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This year I applied to several universities in the US, and got into a top program in my field. It was great news; I was given a very nice project to work on, and accepted the offer, along with excessive impostor syndrome.

Then I went to an internship to a nice university. I asked the grads there about their plans after PhD. Most of them did not have thoughts reaching that far, as if PhD was a default. This was interesting, considering the strength of the university, and made me wonder.

My motivation to go to graduate school was something along the lines "I want to work with strong people, I like working in the lab and this field seems nice". So, the self-doubt creeped in. I don't think I'm the worst candidate; I guess I am just scared of committing 6 years of my life, because with the job market I am not sure I want to be a professor and would rather work in industry.

My questions are: 1) Is it normal that I have self-doubts before even starting my PhD program? 2) Is it often for students to defer admission and take a year off to think the decision over? It's late, but it is better than going there half-hearted?

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Yes, it is normal to have self-doubts and imposter syndrome is pretty common. However, the external validation you are getting seems to indicate that your fears are unwarranted. When other professionals and "strong" people consider you a top candidate it is pretty likely that you you are, no matter your doubts.

However, burnout is a serious problem for some, and finishing one degree with a flourish may leave many exhausted. You should work to avoid this, partly just by thinking of the new program as a fresh environment, but also, by pacing yourself just a little so that you don't overcommit too early.

Don't worry about job markets six years in advance. It is nearly assured that they won't be the same as now. They may be better or worse, but it is not possible to predict so long in advance. You also have the intervening period to work toward your goals and even to adjust them. Aiming to work in academia or industry, again, need not be a decision that you can't revisit over time.

You seem to have an opportunity. Better to grasp it, IMO, than to let it pass you by, possibly leaving you regrets in the future.

I don't advise taking a year off for the reasons you state. If you want to do so to get industry experience or solve a burn-out issue that might be good, but don't just let doubt keep you back. Others believe in you. Believe in yourself. That is doubly true if the position you are now offered won't assuredly be available in a year.

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    +1 for "Don't worry about job markets six years in advance". I'd give another +1 for "Others believe in you. Believe in yourself". – user68958 Jun 27 '18 at 17:43
  • Thanks. I guess I have no idea what I am doing, and apparently most of grads have it the same. It doesn't sit well with me, though. – Mr. Student Jul 2 '18 at 12:47
  • @Mr.Student, Just work hard. Change the things you can. Work also to keep stress low. – Buffy Jul 2 '18 at 12:52

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