Tuesday, 28 August 2012

On a personal note... the voice in my head

There’s a little voice that sometimes creeps into the back of my head. It’s the anti-academic-career voice. Perhaps it’s common to lots of people embarking on research careers, or maybe it’s just me.

Either way, I thought I’d share with you all some of the things that niggling little voice says to me and how I battle with these thoughts every day.

Most days the voice says: “Why do you spend every day feeling like you’re getting nowhere?” which then resorts to “Why are you struggling with this career?”

On a bad day when things aren’t going well it sometimes creeps up and whispers You’re so dumb, everyone else around you thinks so and thinks your research is rubbish and they could do it in about a week if they tried.”

Which leaves me having the occasional breakdown and my partner having to pick up the pieces and pep me up and tell me that I am interested, I do want to do this research, I will get there, eventually…

I sometimes come across articles about women in science, about the leaky pipeline of academia, about ‘impostor syndrome’, and about how no-one really knows why some women leave science.

Some of these articles are really uplifting… but it only makes a momentary difference. Then the voice in my head says “You don’t have impostor syndrome, you really are an impostor, there’s a difference!

Why don’t you quit and do something else, something easy…"

You’re smart, you could make loads of money doing just about anything else… Why not have a look online for a different job?

You want to have children, your partner earns a decent salary, your career will probably falter when you have kids so why bother waiting until it all crumbles, why not just give up now? You’ve done well. You can pat yourself on the back. If you time it right people might just think it’s because you had kids and chose a different path…

I know why they leave. It’s the voice in the back of their heads. I battle with it every day.


  1. Thanks for being brave enough to share, Suz. I think one tenet ingrained into academia is that you have to be the smartest, the fastest, the most clever, the best, though that's not really the case for practising researchers.

    I think when most people are feeling impostery, it's really when we forget that you can't be all those things all the time, nor does one even have to be any of the time to have a successful career in research.

    1. You're so right - we set incredibly high standards for ourselves. We also set the standard of breaking the stereotype and not leaving academia, which only adds to the pressure! In the long run, most of us just need to give ourselves a break sometimes and accept that progress can be slow.

  2. Ugh, I feel this way, but I'm adjuncting and don't even have a "real job" I could leave if I wanted. And yet mine is the primary income for our family, and we already have 3 kids. The people around me seem to have it together, and can be very encouraging, but the voice in my head says: "well of course they'll tell you not to worry- they made it! But what about all the other candidates that year?"