academia, academics, career change, coaching topics, DIY coaching, Imposter syndrome, Purpose, Self-reflection

Imposter syndrome and research

“Did you know that you have more citations in the 2 years since you left academia than in the previous 5 years?”

My thoughts went:

1. “wait what?” (it’s true according to Google Scholar)

2. “well that’s because I was working with some fantastic people in the last couple of years on some very relevant topics and they have carried on and completed those publications which are now being utilised as we had hoped” (also true, but see below)

3. “we were on the right track, maybe I should have stayed?” (see the end!)

This was in the context of a conversation with one of my best friends about imposter syndrome and how for academics it often gets triggered by research activities, and much more rarely by teaching.

Contrary to popular belief, imposter syndrome fixed on a certain trigger doesn’t end when you leave the role you were doing – for me it’s still there even though I am no longer an active researcher in that way. You can see it right there in thought 2. Not that thought 2 isn’t true, it definitely is, but it removes my role entirely. Which isn’t fair to myself. I can also see parallels with moments I get in my diversity and inclusion work here I wonder whether my expertise is actually useful (spoiler alert, it is) – this is more about me forgetting that there are still A LOT of places that don’t even have the basics right yet – but I can see how it could easily take on a more “imposter” style message.

Fortunately my friend is good at getting me out of imposter messes (I’m great at it with my coachees but it’s harder to do on yourself) and reminded me to look for the evidence that contradicts. This experience shows that some of that evidence may take a while to show itself, particularly in the context of research, but whilst you wait for the metrics to climb there will be things like people wanting to work with you, invitations to be involved in projects, review papers and proposals and give talks. I find it most convincing if I write it down (perhaps due to my bias to learn by reading myself out of challenges!) but whatever works for you is what matters.


(In case you are wondering about thought 3. I shouldn’t have stayed. I was ready to be done with my direct involvement in that work and to get out of the way of people who could take it to the next level. I love that I get to serve my long term “purpose” of being a good ancestor in different ways (swapping climate change research for equity and inclusion work). But I can’t say it isn’t nice to see the “memory” of me retained in my old field.

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