I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with my uni email. I tried signing in again. Maybe third time lucky?
No luck. I’m sure I got my password right. And my username is what they sent me in that email as well. Let’s try again.
Nope. Still not working….Maybe it’s because I’m a new student and it takes a little while to get everything going. I’ll try again in a couple of days.
Nope, I still can’t sign in! I might need to ask for some help with this.
It only took me a week or so to figure out that my problem was not my password, or username, or a slow university still processing my registration properly, but that I kept attempting to sign in to the ‘Students’ portal, and not the ‘Staff and postgraduate researchers’ button right next to it (and perhaps a lack of reading).
In my mind there was no way which I could be associated with a staff position, and so I was automatically still classifying myself as the student which I have been for the past 17 years. This is what I will be mainly discussing in this second PhDiaries post; about the wonderful feeling of intruder’s syndrome and my experience so far.
I have just finished my third week as a PhD student. The first couple of weeks were a whirlwind of meeting people, having people talk at you about what it means to be doing a PhD and having a mountain of forms and information booklets thrown at you. It was thrilling, exciting, nerve-wracking and overwhelming. But ultimately it was fantastic to finally meet people in the same position as me; people who will be sharing the same training courses, and people who will be going through the whole roller-coaster PhD experience alongside me (albeit in a different subject or department).
I’ve had some of the most exciting meetings with my supervisors, and this is the biggest difference which I’ve felt between an undergraduate degree and being a PhD student: people actually listen to you. When I’m in a meeting with my supervisors, we are having a true discussion about the project, and my input is considered as valid. What’s even more thrilling is the constant reminder that ‘this is your project’; and it’s true, this is my own PhD, and it is my responsibility to keep on track, and get it done. This is what makes me feel empowered and inspired every time I leave those supervisory meetings.
I have to admit that in the beginning I felt intimidated (and felt severe intruder’s syndrome) with everyone; from the professors and lecturers that I have met so far, to even other PhD students. It might not be the same reason for everyone else starting a PhD and feeling the same, but what causes my intruder’s syndrome is that I feel a lot of respect for researchers and professors (in general people who I consider senior to myself), as well as other PhD students that are further down the line with their projects. I’ve been used to my position in the hierarchy as an undergraduate student, and as I personally haven’t changed much in half a year, I feel like an intruder when I’m considered, or placed, at the level of a PhD student. Perhaps it’s also because I need to build a trust in my own abilities; as you can feel very small and clueless when you compare yourself to others at this stage.
While there is still a little evil voice in my head that laughs every time I swipe myself into the postgraduate researcher area of the Geography department (because, it’s ridiculous that they gave me access, right?), and I’m still nervous to venture into the staff/research student tea room by myself (I still have that one to overcome…maybe that’s a task for this week), the feeling of being an outsider does begin to fade.
It fades every time I talk to someone. Every time I need to explain my research, and I realise that I can actually already have a relatively sound discussion about what I’m doing. Talking to other PhD students makes you really feel part of a community and makes you feel less alone in this new world you’ve landed yourself in. Talking to professors and lecturers in my department makes me realise that they’re just normal people too, and we have at least one thing in common; the passion for our topics and our research.
Before I knew it, I started to feel that, instead of standing small and alone in the midst of people who are smarter, more experienced and senior to me; I found myself standing with a group of newly-gained supporters behind me, all happy to give me advice. The way to get to this point is to actively join the university and department community: basically, talk to people and be social with your new colleagues.
It’s still a work in progress, but I feel more confident with every day that passes! Now to just make a cup of tea for myself in the tea room…
See PART 1 PhDiaries: The First Post