"Oh dear, everybody will realise that I am not an expert!" The central point of the impostor syndrome is that you believe that you are nothing but a fraud. Those affected are sceptical about themselves and their abilities. They believe that they will not be able to fulfil their professional role and that one day people will find out about their „incompetence“. They do not link their success and their achievements to their abilities but relate them to external factors or fortunate coincidence. Doctoral candidates sometimes also doubt that they are capable of what they achieve and think that the world around them will soon realise that they do not belong to academia anyway.
How can you counteract impostor syndrome? The academic world is a place that nurtures the impostor syndrome. Researchers are under constant pressure of critique regarding their academic standing, be it at conferences, in working group meetings or in peer-review processes. An academic culture in which colleagues rigorously scan texts in search of inconsistencies – mainly to make a name for themselves - is likely to intensify the fear of failure. Doctoral candidates are furthermore in a phase in their academic career that is marked by informal grading and in the end by a formal evaluation.
In addition, one feature of the German academic system still is that the majority of the professors are white, middle class and male. That means that doctoral candidates of different backgrounds can easily feel alienated if they do not conform. They might feel they are “not good enough” since they do not comply with the academic environment.
All of these aspects may enhance a feeling of inferiority. However, becoming aware of these pitfalls and talking about them will be the first step in order to say “YES, I am in the right place here at the University. I am a true researcher.”