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Beating Impostor Syndrome (Or At Least Dealing With It): One Grad Student’s Experience

It’s my very first week of grad school. I’m sitting in the Rackham Auditorium for one of a seemingly endless series of orientation talks and wondering how I got here. Two years prior to moving to Ann Arbor to start my Ph.D. I was answering questions about what I would do after college with “I don’t know what I am going to do, but I’m not going to grad school.” And yet - only a few months after obtaining my undergraduate degree, I find myself sitting in a room full of fellow incoming grad students. It’s in this setting that I hear the words for the first time: impostor syndrome. I’ve never put this name to it before, but the description sounds familiar.

The views expressed in this post are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Rackham Graduate School or the University of Michigan.

Open Letter to a New Grad Student

Dear New Grad Student,

Sorry I didn’t catch your name. We met a few months ago at a poster session during an internal symposium. Though my work is significantly outside your field, you showed an unfettered interest in my project. It didn’t surprise me when I asked if you were a grad student and you answered, “Uh… yeah, I guess” and informed me that you had graduated mere weeks prior to our conversation. I couldn’t help but smile as I remembered times when I too was a sponge for knowledge.

Do your best to hold on to that unbridled enthusiasm for as long as you can. Grad school will steal it from you if you let it. But grad school can also feed it.

Unusual Advice: Take a Class Outside Your Field

As a third-year Ph.D. student, having finished all of my required courses and much to the confusion of many of my friends and colleagues, I decided to take an additional class during a semester when I already had little time to spare. While there were times that my schedule regretted it because of my love-hate relationship with over-commitment, I found this experience of my graduate career to be one that I would not trade.

Here are some of the reasons why I stand by my decision and encourage you to consider doing the same: