“What on earth am I doing here? I don’t understand a word of what they are saying.” The thoughts hammered in my head as I looked around the room. Everyone looked younger and smarter than me.
I chose my seat well – the one in the corner, close to the exit, at the back of the room. My confidence was as high as my toenails – and I had forgotten to paint them.
The speakers spoke without notes. I heard them talk of the wonderful opportunities in the department, the encouragement to discuss ideas and to be part of an academic community.
I sat with my arms folded trying to follow them. My head throbbed. I must have made a mistake. My wonderful research idea seemed rather silly now as I could not follow the speakers’ words.
“Why on earth did I want to go back to school at mid-life?” Other things were an easier way out of my mid-life crisis – skydiving; anonymous sex, lots of it; volunteering at the dog shelter. But I had tried none of those. Instead I chose to study for a PhD.
Professor this and professor that gave speeches. I recognized some of the names – they wrote the articles and books that I read and cited in my application. I never expected to meet them in the flesh. My confidence toppled to the floor – I could not think of a single question to ask them.
One professor asked about my thesis. She stopped me half way through saying she remembered the application and was glad to see that I had made it through. I thanked her, she was just being kind I thought.
The other students tried to reassure me that I was in the right place and would soon pick up the lingo. It seemed easier to learn Sanskrit, Ancient Greek or Cree. I slunk out of the room.
The imposter syndrome is quite common among first year PhD students, I later learned. We are used to being seen as egg-heads, geeks or nerds, but now we feel like fakes – seemingly smart on the outside, but stupid inside.