Many candidates earning their Ph.D. or professional doctorate are no stranger to imposter syndrome, the common belief resulting in an individual doubting their worth or validity of accomplishments. Imposter syndrome is not limited to those going through their doctoral process, but can also touch upon those in professional and everyday life. According to Zach Reeves-Burton in his article, Grad15: Talking about imposter syndrome, “By some estimates, over 70% of graduate students will face imposter syndrome at some point in their academic career, yet many of these students suffer in silence.”

Although imposter syndrome can feel isolating, it is important to remember the phenomenon affects many candidates in all different stages of their doctoral process. Imposter syndrome can make one feel as though even though they are putting in hard-work, they do not deserve to be in the position they are or deserve what rewards they have coming towards them. James Hayton, Ph.D., describes his relationship with imposter syndrome. Hayton(2017) states, “During my PhD, there were times when I felt I shouldn't be there. Some of the other students in the research group were ridiculously smart, and while I was struggling to get even the roughest of results, they were publishing article after article and presenting their work at international conferences. Many of them had done their undergraduate degrees at the same university, so their supervisors had known who they were recruiting, but I had moved from Sheffield to Nottingham and always had the slight feeling that I had bluffed my way in and would, eventually, be found out.”

A common theme within imposter syndrome is the idea of being “found out,” due to the feeling that a candidate is not qualified to be in their position, even if he or she is putting in the necessary work and research. In order to cope with this mindset, it is possible to switch to a more positive mindset that allows empathy towards oneself instead of fear and resentment within. Hayton(2017) states, “If you think of yourself as a beginner, the question is no longer whether you are good enough, but how to get better. If you embrace the beginner mindset by being enthusiastically open about your weaknesses, it frees you to ask questions, to make mistakes and to learn. This is a much more positive outlook.”

Switching from the “imposter mindset” to a “beginner mindset” allows room for growth and expansion, rather than the idea that a candidate should know all and is a fraud if they do not. This mindset allows the candidate to be kinder to themselves, and in turn complete their doctoral journey with an overall healthier mindset. By using this method to cope with imposter syndrome, the candidate opens up more doors that allow them to welcome the expansion of growth and knowledge without shame.

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When it comes to feeling alone and isolated, somebody pursuing their Ph.D. or professional doctorate is susceptible. The process can seem overwhelming and even impossible at times. One thing that plays a key factor in the candidate alleviating these symptoms of isolation is for them to actively work at creating a sustainable and beneficial environment consisting of community. This community can consist of anybody, but Ph.D student, Ami Palmer, states in her blog that the most effective success network to surround oneself with is other graduate students. Palmer(2019) shares that you have to be willing to put in the work of building relationships and strengthening them for the support system to be effective, as a relationship in any aspect of life would work. “But here’s the catch. You can only have a community of people who care about you if you’ve invested in that community beforehand. Few people are sympathetic to those who only take support when they need it but are conspicuously absent when they don’t.”

When it comes to strengthening relationships with other doctoral candidates, it is important to create a relationship that thrives off of mutual support and partnership. This sets up both candidates for a healthy relationship that each will benefit from during their doctoral journey. The communal atmosphere of candidates should be one that thrives off of strength and encouragement. Although ideal, this type of relationship will not relish without being properly tended to. The candidate must invest his or herself into a community network in order to reap the rewards of genuine encouragement and the necessary communal atmosphere that a candidate pursuing a Ph.D. or doctoral candidate requires to thrive within their research studies.

A reliable web of support is not only beneficial, but some may argue that it is necessary to a candidate's mental health during the doctoral process. Palmer(2019) explains the reality of what one’s emotional well-being entails in the midst of earning a Ph.D. or professional doctorate. She states, “At some point (perhaps many) in grad school you will experience bouts of depression and despair–even if you aren’t typically disposed. The most effective buffer and remedy to depression is a community–friends that care about you and that understand what you’re going through; i.e., other grad students.”

To combat certain feelings of isolation, each candidate should do their best in nurturing relationships that would help them expand upon their web of support. As stated before, this support can be provided by anybody in the candidate's life, but having the emotional support and relatability from fellow doctoral candidates may equip the candidate with the right tools to feel more understood and heard regarding their personal challenges within the doctoral program. These support systems are very much possible to cultivate, as long as the candidate is willing to nurture the relationships with mutual respect and encouragement.

Are you feeling stuck in any area while writing your Dissertation? Obtaining a sense of community through those who have already gone through the rigorous process of obtaining a Ph.D. or professional doctorate and want to help you may be the right option for you. To see what the Scholars represent and what other services they provide to help, head over to their website by clicking the link below.

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Successwhat is it? For a candidate making their way through the doctoral process, success usually looks clear and precise. The candidate spends countless days and nights on end, perfecting their research. They re-analyze every meticulous detail until they are 100% sure the committee will approve of said detail, and then they do it again. While spending copious nights perfecting research time and time again, the candidate dreams of attending the hooding ceremony and finally completing their doctoral journey. This is to be expected, as after a long road of ambiguous feedback and criticisms, a ceremony where the candidate’s hard-work and dedication is celebrated only seems fitting. The journey there is not always as smooth sailing as one would hope, though.

Siddartha Khastgir(2018), research lead for Verification & Validation of Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Technologies at the University of Warwick in the UK, has described the possibility of “second-year blues.” This is thought to be the idea that candidates come into their doctoral programs eager and ready to incite change with their passionate research, but by the second year of their program, the candidate slows down and becomes less determined to succeed due to the emotional strain one experiences during the doctoral process. Siddartha stated, “At the start of the PhD, every student has the aspiration of changing the world. Students need to manage their expectations to do something really in-depth with great rigor.” He reveals that presenting work and receiving encouraging feedback can also help negate this roadblock.

But, what if what a candidate is facing in their program is more than second-year blues? What if a candidate is not just having a tough time with the work-load, but they are having a harder time accepting the realistic possibility of success itself? Although the fear of success seems like an oxymoron in itself, the concept is not all that foreign. Psychologist, Nick Wignall(2019), shared that he has worked with a number of clients who have shared experiences of having a tough time accepting success when it comes to accomplishing their goals. It is not uncommon for candidates to experience the same feelings. As human beings, we adapt and become comfortable in familiarity. Change can be scary. Avoiding such change will keep us comfortable in our same patterns, and if we let them, will become all-encompassing. In some instances, recurring patterns of self-doubt and avoidance that delay personal success will probably stay comfortable, as they bring a sense of safety and familiarity with them. But, this cycle will always directly hinder the self-growth and rewards that we deserve, and have worked for.

The fear of success can be daunting. But, it is important for the candidate to keep in mind that they are not alone, and acknowledging this fear is the first step to overcoming it. Wignall(2019) shares some insight on some ways to combat fear of success, as it most certainly can be conquered with the right tools. He shares four key values that can equip a person to deal with this roadblock in his article highlighting his understanding of the fear of success ‘validate your fear of success by understanding its origin, track your avoidance strategies related to fear of success, face your fears of success, and in some cases, get professional help from a cognitive behavioral therapist.’

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