I’m not special. Except to my parents, and hopefully my fiance.
Don’t worry this isn’t a downer post (it’s actually quite positive!). I’m not currently stuck in a spiral of impostor syndrome, wondering who could possibly have let me continue into the thesis writing stages of a PhD (although those days definitely do happen). I’m just being honest.
I want every PhD student out there to know you don’t have to be some kind of genius to finish, you just have to be determined. The longer I spend writing my thesis the more I understand this, and it’s a really comforting thought. Yes a PhD is a huge accomplishment. I’ll feel ridiculously proud (and probably exhausted) when it’s finished, but I won’t have finished it because I’m special. I will have finished it because I was determined, because I kept going and because I made it through the slog. This month alone I’ve made the same time-consuming graphs three times (there are 30 of them…). I think they’re finally finished (although I thought that after attempts one and two as well). A PhD is about perseverance, provided I keep going and write a thesis I will be a Dr (yes, yes there’s that unique contribution to knowledge and the pesky viva at the end but I’ll deal with those when I get there).
Not being special doesn’t mean I haven’t worked hard, but when people tell me how smart I am be to be doing a PhD I feel the need to correct them. I’m no smarter than my friends who aren’t doing a PhD. I recently had a chat with the boss where I pointed this out. He disputed it, but I think that’s because he thought I was being hard on myself. He told me wasn’t allowed to say that about myself. People seem to misinterpret what I mean. When I say I’m not special I’m not saying I’m not good enough, I’m saying the PhD doesn’t have to feel like an unattainable goal. Saying you must be special, or really smart, etc. etc. etc. to do a PhD almost nullifies the hard work we put in.
PhD’s are hard-workers, we’re dedicated (although hopefully with a healthy work-life balance), and we’re definitely able to take criticism. We have so many great qualities but these aren’t because we’re special, they’re because we worked bloody hard!