Noelle had an interview for a faculty position at a prestigious university, but she was terrified every time she thought about it.
Noelle knew that getting the interview in itself was a major accomplishment, but she was filled with self-doubt and thought she wasn’t worthy of the job because:
- She made mistakes in her research while getting a PhD that set her back at least 1 year
- She started a manuscript a year earlier, but she still hadn’t finished it
- She felt like she didn’t have enough expertise for the job
Noelle was gripped by so much fear and shame, that she considered not going to the faculty job interview at all.
Noelle and her husband had been living in a long-distance relationship for almost a year, because he had a faculty position at a different university.
Three weeks before her interview Noelle learned that her husband was offered an interview at the same university where she was about to have her interview.
And all of a sudden her perspective changed.
She had to ace this interview: the future of her career and her marriage depended on it.
Noelle showed up to her interview fully confident, and 4 days after that she got the job offer – the shortest in the history of the department.
In the course of the 3 weeks, between the time she learned her husband was offered an interview at the university and her interview, Noelle couldn’t undo her mistakes, finish her manuscript, or gather more expertise.
The only thing that Noelle could change in 3 weeks was her mindset.
Instead of feeling ashamed, Noelle changed all her “shortcomings” into strengths.
She realized that overcoming the mistakes that she made as a graduate student would help her to be a better mentor for her own students.
Her unfinished manuscript was actually in preparation to be submitted to a journal soon, as she was still gathering data to strengthen her arguments.
And, she no longer felt inadequate for the position.
While Noelle didn’t have all the expertise listed in the job description, she had most of the qualifications and she also had a unique background that complemented the expertise of the current faculty members.
Most importantly, she learned that she wasn’t expected to know all the answers.
As a PhD, Noelle was trained to know how to find the answers.
While getting a PhD, Noelle learned how to be resourceful, even when she didn’t have all the resources (e.g. expertise) herself.
Prior to her interview Noelle researched the backgrounds of all the other faculty members in the department, and she knew whom to turn to if she needed support for the various aspects of her research project.
Noelle was not alone in doubting herself during her job search.
Noelle was able to change her mindset, from ashamed to confident, in just 3 weeks, by recognizing the beliefs that were holding her back from being confident.
Beliefs such as that “you are not good enough”, “you made too many mistakes,” and “you should be further along by now” will rob even the brightest students of their confidence.
Lack of confidence is one of the most common reasons that students feel stuck in grad school.
It is a downward spiral: the less motivated you are, the less progress you will make.
Once you recognize the beliefs and habits that rob you of your confidence, you can break out of this cycle and regain your confidence to finish your manuscripts, thesis, and ace your job interviews.
4 Habits that Rob You of Your Confidence While Getting a PhD
Habit #1: Beating yourself up or feeling guilty
It seems almost unavoidable to feel guilty while getting a PhD.
You are in an ultra-competitive environment, and everyone seems to (or pretends to) “have it together.”
It can feel like you are the only one who is not up to speed.
The cycle starts out innocently.
You set a goal, and you start working towards it.
But then something doesn’t go according to plan.
You get a little frustrated, and you work harder, longer.
Slowly, the ambitious plan you carefully put together starts crumbling like a house of cards.
Before you know it, you feel “of track”.
That’s when the “Cycle of Guilt and Procrastination” starts.
Why is it that the harder you try, the more you procrastinate?
When you beat yourself up or feel guilty, you are giving a subconscious message to yourself that you are not smart enough or worthy enough for a PhD.
Instead of feeling guilty about what you haven’t completed or the mistakes you have made, focus on what you have done.
Everyone makes mistakes while getting a PhD, and what sets successful people apart from others is that they find opportunities while learning from their mistakes.
The more you focus on how far you have come and how much you accomplished, the more confident you will feel, and the more motivated you will be to continue to make progress
Habit #2: Letting others mistreat you
There is silent myth that if you are a “good graduate student” things will work out.
