Skip to main content

How I Write and Learn

In this blog series, “Ask a Coach!” our Writing and Learning Center coaches answer our UNC-CH undergrads’ burning questions! Check out what our coaches have to say about everything from taking breaks to utilizing office hours!

As a graduate student, how do I handle “imposter syndrome” and set realistic expectations for myself?

Miranda: This is a hard one. As a PhD candidate about to graduate…it is still hard. However, I think three things can really help (or at least helped me). The first was finding my support system amongst graduate students where we can openly talk about how we are doing. It was always helpful to hear that other students were going through the same stresses that I was (and not just comparing myself to everyone around me). Second, before agreeing to do anything I would take a few minutes and ask myself, “how will this benefit me while in graduate school and what do I need to get from this experience?” I would try really hard to look at my seminars and other work (papers, conferences, etc) as building towards my career (not just an evaluation of myself). This helped me also say no to things that were not worth my time to do or would stretch me too thin. Setting these boundaries helped me to feel in control of my work load. Third, the simple reminder of what I have accomplished. On hard days, I would write down a list of what I did that day (not what I needed or wanted to do). This helps me visualize how much I am actually doing and set better expectations for my work load the next day or week. 

Jacob: In the words of Christina Perri…”But I’m only human.” As obvious as this lyric might be, I still find myself quietly muttering them to myself during periods of self-doubt. Graduate school can often be a high pressure and stressful environment and this opens the door to imposter syndrome. When I first started, I often felt the icy grasps of imposter syndrome, especially in seminars that were very new to me or when covering topics with which I had little experience. But then I remembered that is why I was in graduate school in the first place. I was there to expand my knowledge and grow as a scholar and human. If I already knew everything then I wouldn’t be here. To avoid (but not always successful evade) imposter syndrome, I remind myself of my goals and my strengths. Sure…I will never actually understand phenomenology or be able to quote the Marx-Engels reader…but I have so many other skills as a student and a human. For me, having a group of friends and spaces that are separate from my work life are a great way to recharge and remind myself that I am exactly where I need to be. 

Tony: Impostor syndrome comes in waves. What I have done in the past is to reflect on the fact that I have gotten where I am because I am passionate about my field and by getting where I am now has been one of the only ways I can take part in not just the work but living and taking part in the changes I would like to see in the world. I try my best to reflect on the fact that what I have chosen to do is hard, and the fact that I am here doing it should be  apoint of pride rather than intimidation. This is obviously easier said than done, and it is always an ongoing process, but that being said, it is always important to take time to reflect on how far you have come and where by staying the course you can go.


This blog showcases the perspectives of UNC Chapel Hill community members learning and writing online. If you want to talk to a Writing and Learning Center coach about implementing strategies described in the blog, make an appointment with a writing coach, a peer tutor, or an academic coach today. Have an idea for a blog post about how you are learning and writing remotely? Contact us here.

Comments are closed.