News - November 3, 2015

Blog: Impostor syndrome

One thing that probably impressed me the most during my first week at uni was how we, then completely clueless freshers, were immediately being called scientists.

That was a great boost to my confidence as well as demonstration of respect our lecturers had for us (as we did for them). And yet even 6 years of sciencing later, and especially now when I’m carrying out a fully-fledged research project on my own, I still sometimes feel that I’m not good enough to be doing this. I feel like an impostor.

‘Chronic self-doubt and feelings of intellectual fraudulence’ are the scary sounding symptoms of the so-called impostor syndrome. For my thesis research I’m interviewing actual, real scientists and ecological restoration professionals, which is exciting but also nerve-wracking. Since I’m not a local they thankfully do not expect me to know all the peculiarities of a restoration scene in the southwest of Western Australia. As for all the other stuff, it’s true that I’m still a student and I’m still learning and it doesn’t have to be perfect. But now the stakes are somewhat higher. And so that feeling of inadequacy just won’t go away that easily.

All that said, no one has called me a fraud (yet). Quite the opposite actually. Everyone seems to be very interested in my project and me being here. People are happy to chat and share their expertise. And everyone’s interested in eventually seeing my results. So no pressure, none at all. In all seriousness though, this gives me great confidence and confirmation that what I’m doing is just as valuable and relevant.

And that’s especially important when it’s only me working on the project. If I hadn’t already appreciated last year’s ACT experience, I would definitely done so now. All tasks are on me at the moment - both the interesting and the tedious. More importantly, working in the group provided significant emotional support. While we were all very focused on the final product, we were also pushing and rooting for each other. I’ve probably never been so productive as during those two months. I find that lacking sometimes these days.

It is difficult to express how interesting it is to do research. But it’s not all roses either. I’ll be done in a few months’ time and all the above worries will look silly. However, they are influencing my work now and so it is important to reflect on these feelings. Everyone should – no matter whether you’re doing social or natural sciences – it only makes us all better scientists.

Kristina is a second year student MSc Forest and Nature Conservation. She is currently in Perth, Australia to do field work for her thesis.