Exam Deflation & Imposter Syndrome

I took my prelim over the Thanksgiving break. Monday – Saturday. 6 days, 5 questions. 144 hours of anxiety-ridden hell. When an experience like that is over many people who haven’t experienced such a process before would expect one to feel elated and happy. Instead typically people tend to feel deflated.


I was warned by my advisor this would happen after my dissertation defense for my PhD, but NO ONE warned me about this for my Master’s defense and my prelims. Apparently, this whole post-::insert major event name here:: stress/depression thing is actually real and experienced by many people. Especially those who are work and project driven, which many folks who have chosen to go into higher education are. After completing the written portion of my prelim I was struck with these feelings of imposter syndrome and just flat out self doubt. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, impostor syndrome is the feeling of being an intellectual phony. It is characterized by feeling unable to take credit for accomplishments, academic excellence, and recognition, as well as dismissing success as simply luck, good timing, or perseverance.

Its tough to have to give yourself a pep-talk every day to get through your PhD. I have to remind myself constantly my committee members who prepared some very insightful questions have tens of years of experience under their belts where as I am a novice expert. I chose to work with these people because I felt they would help me to become a better researcher and because I valued their opinions. They would not have agreed to work with me if they didn’t think I was capable of succeeding. They will not be malevolent, but they will challenge me.

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