I thought getting a PhD in my mechanical engineering field would lead in gaining confidence in the field. However, it became other way round. I am far less confident on my skills and knowledge than I was when I started my PhD.

I am well published in my research field, I have decent theoretical knowledge about my field. However, I am not confident. I often hesitate with my answer, even though I know I am right.

I get afraid before starting a new project and technique even though I am sure that I can acquire new skillsets easily.

Self doubts is a recurring theme during all research endeavors. When I feel low confidence, I also start to regret my decisions to be in academia and pursue masters and PhD.

Does anyone else get this feeling? How to cope up? Can I find a place in academia with this issue?

  • 3
    Lots of people feel hesitant or afraid in any profession. If you feel that way and it is a problem for you, then you should discuss it with a mental health professional. Jan 25, 2021 at 4:45
  • Everything is possible. There can be who has not clue at all.
    – Alchimista
    Jan 25, 2021 at 9:50
  • are your PhD about theoretical research or experimental research?
    – kate
    Jan 25, 2021 at 12:03
  • @kate theoretical.
    – arbitgyan
    Jan 25, 2021 at 14:40
  • Confidence and competence are not the same thing. The former may be unrelated to the latter for some. In either direction, actually. I've met confident fools.
    – Buffy
    Jan 26, 2021 at 12:48

3 Answers 3


This is very possible. Many people in academia struggle with impostor syndrome and find themselves on the "I know how much I don't know" side of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

While this is common, that doesn't mean it's a good thing - it makes you miserable and so it's worth doing something about it. There are a number of things you can do:

  • Check if your university has counseling services. This is something they'll have experience with.

  • Having the occasional honest talk with your peers. It can take a big load off your shoulders to find out that other people at your level also aren't always confident. One of my professors noted that a lot of academics like being a "magician", able to conjure amazing results seemingly without effort. But most magician's tricks take lots of practice that you never see.

  • Teach or coach students at a lower level than your own, like Masters or beginning PhDs - you have a lot to share with them, and it can help ground your confidence to see just how much you do know.

  • Find colleagues you can trust to occasionally talk over your work with. They don't have to be exactly in your precise field, but close enough that they can ask critical questions. It can boost your confidence to know that you do have a backup that helps you avoid missing "the obvious".

To summarize: what you're experiencing is not unusual, it's a normal result of being smart enough to know what you don't know, but you don't have to suffer. Help is available.

  • 1
    Some very competent people continuously compare themselves with others who they judge are better than they are. This, alone, can lead to a lack of confidence.
    – Buffy
    Jan 26, 2021 at 13:28

I would advise what some others here have done, i.e. to explore what I read as a likely general lack of confidence with some professional (psychologist, psychiatrist) experienced in such issues. I think the suggestion of carry on for x more years and it will come is foolish: life is short and changes are harder the longer we postpone them.

But I would be more inclined to avoid university based psychologists or counsellors. I would advise seeing one in private practice downtown: their clientele would come from a far broader cross-section of humanity and stress situations. And your situation may well have nothing at all to do with your work environment per se.

Naturally, I would seek opinions as to which particular one I would see from trusted people. And if you see little connection grow between you and your professional then do not hesitate to seek another.


It is also possible to have a career in academia where you primarily focus on teaching and public service. Such positions would probably not be found at a top research university (unless your "public service" area is something they desperately want to get), but could be at a regional university, a 4-year college, or a community college.

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