Writing 101: Day 3 – Impostor Syndrome and Uncertainty

I had several posts in mind for today: a short post on Statistical Uncertainty for today’s ‘Writing 101’ single word prompt challenge, a discussion about Imposter Syndrome inspired by this week’s #survivephd15, and maybe a piece on thesis writing inspired by a conversation with a colleague.

Well, that’s not going to happen, it’s late, the Bake-off’s on and work and dishes are stacking up around my ears.  So, in the spirit of today’s word prompt, ‘Uncertainty’, I’m going to wing it.

The first year of my DPhil can be described in two words:  ‘Impostor Syndrome’.  For those unfamiliar with the term Impostor Syndrome describes an inability to internalise accomplishments, the feeling that you’re a fraud, and the fear that one day soon the fraud police are going to find you.  Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Neil Gaiman and scores and scores of graduate students have all spoken about feeling this.

I’ve never been one to walk the path well trodden, but starting a doctorate in a completely unfamiliar subject at a time when I wasn’t exactly mentally or physically healthy wasn’t one of my brightest ideas.  I turned up for day 1 terrified and twitching and didn’t stop for the next 10 months.

The world was full of perfect colleagues and the stories of massive unforeseen consequences of grad student incompetence (oh god I thought…was I incompetent?); and innumerable other fantasy horrors, which, given that I have insomnia, ran round my head 20 hours a day…over and over and over.  I wasn’t certain that this feeling would ever stop, I wasn’t entirely certain I should stay, I loved my job but someone as shit as me was surely a waste of funding right?

Except, one day, things clicked.

My course started with rotations, short 3 month projects in different labs.  I loved these projects, the work from my first rotation ended up in my PI’s latest paper and I found the work in my second rotation eye-opening and exciting.  This didn’t however make the impostor feeling go away, and when these rotations ended I hit the wall.  For the first time in my academic career I didn’t know what to do for the next step, I was too far down in the mind pit to fall in love with ‘the next thing’ and in unfamiliar territory I was convinced all my ideas were stupid and not worth pursuing.  I chose to start with things that I thought might be useful, I didn’t want to turn up to work, I didn’t want other people to see me and I especially didn’t want them to see me struggling.

And then one day I started talking to my colleagues, we talked about papers, about exciting ideas, about what they were working on and, what they weren’t.  I found a niche, I fell in love with it, I started working more effectively and, at some point, I’d become more certain I was doing the right thing, without realising.

Everyone tells you that to pursue a PhD you have to be dedicated to your thesis topic.  I think what’s less apparent is the different paths people take to get to that point.  It might seem like your colleagues’ dedication to ‘The Habitat of the Adelie Penguin’ or ‘Dietary Habits of Doctoral Candidates’ arose by magic sometime around the age 5, but the truth is probably more complex and more coincidental than that.

The only thing I’m certain of, is that the uncertainty will be back, Impostor Syndrome sticks, but at least next time I might be more prepared.

Two excellent videos on this subject:

Neil Gaiman: Make Good Art:

Sally Le Page: We Need to Talk About Impostor Syndrome:


Academic FOMO?

The Thesis Whisperer

This post is by Amy Loughman, a final year Masters and PhD candidate at The University of Melbourne. Before settling into PhD life, Amy dabbled in learning French, Japanese and Swedish, public health research, and development work in Vietnam. She is also passionate about knowledge-sharing between disciplines and zooming out to see the bigger picture. I was very amused when Amy sent me this post because I certainly recognised myself in it – do you?

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 9.09.22 pmAs many of us have experienced first hand, there are varied and numerous causes of pleasure, stress and distress of doing a PhD. There is one that I haven’t read about yet, and which for me, takes the cake. It’s academic FOMO. The fear of missing out on the myriad of extraordinary opportunities for learning, challenge, publication and general scholarship during a PhD.

Academic FOMO It is brewed within a perfect storm of…

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Writing 101 Day 2: Write a List

I was surprised by today’s Writing 101 task, I hadn’t really thought of using a list as a starting point for a blog, but it’s an excellent idea.  The Task asks us to write a list based on one of the following areas:

  • Things I Like
  • Things I’ve Learned
  • Things I Wish

So I’ve decided to do a short list of my favorite books published so far in 2015, with a view to doing a much more thorough round up at the end of the year.

