Feeling like an imposter? You are not alone...

Mar. 2024 entry

Last month we had a very interesting discussion with PhD students on Imposter Syndrome in academia. As I prepared for that discussion, I realised that interesting resources can be found on various university websites. A book has also been written recently on this very specific topic (see link below); a useful read to normalise what you may be feeling. It may even feel like reading an autobiography sometimes.

As discussions around this topic start to be normalised and encouraged, I believe that it is time to think about what makes academia so prone to Imposter Syndrome, and what we can do at our level to help everyone cope with these challenges.  Among the reasons identified can be listed the lack of feedback, the way success is defined and monitored, the highly competitive environment triggering comparisons between colleagues and between fields, the 'prestige' associated with certain universities, isolation on individual projects, the lack of diversity, the culture of awards to individuals, and of course the 'Publish or Perish' culture with a strong , often unjustified, admiration for famous high impact journals.

While many of those issues remain outside our circle of control, or even influence, we believe that there are steps we can all take to improve our culture and environment. Here are a few ideas we identified:

  1. If you feel that you lack feedback, do not hesitate to reach out to your supervisor to arrange more frequent meetings and obtain feedback. Navigating between micro- and macromanagement to align with the tutees needs is a difficult task for the supervisor, and having input from the student can be very helpful.
  2. Try to define what success means to you rather than idealising success from preconceived views promoted by the research community. Easier said than done, though.
  3. Define SMART goals for your PhD/postdoc. If we start a PhD hoping for a Nobel prize one day, our career is doomed to failure (until maybe a lucky October day in our 80s). Define short term, measurable and realistic goals.
  4. Break the cycle of only sharing successes with colleagues. Instead, also share your day-to-day failures, disappointments, frustrations, and hard work… It will also make celebrating successes with colleagues easier!
  5. Ask for each other's help. Take advantage of each other's expertise. It is good for self-esteem and it saves time.
  6. For the previous point to work, you need to know what each other's expertise and interests are. That's why coffee chats, lunches and happy hours are important. Don't underestimate them!

Nevertheless, taking those steps requires raising awareness first!

- Julie Euvrard

'Imposter Syndrome Unmasked: Uncovering and Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in Leadership, Academia, and Beyond' by James Soorabi.


Being an introvert is not an issue

Nov. 2023 entry

Through discussions with students, I realised that many are worried by the apparent cult for extroversion suggested by the endless list of student societies, and the numerous incentives to 'network'. It sounds as if there is no place for introverts. But this is a misconception! There is no right number of societies to join, and 'networking' by connecting with a few (as opposed to many) key and valuable colleagues around the world can be very fulfilling as introvert (even if it is harder to initiate). For those asking themselves this type of questions, I recommend the book 'Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking' by Susan Cain. It is a reassuring and empowering read. - Julie Euvrard

'Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking' by Susan Cain