Recipe for imposter syndrome cure

If you are in academia, you have probably been acquainted with imposter syndrome. Maybe you are on a first-name basis or hopefully you have just been introduced in passing. He and I seem to be old buddies, and as such we engage in endless conversations over coffee or during my sleepless nights. However, sometimes even old friends are not so helpful and not welcomed in your life.

Author: David Whittaker

If now is such a time in your life, I have a little recipe to keep your buddy away.

recipeStep 1. Make a list of your friends from high school.

Step 2. Find one that you knew well, but did not speak to in past few years and who is defending his/her PhD thesis soon.brain_cake

Step 3. Be a good friend, hop on a bus, train or a plane and go to the defense.

Step 4. Listen and watch in AWE and be proud of your friend.

Step 5. Wave goodbye to your buddy Imposter syndrome, until they return again, when you might need to repeat the steps above.

If you are a good scientists, you probably want to know the details of the procedure and its mechanics. Why would this work? Well, let me explain. Few weekends ago, I have executed the steps above because my high school roommate, with whom I reunited this summer at our ten year reunion, has invited me to witness her PhD defense.

If you live in Sweden, you do not need many excuses to take a trip to Southern France during late October. So I did not hesitate and booked my tickets. So one late Friday afternoon, there I was, sitting in the audience and watching my friend, who took the lowest level of math in highschool, explain away equations and present results from complex statistical models. I know nothing of her topic (influence of brain oscillations on the visual perception), but I am quite sure ten years back she knew as little as I know now. We sat together in philosophy and art classes, but she never took biology. Yet now, she knows a lot about the human brain, its physiology and function.


While watching her speak, I could for a second see myself from the outside. The little everyday puzzle pieces of knowledge, that I have struggled to acquire, all the disparate information I have collected, internalized and no longer view as ”progress”, ”learning” or significant suddenly seemed more impressive. Because I knew that for the past ten years, my friend has been through the same process. Witnessing how she arranged her puzzle pieces into an impressive painting  she was now hanging in the academic gallery I waved my good buddy imposter syndrome goodbye. I am sure it is not forever. Because good friends return. And if I am completely honest, I am not sure if I want my buddy to be gone forever. Sometimes old friends help you find a perspective and keep you honest with yourself.

PS: Congratulations again Saskia! And no defense is complete without a proper themed (brain) cake 🙂

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