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Writing 101 Day 1: I write because…

Hi everyone,

I’m really excited to be participating in a number of courses this month.  Those of you who follow me on twitter will probably already know about the wonderful #survivephd15 (if you’re a PhD student and not already participating I’d check out ‘How to Survive your PhD’ on edx.org, I’m really enjoying it!)  I’m also making a second attempt at Blogging101.

This post however is dedicated to Blogging101’s sister course: Writing101, which is also being run by WordPress Blogging U.  The aim is to write a post every day for 4 weeks, based on a Writing101 prompt.

Today’s prompt is ‘I write because…’ and I’ve been thinking about my answer during the day.

I remember a book in my sixth-form school library called ‘Scientists Must Write’, I was an art student at the time and not much of a writer, so naturally I didn’t read it.  Fast forward to today and this has really come back to haunt me.

It’s not that I can’t write, I write pages and pages every day at work.  I’ve gone through so many notebooks/lab-books the guys in the supply room are starting to give me strange looks.  But when it comes to essays, presentations, papers, or even writing science-themed blog posts, the anxiety starts to creep in, I start to care too much about getting it right.  My spelling is atrocious and I can’t do grammar, my sixteenth revision isn’t fit for human eyes…etc etc.  If I had it my way, no piece of writing on any subject I found important would ever be viewed by another human being, ever.

So I’d like to make writing a habit, something I can do in a reasonable amount of time, without getting too anxious.

I’m also looking to add something enjoyable to my daily routine.  A daily writing challenge fits the bill perfectly.

I write because…”Scientists Must Write” and I’m looking forward to reading everyone else’s posts over the next few weeks (:


P.s They’re still selling the book on amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Scientists-Must-Write-Engineers-Routledge/dp/0415269962 I wonder if it’s any good?

Autumn at the pools


When in doubt, head for water.

Its definitely autumn here in the UK, which means off with the sandals and on with the boots.  This change in footwear had an unintended consequence: the renewed freedom to trudge through less-than-perfect terrain, which lead to the discovery of these beautiful pools.

Review: Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having never read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, I decided, upon the release of ‘Go Set a Watchman’ to read both books this year.

Watchman was the first book written by Lee, it was deemed unsuitable for publication, but certain flashback scenes appealed to Lee’s editor and were expanded and re-written to become the much loved book ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

I thought it might be interesting to read the novels in the order that they were written, rather than publication order, so began with Watchman. Watchman has not been changed or edited since Lee first wrote it and so provides an interesting insight into Lee’s original thoughts and plans for her novel.

I have to say that I enjoyed it. Taken at face value, it’s a book about social change and the toppling of idols, seen through the thoughts and emotions of a young woman.

Many people say that not a lot happens in this book and that’s true. But I found it to be an interesting vessel for some of Lee’s character pieces.
On the novel’s nasty side…where the flaws of every character are laid bare, we see the holding of, and effects of individual and group prejudices and the negative impact they have on a community, a country and the people that live within it. On the brighter side we see a vignette of a specific time and place, the affection of family and childhood memories.

I think I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time and I’m looking forward to reading Mockingbird and seeing how Lee’s ideas improved and matured in her greater work.

View all my reviews

Blogging 101 – Day 1: Introduce yourself!


My name is Jen, and if you’re following this, or any of my previous blogs, I think it will have become very apparent that I’m an awful blogger.

You’d think that anyone attached permanently, as I am, to their mobile phone would find the allure of blogging irresistible.  But time and again I find myself with a head that’s full of thoughts and a blog that’s intimidatingly empty.

This is why I’ve signed up to Blogging U, a site that assigns daily tasks to those new to blogging.  I’m several days (weeks?) behind with my tasks but I’m looking forward to completing them at my own slow pace.

As for my interests: I’m a physicist doing a PhD in bioinformatics, I grew up on a small island but currently live in the UK, I love tea & books and, now separated from the sea, I’ve taken to rambling through the countryside.  I’d like my blog to reflect a little bit of all of these (:

Looking forward to reading posts from other science folk, book fans and Blogging U participants.

I hope you enjoy my blog!

The site for blogging U and their Blogging 101 tasks can be found below: