The Imposter Syndrome: Why successful people often feel like frauds

How can it be that so many clever, competent and capable people can feel that they are just one step away from being exposed as a complete fraud? Despite evidence that they are performing well they can still have that lurking fear that at any moment someone is going to tap them on the shoulder and say “We need to have a chat”.

The session will explain why high performing people often doubt their abilities and find it hard to enjoy their successes. It will also show the links to perfectionism and self-handicapping strategies such as procrastination, avoidance and over commitment.

At the end of this session you will:

  • know what the latest psychological research tells us about the imposter syndrome is and how it operates
  • realise how widespread imposter feelings are and why highly successful people can feel like frauds
  • be aware of evidence-based strategies that reduce imposter feelings

This workshop will take place on Wednesday 28th February 2018, find out more and book a place here


Places available: Upcoming IAD PhD Workshops

We have places available on the following upcoming workshops:

Presenting Made Easy – Delivering Presentations

20th March 2017

This workshop gives the opportunity to deliver a presentation.  Participants will present a prepared 5 min(max) talk on subject of their own choice or give an overview of their subject preferably using visual aids. They will then receive positive and encouraging feedback. More information and booking here

Searching Research Literature and Managing Bibliographies

22nd March 2017

This workshop is a mixture of presentations and hands on practical computer-based sessions to help participants understand the information research process and developing Good practice in literature searching.  More information and booking here

Proof Reading

22nd March 2017

This workshop looks at the many stages of copy-editing and proof-reading that must be done before the thesis is submitted or the academic paper published. We look at some myths about writing, identify common errors and offer a range of techniques for spotting them.  More information and booking here

Writing a Literature Review

23rd March 2017

Developing a review is a complex task which involves selecting, organising and evaluating source material; reading actively while taking effective notes; and shaping relevant information into a coherent piece of writing. This workshop offers practical ways of making this process manageable and beginning to develop a review. More information and booking here

For a full list of all our workshops please see here


Structured Writing Retreat

We are running a structured writing retreat on Tuesday 7th February 2017.

Come to a writing retreat if you want to make progress on a writing project (such as a thesis chapter or a journal article) and build confidence in your academic writing skills. At this structured retreat, writing slots will be interspersed with short discussions and reflections. The retreat format of working alongside (and sometimes in conversation with) others has been shown to generate pages as well as solutions to writing problems.

You will get the most out of this retreat if you:untitledgyh

  • decide on a writing project in advance, with corresponding goals for the day
  • don’t use the internet during the writing retreat
  • do as much relevant reading and other preparation as possible in advance
  • bring notes, plans and outlines for your writing project to the retreat

As places are limited please only book a place if you are able to attend this session in full

Find out more, and book a place here

International Guest Speaker Hugh Kearns

On the 24th October 2016 we have a guest speaker, Hugh Kearns from Flinders University Australia, running two workshops ‘Seven Secrets of a Highly Successful Research Student’ and ‘The Imposter Syndrome: Why successful people feel like frauds’ Hugh lectures and researches at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia. He is widely recognised for his ability to take the latest research in psychology and education and apply it to high-performing people and groups. As a co-author with Maria Gardiner, he has published six books which are in high demand both in Australia and internationally.

Seven Secrets of a Highly Successful Research Student

This workshop describes the key habits that our research and experience with thousands of students shows will make a difference to how quickly and easily you complete your research higher degree (RHD). Just as importantly, these habits can greatly reduce the stress and increase the pleasure involved in completing a RHD.

The workshop helps you to understand how to increase your effectiveness and outcomes in the following key areas:

  • how you deal with your supervisor
  • how you structure your study time
  • your attitude (or lack thereof!) in relation to your research
  • dealing with writer’s block or having difficulty writing
  • getting the help you need when you are stuck
  • juggling multiple commitments and never having enough time
  • keeping on going when the going gets tough

The Imposter Syndrome: Why successful people feel like frauds

The session will explain why high performing people often doubt their abilities and find it hard to enjoy their successes. It will also show the links to perfectionism and self-handicapping strategies such as procrastination, avoidance and over commitment.

At the end of this session you will:

  • know what the latest psychological research tells us about the imposter syndrome is and how it operates
  • realise how widespread imposter feelings are and why highly successful people can feel like frauds
  • be aware of evidence-based strategies that reduce imposter feelings

Find out more and book a place here


Welcome along/back!

