Imposter syndrome is something that every normal PhD student faces at some point. It was one of the first things I blogged about when I was quite new to the world of academia. I didn’t then realise how widespread this issue was, or how much you can achieve despite the regular pangs of inadequacy. I still feel like an imposter at least once a day, but I have started to notice that there are many different ways that imposter syndrome can manifest….
Introducing: The Hogwartsian Classification System for Manifestations of Imposter Syndrome
Life is tough. You’ve found yourself in a large cohort of high achievers, and your best friends are an award winning scholar and that guy with a blue tick on twitter. You aren’t quite sure where your strengths lie and you’ve changed your PhD subject three times already. But you excelled on that group project, and you have flashes of brilliance. You still long for the day that someone in your cohort messes up more than you, but are reassured by how many people want to buy you a drink at the pub and hear your stories.
“Well, we were always going to fail that one,” said Ron gloomily as they ascended the marble staircase. – Order of the Phoenix
You are far and away the smartest person in your cohort, but apparently simple tasks trip you up on a regular basis. For some reason, you just can’t create a solid patronus… I mean viva defence. The praise from your supervisors and faultless peer-review feedback riddles (pun not intended) you with self-doubt, and causes consternation among your peers. You like to control everything and hate when people call you bossy. Ignore your critics, you are strong and smart enough to smash horcruxes and the patriarchy.*
“Maybe [I don’t understand Quidditch], but at least my happiness doesn’t depend on Ron’s goalkeeping ability.” – Order of the Phoenix
You took down a senior academic that had been stealing work from his students and now everyone wants a piece of the action. Funding bodies keep offering you post-doctoral fellowships but you haven’t even passed your first year review and to be honest, you’re not even sure that you meant to do a PhD in the first place? Sometimes you are overcome with twittter-praise fuelled bravado and sometimes you hide in the office stationary cupboard. Probably best to find a PhD squad, sounds like you need the support of someone who actually knows what they are doing.
You ooze confidence on the outside, but you just. can’t. get. that. dream. job. You undermine your colleagues and co-workers out of self-loathing and paranoia. It may be time to re-assess you career choices, you are doing really well where you are and maybe the dream job just isn’t the right fit? Sometimes too much power isn’t good for us. Don’t be the Snape in your department.
“Where’s Snape?” […] “Maybe he’s left,” said Harry, “because he missed out on the Defense Against the Dark Arts job again!” – Prisoner of Azkaban
On the outside, you are ineffective, clumsy, shy and accident prone. You fall while you are walking up to speak at conferences, you spill drinks on your laptop, and your supervisor feedback is… patchy. But something happens at your second year review and suddenly, all the other PhD students want to collaborate on research papers. You’re the classic extrovert disguised as introvert. Even the Death Eaters want you to be in their gang. Keep going, one day you’ll head a department.
You are a woman in a male dominated field, you often get the crappy jobs that no one wants, and sometimes you feel like you have to work twice as hard to make yourself heard. You use jokes and sarcasm to hide your uncertainty, and are prone to bending the rules. You want to be cool, calm and collected, but it never seems to work out that way. You can never decide what to wear to conferences, and are prone to many last minute outfit changes. Don’t forget what you have already achieved against the odds, and watch out for unsupportive family members.
“I was never a prefect. My Head of House said I lacked certain necessary qualities… Like the ability to behave myself.” – Tonks, Order of the Phoenix
You are hardworking and incredibly persistent, but for some reason you feel like the underdog of your department. You always seem to be the one that has to make the tea. You are confident that a career outside academia is the one you want, but you are worried what people will think. Keep an eye out for new opportunities; you may be unemployed for a little while, but keep busy you’ll soon find your niche. I think self-employment might suit you quite well.
“Dobby has no master. Dobby is a free elf.” – Deathly Hallows
You don’t feel impostor syndrome but you should. You are every senior academic that publishes the same content over and over again in a slightly different format.* You steal work from your students and peers but somehow get away with it. You have an inflated ego which causes you to act like you are the invited (and widely respected) keynote speaker in any given room, but really, you are all talk and no trousers. No one wants to hear about that time you took down an early career academic on Twitter…. again.
You got serious funding (with a little help), and now you’re not sure how you are ever going to live up to it. You are cocky, confident and arrogant but are yet to show whether you have the brains to back this up. Your supervisors like you because you buy them expensive lunches, but what if they secretly think your work is terrible? You’ll never reveal these doubts to anyone, not even your cruel-conference-question cronies, but it’s starting to show.
“At least no one on the Gryffindor team had to buy their way in,” said Hermione sharply. “They got in on pure talent.” – Chamber of Secrets
You are never quite sure of your place in academic circles, and sometimes you feel like you have to hide your true self. You are likely to have one or two too many drinks at the wine reception and then suffer from pangs of embarrassed anxiety about what you said in front of that prestigious visiting academic. You only did a PhD so that you could get that puppy you’ve always wanted.
Actually, you really don’t have imposter syndrome. No one understands your PhD topic and you couldn’t care less. You are something of a slow burner, but people always invite you to speak on conference panels, join their pub quiz team or co-organise an experimental workshop. Keep shifting those paradigms and pushing those fashion boundaries.
“Don’t worry. You’re just as sane as I am.” – Luna, Order of the Phoenix
So which kind of imposter syndrome do you have? I think I might be a Hagrid/Tonks hybrid, with a touch of Hermione’s bossiness. (Tweet me with your answers @luciewhitmore.) If you want a little Harry Potter empowerment to balance out the imposter syndrome, I enjoyed these ’17 feminist Harry Potter quotes to fight the muggle patriarchy’. Whichever imposter you feel like, I think it is reassuring to know that we all feel like imposters some of the time. Unless you are a Luna of course!
* With thanks to the wonderful Witch Please podcast for some of these ideas!