When you are a “good graduate student” you try your hardest.
You try to please your supervisor, your colleagues, keep your head down and avoid conflict.
But conflicts can snowball, until one day the lack of communication turns a small misunderstanding into a flurry of arguments, resentments, and possibly disrespectful comments.
“What did I do wrong?” you might wonder, when someone takes their anger out on you.
We all mistakes, but remember that:
You are worthy of being treated with respect by everyone.
Your supervisor, committee members, and colleagues don’t have the right to mistreat you, or speak to you in a condescending manner.
Many times having an honest conversation with the other person will solve the problem.
Students who have the courage to speak to their supervisors openly about their challenges, will not only solve the problems, but they usually improve the relationship they have with their supervisors as well.
If your supervisor continues to be unsupportive or hostile, turn to your supervisor, a dean or department chair to resolve the problems.
Habit #3: Worrying
A “worrier” brings up images of comical character in a cartoon as they chew their fingernails over trivial things, or what they should say in a specific situation.
Most frequently they worry that they will embarrass themselves and “What will others think of me?”
But, we all worry from time to time (most of us worry more frequently than we want to admit.)
Some students feel that they need to “worry” otherwise something will go wrong.
If “worrying” made things go well, none of us would have any problems.
But worrying only creates more worry.
Worrying about the future (or past events) drains your energy.
There are an infinite number of “What-if’s” and going through them is not only a waste of time, but it will also make you feel powerless.
What is an alternative to worrying if there are so many things you need to think about?
First, think about what are the results you want to achieve: is it a particular part of your thesis you need to complete, or do you want to ace a job interview like Noelle?
Second, whom could you turn to for help, or what alternatives are there to solve your problem?
When you shift from worrying to concrete planning, you are empowering yourself and increasing your confidence.
The feeling of inner peace, when you shift from worrying to a plan of action, is unmistakeable.
When you feel like you can finally breathe, you know you are on the right track.
Habit #4: Comparing yourself to others
This is a tough habit to beat.
Ever since we were young, we were taught to look up to role models.
We learned from the lessons taught by political leaders, scientists, teachers, parents, and friends.
So, comparing yourself to others is an automatic habit.
In some collages (and even middle and high schools), students are graded on “a curve.”
Your grade depends on the performance of everyone else in your class.
If your score is close to the average of scores of all the other students, you get a B.
If it is one standard deviation above, you get an A, and one standard deviation below you get a C.
Graduate-level dissertations are not graded on a curve.
Comparing yourself to others in the process of getting a PhD is meaningless.
Everyone has a different project and career path.
Finishing first in your class doesn’t mean you’ll have the best career.
Your research will be evaluated based on its own merit, and how well you carried out the research project.
This is your journey. Be proud of it. Own it. Own all the” mistakes” you made.
Like Noelle, who realized that her “mistakes” would make her a better mentor to future graduate students, you can also turn any challenge (yes, I do mean any challenge) into a learning opportunity.
As you can see confidence has little to do with reality: it doesn’t depend on what you have what you have achieved, or how you compare to others.
Instead, confidence comes from a belief that you will figure things out along the way, even if you don’t know all the steps now.
You have control over your confidence, and it doesn’t have to do with what you have or have not achieved in the past.
Having confidence, however, does not mean that you are immune to self-doubt.
Self-doubt will always be there, no matter how successful you are.
In fact, as you advance in your career, self-doubt will pop up in the form of “Can I do this next thing?”
Recognize how many “next things” you have done already.
Each obstacle is an opportunity to remember how many obstacles you have overcome already, and how far you have come.
Don’t let any past mistakes or others’ opinion of you, come between you and your degree.
Wherever you are, whatever you have achieved, you can start building your confidence right now.
The more confident you are the more energy you will have to finish your thesis, and pursue a career you are passionate and excited about.
What is the #1 challenge that prevents you from being confident? Please share in the comments below and Dora will respond to you directly.