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  • Writer's pictureclairevharley

Impostor Syndrome and Writing

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

I had been thinking about starting this blog for about three weeks before I mentioned it to my husband. It was another fortnight before I dared tweet that I was thinking about it and sought help from colleagues. Why would anyone want to read what I have to say? What on earth could I contribute?

The answer to those questions are ‘probably only a few people’ and ‘my doctoral research’. To start an EdD is to claim that you have something to say, that there are further questions to which your research can provide answers. This is the biggest difference between studying for your MA and starting your doctorate. I use this quote a lot, but I was once told that your master’s is as if you are listening to educationalists debating at a dinner party. Your role is to record the debate and provide a summary of the arguments - your doctorate is when you take a seat at the table.

So here I am, pulling up a chair and it’s terrifying! I knew that this transition to doctoral writing would be difficult, but the personal struggle is very difficult to prepare for. Our supervisors gave us the opportunity to hand in a draft of our first assignments and despite a horrible case of flu over the Christmas holidays, I managed to hand this in on time. My feedback was overall positive and I did not have too much to change. The main feedback I received was that I needed to outline my aims and contribution to knowledge more clearly at the beginning of my essay as well as during my conclusion.

At first, I thought that this would be an easy change, but I struggled with this more than I realised I would. Who was I to comment on the debates held between two of the titans of educational research? The answer of course, is a doctoral candidate. So, I put on my big girl pants and got to it. It all worked out and although my final assignment still identified I have a way to go with this, there was some improvement. If you have not written your first assignment/chapter yet, perhaps this will help you going forward. I am also writing this list so that I can look back at it when it comes to writing up my methodology in the summer!

  1. Just because writing assertively makes you feel uncomfortable, does not mean that it is not good; be prepared to feel uncomfortable whilst you are writing. Just be sure that you agree with what you are saying and can provide evidence to support your views

  2. Make sure that you only write when motivation strikes, forcing it impacts your well-being and usually leads to a lot of rewrites later. The right playlist can help with this!

  3. Leave it alone. When you are too close to your writing, you will not be able to see the errors and correct them. A little space (perhaps a week between writing and redrafting) can work wonders. This does mean, however, that you must plan that week into your writing schedule

  4. Kindness is key – make sure that you talk through your writing pangs with someone on your team. Having a critical friend, perhaps a fellow doctorate candidate with whom you can talk through your work is invaluable.

I have heard from people further down the academic road that self-doubt and imposter syndrome are going to be permanent companions going forward! Since these feeling are inevitable, I am going to harness them. Instead of seeing them as a negative thing, I will see them as an opportunity to improve the arguments I am making. Being self-critical is good preparation for questions at conferences and finally the viva. In any case, surely, it’s when we stop doubting the validity of our arguments that we have something to worry about…

Happy writing!


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