I had a wonderful experience on my PhD study which was an AHRC funded PhD at an elite university in the UK. I loved my topic and the whole world of academia. I was extremely ambitious and threw myself into everything I could as well as my thesis, publishing journal articles,editing books, organising large conferences etc as well as working on my thesis. It was qualitative research in social sciences and a topic very close to my heart. MY working practices were somewhat unusual (very unmethodical and quite disorganised and chaotic) but somehow the final produce was deemed to be excellent. Sometimes I wouldn't work for weeks very much, and then write thousands of words in a day. I would often take notes and then not go back to them, they were on my computer somewhere but I would sit down to wrote a chapter and then just kind of remember which texts to go back to and use them (so I had kind of internalised the information I suppose). I analysed the transcripts but very inductively - reading over and over to grasp the main themes and then focusing on them.

During the PhD process I was dealing with a number of difficult personal issues and there were a number of difficult issues with other academics (one was with a difficult editor, one another academic betrayed my trust and abused her power), although my relationship with my supervisor was excellent.

I submitted my thesis and had a huge mental breakdown - horrific that devastated my entire life. brought up lots of personal issues I never even knew I was struggling so much with. I eventually passed my PhD with no corrections at the viva. However, I have this terrible belief that I did something wrong in my thesis and 'cheated' somehow, that I didn't do it properly. It feels beyond the usual imposter syndrome which I am sure I did have.

I have just secured an post-doc but it is hard to go back to my work when I believe there is something wrong in there. That I cut corners, or didn't analyse the data right or something. The university are adamant there is nothing wrong with my work.

Because my working practices were so strange and a lot was held in my head and worked on in my head it is hard to retrace my steps to 'check' everything.

Has anybody else ever experienced believing you did something wrong somehow and don't deserve your qualification?

  • When you say "it is hard to go back to my work," do you mean you are going to revisit your PhD work and develop it or make it into a book? Or do you mean it is hard to go back to research work in general
    – gib
    Apr 3, 2022 at 9:04
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    It sounds like you are like to be in control, and stress out about every little detail. The upside is that you produce nice and polished work. The downside: you feel that there are some i's and t's that have not been dotted/crossed. Maybe you should see someone to give you the tools to overcome this compulsive behavior.
    – VitaminE
    Apr 3, 2022 at 9:21
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    See this Q&A. Apr 3, 2022 at 9:56
  • The way you describe your research process sounds pretty similar to any research process in the real world.
    – henning
    Apr 3, 2022 at 10:36
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    It is clear that you do good and well respected work; so what does it matter how you produce it? We all have our own ways and there is no right way. Nevertheless, it would be foolish to attempt an authoritative answer to such a complex question. I agree with @StephenG-HelpUkraine in feeling you should speak to a professional who may help you discover what truly lies at the heart of your disquiet. I doubt that the real answer lies in your PhD work or your postdoc.
    – Anton
    Apr 3, 2022 at 22:05

1 Answer 1

  1. Your work was reviewed by many professors who are experts in their field. You were asked questions in the viva and you gave answers which were satisfactory for the review committee.
  2. You just feel that there is something wrong but you cannot pin point it. If you don't know what is wrong, how can you correct it?
  3. You published journal articles which were read, reviewed, analyzed, referred to by many people in this field. No one has ever complained or found mistakes in them.

In the light of above points, tell yourself that this was all imposter syndrome and now it is no more.

Carry on with your post-doc and hope for the best.

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