On Impostor Syndrome and my Dissertation Defense

dissertation, graduate school

Last week Wednesday, I defended my dissertation. The following day I gave my public lecture. And just like that, it was all done. Aside for responding to any corrections to Turabian and citation formatting, I am finished. A Ph.D. Everything went well. I was told that people thought my public lecture was good and the question/answer section went satisfactorily. It would appear everything went smoothly.


The picture of confidence, right?

But frankly, until we got home Thursday night it was one of the worst weeks I have had in graduate school. I don’t think I’ve had such a bad week since my comprehensive exams where I just felt immobilized by worry. And trust me, I’m naturally anxious so even for me this was excessive. And I knew, I knew my anxiety was irrational. Nobody lets you defend if they think you are going to fail. It would be a total waste of everyone’s time.

That said — the whole time I was sure, certain even, that this was the moment where I would be found out. I do not know anything about Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I was pretty sure that after all was said and done people would think, “Goodness, I thought this was supposed to be good?” I was afraid my public lecture would be incomprehensible or boring. I was terrified that I would be unable to satisfactorily answer a single question. I would be given my Ph.D. sure, but at the cost of everyone finding out I was a fraud.

I have been dealing with “impostor syndrome” since I started graduate school. And though all evidence over the last six years has shown me that I am perfectly capable of fulfilling all requirements, not just well, but sometimes extremely well, I have never been able to shake it. Not very inspiring or encouraging, right? But then again, courage never meant completely shaking off fear exactly.

After the public lecture, we went home. I celebrated with a can of bubbly…La Croix. I felt immediately better. I was just so happy that it was indeed finally over. A few days — I still feel happy, although I probably could use a return of structure to my day! It is almost as if the feelings of impostor syndrome never existed.

I know they are still there though. I’m not sure yet what to do about impostor syndrome, except to just simply make peace that yes, this does happen. I think the important thing is to understand that I’m irrationally worried and do what it is anyway. That method, at the very least, seems to have worked out for me.

And most importantly, I am still done.