Impostor Syndrome In Doctorates

Impostor syndrome in doctorates

The doctoral process can be one of the most motivating, but it is also true that in the vast majority of cases it is a challenge that requires effort and discipline.

Thus, there is no doubt that obtaining a doctorate is recognized as an achievement that has notable merit; However, not all people who have gone through this training and specialization program experience this as an enhancer of their self-esteem. In fact, in certain contexts the opposite may be the case. In this article I will talk about one of those situations: impostor syndrome in doctorates

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a psychological state, or set of psychological predispositions, in which the person who develops it regularly experiences the belief that it is a fraud that has not yet been discovered as such but that could be exposed.

That is to say, in the daily life of the person who has impostor syndrome, frequent discomfort appears due to feeling overwhelmed by circumstances, enjoying an authority or good social image that is pure appearance and that could crumble at any moment. , revealing that you do not have the skills or knowledge that others attribute to you.

The fear that this moment in which others will discover “the truth” about oneself as well as the idea that sooner or later you will have to face a challenge that cannot be solved by yourself, means that this psychological alteration usually goes hand in hand with anguish, anxiety, and sometimes, low self-esteem and typical symptoms of depression.

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On the other hand, we must be clear that despite its name, imposter syndrome It is not a concept belonging to the clinical world, which is why it does not appear in the diagnostic manuals of psychopathologies used in psychiatry or clinical psychology. However, as occurs with other psychological phenomena that are not diseases, such as low self-esteem or the predisposition to argue with the family, this does not mean that it is not a reason to take measures and try to manage the situation, either by one’s own means. or through professional help in a psychology consultation.

Why does imposter syndrome appear in PhDs?

These are the main reasons why imposter syndrome is relatively common in PhDs.

1. It is very specific knowledge

By their very nature, doctorates are programs in which very specific knowledge is acquired. In this sense They are distinguished from university courses and even secondary education, whose contents can “come to light” relatively frequently in everyday situations.

This mixture of trying hard at something and, at the same time, not seeing that this is clearly expressed in applied knowledge beyond the context of the doctorate, creates the illusion that this knowledge is scarce or not worth much.

2. The added value of titles

The simple fact of pursuing a doctorate is a socially desirable quality, linked to intellectual and, indirectly, economic status The fact that it is this “label” that provides the benefit of enjoying authority, and not the learning obtained in itself, makes many people perceive that others see them favorably due to factors external to them, that is, that They do not depend on their own merits.

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3. A competitive context

As I have already mentioned, the doctorate is associated with learning very specific knowledge that is not usually used on a daily basis by oneself, beyond that academic or professional context. At the same time, PhDs tend to compare themselves with other PhDs and, in general, with people with specialized studies.

This means that while maintaining the belief that oneself does not know much, there is the perception that others know a lot, given that there is a predisposition to investigate the academic knowledge of this minority of highly educated people with whom one usually compares oneself. In other words, comparisons of oneself with others become biased without the person with impostor syndrome realizing it.

4. Personality factors and low self-esteem

We must not forget the individual variables among which personality traits stand out such as the tendency towards neuroticism (that is, the propensity to react with high emotional intensity to unpleasant or discouraging experiences) or the predisposition to have a pessimistic attribution style (that is, getting used to idea that one’s achievements are due to luck, not one’s own positive characteristics).

In many ways, being a challenge that, due to the effort invested, sometimes causes psychological exhaustion, Going through a doctoral program can amplify self-esteem and negative affectivity problems that one already had before starting those studies, if professional help is not available.

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Thomas Saint Cecilia

If you are looking for professional psychological support for any aspect of your life that is becoming difficult for you, I invite you to contact me I am a psychologist who is an expert in the cognitive-behavioral intervention model and I work with both private life problems and needs related to academic and professional careers. On this page you can see my contact information.

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