Overcoming imposter syndrome: How to silence your inner critic and succeed

grad school imposter syndrome May 14, 2022
How to overcome imposter syndrome

Do you ever feel like a fraud? Like you're just pretending to be a expert in your field and someone is going to find out sooner or later that you don't really know what you're doing?

If so, then you are not alone. Many academics experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. This phenomenon can be incredibly paralyzing and sometimes prevents people from achieving their goals. 

In this blog post, I will discuss three ways to overcome imposter syndrome and silence your inner critic.

Let's get started!

Remember that you are the expert of your own research

No one knows more about your research than you do. So, when you're feeling like an imposter, remind yourself that you are actually the expert here. There are at least a few things that you know better than everyone else in the world:

  1. your reason for doing the research project
  2. the methods you used
  3. the results you got

And there are so many things that you know better than at least most people in the world - all those specifics of your research field that the everyday person really does not know.

Not convinced yet? Make a list!

One way to squash that imposter feeling is to write a list of all the things you know now that you didn't know a year ago, or two years ago, or when you started your degree program.

You can start by writing down all the things you know about your field of study. For example, if you study bower birds, some things you might know are the distribution of bower birds, their mating systems, their calls, etc...(I don't study bower birds so I don't know any of these things).

After that, write down all things you know how to do. This will include the specific methods you use (lab techniques, statistics, etc.), but also general professional and academic skills like how to make a PowerPoint presentation, how to properly cite references, how to read and summarize complex papers, etc...whatever new skills you have gained.

It can be really healing to see all these accomplishments and all the knowledge you have gained written down.  You might keep this list somewhere you can see it when you are feeling like an imposter. It could be on the wall near your desk, or as a document on your computer desktop.

Grit is more important than confidence

Academics is a long-term game. And every successful PhD graduate has moments of doubt. They have made mistakes, they have been confused, they have been stuck, they have failed.

But, more importantly than those failures and those feelings of inadequacy, successful academics have been determined to pick themselves up and get going again.

That's why grit is more important than confidence.

When you are feeling like an imposter, it can be helpful to remember that everyone feels this way at some point.  When you have imposter syndrome, you are usually comparing yourself to others who seem to have everything together and they make it look so easy. But the truth is, everyone has doubts and insecurities.

Don't feel confident? That's actually okay. Acknowledge it. Remember that those you look up to the most have almost certainly also experienced those feelings. Look at your list of accomplishments. Keep moving toward your goals.

You got this!

Use your feelings to your advantage

Imposter syndrome can actually be a good thing. Wait...what? That's right.  Sure, it can be debilitating if you let it control you, but there are some benefits of your inner critic.

  • It can point out weaknesses in your research project. This can help you pinpoint where exactly to focus your efforts, or where you need to make edits and cut something.
  • It can show you where you need to focus on the most preparation. Are you feeling especially worried about a specific part of your upcoming conference talk? Home in on that section/slide and spend more time preparing that part.
  • It can help you recognize and learn from your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Identify them and try not to make them again.
  • It can make you more humble. Humbleness is a positive trait in academia. Einstein said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.” This is how research, science, and knowledge move forward! We acknowledge what we don't know and try to find that out.
  • It can drive you to achieve more. Only when you are aware of your personal weaknesses can you work toward improving them.

If you find that imposter syndrome is holding you back, try to reframe your thinking.


Your doubts are helping you make your research better. Your doubts are actually your superpower!


You can succeed despite imposter syndrome

In sum, imposter syndrome is a common feeling among academics, where you feel like you are not good enough and that you are a fraud.

If you are struggling with imposter syndrome it might help to remind yourself how far you have come. Firstly, you are not a fraud and you are the expert of your research. It's also important to acknowledge that it's okay to have doubts. Determination and perseverance are more important for accomplishing your academic goals than confidence. Lastly, remember that those imposter feelings can actually be beneficial in some ways. They can make you more humble and drive you to achieve more.

Don't let imposter syndrome get you down.

Keep pushing forward and you will achieve your academic goals! Go smash them!

Hi! I'm Dr Jayne Wilkins.

I'm a research scientist and academic publishing coach. I've been writing, reviewing, and editing academic publications for 12+ years.

In 2021, I achieved my long-time ambition to publish in Nature (woot woot 🎉).

Want to publish your research?

I can help you finish and submit that manuscript.

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