‘Baby academic’ – Imposter syndrome and getting started!

It’s been a while since I posted anything in this blog, but now that the PhD has officially begun I feel like I should get into it properly! This week was the first full week of being a PhD student (or a ‘baby academic’ as I’ve been thinking of it!) It was a pretty busy week for the first one – College of Arts induction on Tuesday, first meeting with my supervisor on Wednesday, the SGSAH induction on Thursday and the Hufton PG workshop (at which I was presenting!) on Friday. Talk about throwing yourself in at the deep end!

One of the major threads running through how I’ve felt about this week is ‘imposter syndrome’. It kept coming up on Thursday – talking to other students from across Scotland who have also received AHRC funding, we all seemed to feel a bit shocked we’d made it this far. That feeling of ‘someone will realise we’re bluffing at some point’, of ‘how long can we get away with pretending to be clever enough to do a PhD?’ seemed to be shared by almost everyone I spoke to. It even came up in the networking training as one of the reasons networking is such a terrifying concept – speaking to senior academics or experts in our field is something we’re all going to end up doing at some point, but right now it’s definitely a scary idea!

Somehow it was reassuring that so many people had the same fears and anxieties as we set off on our ‘research journeys’ this month. I’ll be interested to see if in three years time I feel the same – somehow, I suspect that feeling never really goes away! Despite seeing the commercialisation of higher education and how that impacts negatively on academic staff, I still have a very romanticised view of the academy – I can’t believe my luck in being paid to be a student. After spending months being warned about how competitive funding is, and how hard it is to ‘make it’ in academia (conversations that I’m sure will repeat themselves when it’s time to apply for post-docs!) it’s very easy to think that it’s entirely by luck, and it’s just some kind of fluke when you end up getting awarded funding!

One of the great things about having been funded by the SGSAH is the opportunities it will provide to meet, talk with, support and collaborate with other doctoral researchers from across Scotland. I was warned about how isolating the PhD can be and it was one of my major worries before this week. I naturally tend towards introversion, and living alone, if I’m not careful I can easily go far too long without human contact! Being part of the SGSAH, and joining various groups within Glasgow (both academic and non-academic) should help a lot with that! I’m particularly excited by the idea of collaborating with people outside of my own university and my own discipline.

There were more feelings of imposter syndrome when I turned up at the Hufton PG Workshop, to present a paper based on my MLitt dissertation. I was talking about enclosure and social change in the seventh century, and its impact on the role and position of the Merovingian abbess. I felt very unprepared – public speaking is definitely something which I want to improve on. In the end, my paper went really well! I think if I’d had longer to work on it and to practice I could have done better, but for the first paper of my PhD, I’m happy, and I had some lovely comments afterwards and very engaged questions!

I think that ‘imposter syndrome’ probably never goes away, but I’ve been accepted to do a PhD and given funding because someone thinks I’m good enough to do it! Focusing on that,  and on how much I genuinely love researching my topic, and then talking or writing about it, is what I need to do. Luck is a huge part of how we all get to where we are, and privilege plays a big part too – more on that in a later post, perhaps – but I’m so excited to get stuck into the PhD and develop my skills as an academic historian!

On the agenda for this coming week: SRC elections (in which I’m standing for PG Arts convenor), a seminar on writing historical fiction and fictional history with the Centre for Gender History and the induction for History PGRs! 

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