad. When I was a child I remember thinking that one birthday, possibly my 21st, I’d suddenly know all this stuff about how to be a grown-up. Maybe I’d get a book that told me how to fill in a tax return and unblock a sink or something. It didn’t happen. I don’t particularly feel like a grown-up now either. I came to the decision that all “adults” are just people muddling through, trying to find some way to fix their problems and deal with the things that are happening around them and still have time to do some fun things too. There was no magical solution, we just find our own ways of coping with things. I think it might be the same with academia. There won’t come a day when I’ll suddenly know exactly how to dash off a beautiful, publication-ready paper. Or how to write a grant proposal that’s guaranteed to be accepted. There won’t be a guide to being an academic hidden in my graduation robes.
I’m not a fake. There isn’t really a “real” academic. There are just people who happen to do academic things. Impostor syndrome can be crushingly upsetting and the source of much anxiety. I know there are some people who may never feel it and that’s great. Maybe they can help those of us who aren’t quite so certain. Academia is always striving for better, for new discoveries and ideas, and so there’s always criticism. What can be improved, how the idea can be furthered. We’re all playing catch up in a way. So no, we’re not impostors, there aren’t impostors, we’re all just people who want to know more. I suppose it doesn’t matter if you feel you don’t know as much as someone else, or that you think your ideas aren’t as good, as long as you still want to know more you have a place.