For those if you who are new to the PhD blog, I use this space to give hints and tips for successful completion of the PhD as well as giving updates on topics related to PhD life, for example, check out the post about getting started with the Researcher Development Framework.

For those if you who are familiar with the blog, thanks for continuing to follow, its great to have you along!

This academic year sees another packed programme of events and workshops here at the Institute for Academic Development. For more details go to the website. There are new workshops dates coming online throughout the year so keep an eye out for the regular newsletter which should reach you through your Graduate School.

We are also delighted to welcome Edinburgh Beltane as part of the IAD and look forward to finding out what is in store for them this year. Again, information will be included in the regular Newsletter.


(Doctoral Training Manager at IAD)

Summer is here, how do you keep working?

So, when the sun suddenly appears and your friends invite you out to enjoy it how do you manage to enjoy the sun and not get behind with your work? Here are some things to think about which may help you:

  • Work in the morning if you can. This means that by the time the sun gets hot and your friends invite you out you’ve already done a substantial amount of work and don’t need to feel guilty for leaving for the afternoon.
  • If you do go out, look after yourself. A hangover or sunburn will make working the following day all the more unproductive.
  • It is ok to take a break and get some sun but don’t feel pressured to stay out if you need to get back to the office/lab.
  • Have an ‘essential work’ list and a rough estimate of how long each item will take so that if you get invited to do something unexpectedly like ‘lets go camping this weekend’ you know if you can manage to fit in the essential work in the time that you have available or not.
  • Ensure you are working somewhere comfortable. If you office gets super hot in the sun, and it isn’t essential that you work there, go somewhere else. You will be more productive that way.

Other than that, enjoy the sun and don’t feel guilty, its not here that oftern 🙂


(Doctoral Training Manager at IAD)

Notes from the field – Guest Blog

This guest blog post is brought to you  by Alli Coyle, PhD Student, African Studies & Events Administrator at IAD

Conducting research is arguably the most exciting part of any PhD, but it can also be the most stressful, no matter what the environment. I’m approaching the third year of my PhD in African Studies and having being in the field already, I am returning this summer for a further five months. My research “field” is Malawi and so finding a way to keep accurate and safe field-notes was a bit of a challenge.

Keeping up-to-date and thorough notes on research is really important, more so when your research relies so heavily on the quality of your notes. There is a somewhat romantic idea of writing up notes whilst in the field of – doing so in the evening, after a day of researching, of keeping them organised and knowing exactly where everything is. I say the idea is romantic, because in theory it is possible but in practice it never works for me.

I used to dread having to spend the evening writing up my field-notes, it wasn’t helped by the fact the sun had disappeared by 5.30pm, mosquitos were flying around and there were consistent comings and goings in the house. I kept trying though, writing up (or should I say typing-up) my notes in the evening and scribing the interviews from that day.  It wasn’t much fun and the thought of doing it every night for three months soon made start to think about other options.

What about Blogging? Well I have an “I’m in Africa” blog that I keep to update friends, family and colleagues whilst I am away. It’s a good way of letting them know what I’m up to, where I am and also of explaining the funny stories from that day or week. I decided to start a “Fieldwork” Blog which I’ve kept private (but both my supervisors can access).

So what are the benefits of blogging field-notes?

–           It can be accessed from any computer that has an internet connection

–           Supervisors can follow progress and leave comments

–           It’s easy to add photos, video, insert links

–           It’s already in dated order (so no trying to work out where I was on certain days)

–           It can be easily edited at a later date

These are just some of the benefits, I particularly like that I can access it from anywhere in the world and that my supervisors are able to check up on my progress (if they want to).  I also find it makes writing up sections much easier as I can look at my field-notes and my public blog and how they relate – I’ve even realised that I tend to write better in my field-notes when I’ve updated my public blog.

Everyone is different and blogging field-notes may not be appropriate for everyone, but if you already have a blog, then why not start one for field-notes.  It helped me keep my sanity and also solved my problem of linking up the photos with my notes.

Researcher Development Framework and you!

At first glance the RDF can look a little overwhelming. If you look a little closer it actually contains a wealth of useful information to help you review your professional and personal development and set helpful goals for the future.

