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Dealing with Self-Doubt

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This is my first time on Grad Cafe but am looking for some support and perspective.

I didn't do too well my first year in my PhD program but I knew going into the program that for some personal reasons I wouldn't be able to do well. I passed my comprehensive exams, maintained the gpa requirements, and am on track with everything. I haven't really started research due to the program set-up but the little research I have done has been well received by faculty who have seen it.

I know it's not rational, but despite all of this, I can't seem to get rid of the self-doubt. My peers don't think particularly well of me because of my poor first year performance, even though I often did better than several of them on some exams. The problem is probably that I'm not confident enough so I sell myself short to them. I don't have much confidence now so even when I try to talk to faculty with questions, I get nervous and don't make a very good impression, even though I really do know more than it may appear.

To make matters worse, the DGS in my program had a pre-meditated public humiliation planned for me in front of faculty and students. I asked him a question regarding some procedures going forward before a seminar one day, which he answered in a professional manner. Then after the seminar, he re-instigated the conversation, walked me up to the front of the room so everyone could see, and started mocking me because he thinks I'm an idiot. 

I realize that I'm so incredibly privileged to be doing a PhD and I really truly love my field and enjoy research. I realize I shouldn't feel so self-conscious. I even hold an NSF Fellowship which I received directly as an undergraduate. It just really sucks to be in a place where students and faculty go out of their way to talk badly about me to my face, even when I try to mind my own business and just quietly study. I just get filled with self-doubt even at neutral criticisms (thinking maybe that the faculty who previously saw and liked my work changed their minds later on if they express reasonable doubts on aspects of the project later on), even though I know it's ridiculous.

I'd greatly appreciate any perspective any of you reading this may have.

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I have great trepidation and nervousness about all of this that I did not have as an entering MA student. While I know it's nonsense, until I'm in the program, teaching and going to class, I don't believe my nervousness will change. Perhaps your self-doubt is clouding all of your perspective about how critical others are being of you. Can you talk to your advisor? While it is serious work to get a PhD, I think we should be having a little fun also, as we have almost completed this monumental task of education and are on the last leg. If you are full of self-doubt and fearful, you won't get to enjoy anything. That cloud will pervade every aspect of your life. You may need some counseling to help you on that front. It's nothing to worry about. I have gone when I needed some help in figuring out things. You also have a disinterested 3rd party to listen to you.

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You're not struggling with self-doubt but with a toxic situation. Some people in your program has systematically worked to destroy your self worth and that isn't right. I too would advise you to seek a therapist to help you handle the emotional fall-out of this situation and help you strengthen your ability to deal with horrible people. Also, can you find any allies outside of your department? Maybe you don't need to tell them about what's going on, but you can build a circle of peers with no affiliation to your field to give you some breathing space.

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  • 4 weeks later...

To an observer, over confidence and under confidence look the same.

The hostility you're encountering may be responses to the mistaken perception that you hold your peers in contempt.

Give some thought to how you could let your professors and classmates see you in a different light. This process would likely require you to give others a second opportunity to make a different impression as well.

There are many different approaches to take ranging from being frank and direct to being very subtle. I recommend that you pick tactics that allow you to take calculated risks outside of your comfort zone while being true to who you are. 

For example, there could be a group activity that doesn't float your boat -- like binge watching a show on Netflix. Without diving in, you could watch a few episodes so you know why the show is appealing. If the show doesn't work for you, phrase your opinion diplomatically. "I don't get it, help me to understand..." and then listen. Small gestures like these can go a long way to changing relationships for the better.

Please keep in mind that the objective is to do things differently not to put yourself or anyone else under the microscope for the purpose of finding flaws. 

My $0.02.

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