Eight years ago I graduated from my PhD in Neurobiology from The University of Warwick. I remember my interview like it was yesterday, a tour of the lab and the university grounds, meeting the current PhD students and professors who I could potentially be working alongside. A few days later after my interview I received the surprising email that I had been offered the position. The feeling of dread washed over me in realisation that perhaps the university had made a mistake – surely they couldn’t have picked me?
Those nagging feelings of self-doubt never really left me throughout my entire time there. There were some periods when I was able to turn the volume down on these thoughts, however my head was always heavy with thoughts that I was a fake, an imposter, simply playing a role that really wasn’t meant to be mine.
I will openly admit that my PhD is one of the hardest and mentally challenging things that I have ever done. On a daily basis I was surrounded by these super intelligent beings that I was and remain in awe of. I was a fish out of water, but I knew that it was entirely up to me to either sink or swim.
For most part, my self-esteem was in tatters and every day I was questioning whether I should be there or not. I never wanted to let on that I was struggling, so I tried to stay under the radar as much as possible. I never asked questions during our regular lab meetings in fear of looking stupid.
It wasn’t until my driving test came up and my post-doc encourage me, “Jemma if you can do electrophysiology you can pass your driving test” that something clicked. I wasn’t just playing around in the lab, I was conducting a research project that would add to the scientific literature, using highly intricate techniques and reading intellectual research papers just like my fellow peers. Perhaps I hadn’t given myself enough credit that I’d deserved all because I was afraid of failing or being found out.
I’m a perfectionist by nature and it’s a mental struggle if I make a mistake and it can be hard to take on board. Looking back I would tell my younger self that it’s OK to make mistakes, it doesn’t mean that you’re not talented or unable to do the job. It just means that you’re human, like everyone else. Moreover, your worth isn’t measured by achievements; always remember to be kind to yourself, because you’re doing the best you can and that’s all that matters.
Despite it all, I graduated in July 2014 and achieved what I thought was impossible. Somehow I overcame it all, persevered, dealt with my imposter syndrome and came through the other side with a wealth of knowledge about my research topic as well as about myself. I didn’t sink after all.