Many graduate students were among the top students in their undergraduate programs, so competition in graduate school is fiercer than it was in undergraduate school. A very common reaction for many students as they begin their graduate programs is to believe that there was some kind of mistake and that they are not nearly good enough to be in the program with all the other high-achievers. This is referred to as the imposter syndrome in which people falsely believe that they were mistakenly chosen for something and that someone will eventually find out that there has been a mistake. Again, these thoughts and feelings are very common, but they can be problematic and can cause distress.
As a graduate student, you should always remember that you have earned a spot in your program, and you should be confident in your abilities. If you happen to find yourself falling victim to the imposter syndrome, you can do a few things to reassure yourself of your abilities. First, remember our thoughts are not necessarily true. Just because we think that we don’t deserve to be in a program does not mean that we don’t deserve to be in a program. For example, think “I am a millionaire.” You probably did not just become a millionaire just because you thought “I am a millionaire,” so remember that thoughts are just thoughts.
Another way to increase your confidence is to review some of the many achievements that you have no doubt accomplished. When people feel a lack of confidence, they naturally focus on all their weaknesses that they must improve. Thinking about all of one’s flaws typically does not do much for increasing one’s self-esteem, so don’t let yourself get stuck in this cycle of negativity. Instead, you should focus on your accomplishments and on things you do well. Reading letters of recommendation can be a good way to hear someone else’s positive perceptions and experiences of you.
Lastly, if you are feeling as though your confidence is lacking, you could try to let go of some of your perfectionistic tendencies, which run rampant among graduate students. Remember, you are at graduate school to learn more and to grow as a professional. Growth takes time and is a developing process.