I remember starting my undergraduate degree with a strong (and naïve) sense of confidence. It has slowly decreased from that day but once I entered into my PhD, it skyrocketed downhill. There are so many things that can interfere with our confidence – imposter syndrome, funding rejections, grades, discussions in class, setbacks in research, stress, lack of sleep…. the list goes on. With that said, I do have those days that make me feel like I still ‘belong’ here. But a PhD is a roller coaster ride and if I am being honest, I often feel at the bottom of the coaster… heck, sometimes I’m not even on the ride.
As you all should know by now, I try and remain positive throughout my PhD journey but it is certainly a practice and doesn’t always come naturally. I want to share some of the things that help me when my confidence is low. In hopes that all of you will also I share how you find peace in your academic abilities.
You got in, didn’t you?
You applied and they accepted you. You have worked hard to get you to here and others are recognizing that. You are there for a reason, they want you in their program! They saw your unique set of skills, abilities, and perspective. You are uniquely you, no one else can be more you than you can – and that’s who they accepted, so remember to be YOU!
You don’t need to be an expert, you are here to learn!
If you are caught up in trying to impress others or worried about what others are thinking of you then you are moving further away from your learning process. You will be the expert one day but today you are the student. So enjoy the process of being a student – this comes with the ability to ask questions, to get things wrong and learn from them. Adopting this growth mindset will not only improve your confidence, it will open you up to so much more learning.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again – a positive mindset can change everything. As soon as you recognize a negative thought, name it but don’t judge yourself for it. Instead, change it to a positive thought. I don’t care if you have to lie to yourself – do whatever you have to do but this will help you in the process of improving your confidence.
Whatever it is that might be worrying you or that is lowering your confidence, try to set an intention or visualize the outcome towards it. For instance, if you have a paper that is due but you don’t think you will do well on, try and think about what you want to get from the paper. Will it help your research? Will you be able to gain feedback from an expert in your field? Will you be able to work through some of the core concepts in the course? Once you realize what it is that you can achieve from this task, you will start to visualize a more positive outcome.
Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Grad school is meant to challenge you. It’s meant to stretch your mind to corners it’s never explored before. It’s meant to introduce you to words you have never heard of and concepts you don’t yet understand. Slowly work through them, there is no rush, you don’t need to know it all right away.
Someone came into our PhD seminar recently and said when take on your PhD “you are becoming increasingly aware of everything you don’t know”. You can’t know it all but now you know the playing field. So don’t be so hard on yourself if you don’t understand something, that’s the point of being a student – to learn it.
And if all else fails – breathe through it.
Fear and worrying are very much friends with your ego. This can easily lead to the comparison game. Staying mindful, center and breathing through your thoughts will help you kick your ego to the side and stay true to yourself.
Remember, wherever you are at in your academic journey, you have so much to offer. You in all your glory – your mind, your heart, your unique experience and lens on the world. Keep showing up, breathe through it, no one said grad school was easy and you my friend are one determined, persistent and hardworking human being.
We are in this together <3
Please share this with any students who might need a reminder that they are enough.
Until next time,
P.S Don’t forget to use #ScholarCulture #ScholarSquad #ScholarSunday to keep me updated on your experiences as grad students.
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