CIPD Handout_4pp A5_Web


The RDF was developed for Vitae to identify the key areas which researchers need to develop in order the get their career off to the best possible start and to continue to develop successfully. This is what the Vitae website says:

The Researcher Development Framework articulates the knowledge, behaviours and attributes of successful researchers and encourages them to aspire to excellence through achieving higher levels of development.

The framework is a comprehensive new approach to enhancing the careers of researchers. It was developed by and for researchers, in consultation with academic and non-academic employers.

How it works

The RDF is divided into 4 main domains. These give an overview of the areas where researchers ought to be developing knowledge, behaviours and attributes throughout the PhD and research careers. Each of these domains are then divided into a further 3 sub-domains (12 in total). These give more details of these areas and then they are divided finally into descriptors which outline the details of the knowledge, behaviours and attributes involved in each area.

What can I use it for?

You can use the RDF to help you to develop your knowledge, behaviours and attributes throughout your PhD so that you feel confident when moving on to whatever your next career move is, be it within academia or not.

  • At the beginning of each year you could select 3-5 descriptors from the RDF which you want to work on. Then, with the help of your supervisors, peers and organisations like the IAD and Vitae, you can seek out ways of improving in these areas. At the end of the year review your progress in these areas and choose where you want to focus for the next year. Don’t forget to document your development and training.
  • Use the language of the RDF descriptors to help you to identify and write about your skills in your CV and job applications.
  • There are a variety of Lenses which are being developed to help researchers and research managers to focus on the areas of the RDF which are most useful for your development and progress, for example Leadership, Teaching and Enterprise.


  • Developed by researchers for researchers
  • For professional and personal development
  • Understand your strengths
  • Help identify gaps
  • Set goals against it
  • Self reflection tool
  • Shared language with researchers, academics and employer


The RDF is something which is coming more and more into use and institutions across the UK are beginning to use their websites to articulate how their training and support for PhD students and research staff matches up with the descriptors of the RDF. It is also being used far more widely by researchers and research managers to focus development and articulation of skills.

If you have any comments or feedback please tweet @iad4phd

Fiona McCabe (IAD Doctoral Training Manager)

The PhD Cycle

So, if the PhD is a process made up of initiating and ‘hopefully’ completing smaller tasks then it is reasonable to expect that this process will have an emotional impact depending on which stage you are at and the outcome of your current task. And this is perfectly normal.

PhD Cycles

The diagram tries to show that everything in the PhD cycle involves thinking and writing about your PhD and within that overall cycle there is a smaller process of initiating, scoping, focus forming, implementing, completing and reviewing tasks. At each of these stages there may be a vast variety of emotions involved.

There are some things which you can do to try to minimise the negative impacts and maximise the positive.

  • Use SMART goals to help you to manage your work load. These are goals which are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Based. If you put goals in place which follow this formula then you are more likely to succeed and feel less afraid of the marathon task ahead of you.
  • Remember to review outcomes of different tasks. It is all too easy to rush from task to tasks without taking the time to review. The value of this is in seeing what you can learn for next time and celebrating success.
  • Read my previous post about time management

Social Media and Your Research

As the University of Edinburgh IT Futures Group Annual Conference approaches (title of the conference is ‘Social media in academia: A tweet too far?’ Tuesday 13th Dec) the title got me thinking about social media and your research. So is Social Media really that useful in academia? Here are a few suggestions of things that you can do with it:

  1. Social bookmarking – with the rise of research pooling and distance learning the use of social bookmarking can be a useful way of sharing web links and resources. Services such as Delicious and Diigo allow you to share your bookmarked pages.
  2. Microblog – maximise your impact and resources with twitter. No only is twitter useful for getting your own research profile out there but you can also follow other useful twitter accounts, e.g. research councils, the Vitae Hub @vitaesnihib and of course @iad4phd
  3. Blog about your subject. Blogs can be really helpful in organising and sharing your ideas, communicating your research to non-specialists and using comments from others to generate new content.
  4. Networking – Get your research profile online using Linked in or
  5. Presentations – Share presentations online using prezi, slideshare or dropbox

Whichever of these you use and whatever you use it for, remember to keep your online personal brand consistent and genuine.

Fiona (Doctoral Training Manager, IAD)