What if I’m not good enough?


When I was a PhD student I once confided in my supervisor my fears that ‘people’ were going to find out sooner or later that I didn’t know as much as I should. She responded “You know what? Those ‘people’ don’t know as much as you think they do either”.

Two decades on, while I can recognise this as a clear case of imposter syndrome (the “internal experience of intellectual phoniness”), in all honesty I can’t claim that I’m completely cured. And neither, so it seems, are many other researchers. EMCRs speak to me regularly about pervasive feelings of self-doubt, beliefs that, despite evidence to the contrary, they aren’t smart or talented or deserving but rather have got to where they are simply by luck, or conning people, and they live in fear of being ‘found out’ and exposed as frauds.

The good/bad news is they’re not alone. Estimates are that 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some stage. While it seems particularly rife in academia, where it can feel like we constantly need to prove ourselves, we are not unique. You’d be surprised at the company we’re in, which includes:

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How do I win a grant?


Image by rawpixel, Pixabay

‘How do I get research funding?’ is one of the most common questions I’m asked as a mentor of Early and Mid-Career Researchers. Doing research usually costs money (and other things, which we’ll save for a future post!), and writing grant and funding applications is often a key component of academic life.  Trying to ‘teach’ grant writing, even over extended periods of time, is challenging; I can’t pretend I can do it much justice in a short blog. But given the clear need for more support and advice on this topic I’ve summarised three key strategies I’ve observed are helpful for approaching the search for funding (i.e. before you even start), as well as links to some of the many other resources out there, that I hope provide a useful framework for EMCRs in early grant-writing endeavours. I’ll cover subsequent stages in future posts. Continue reading

Dear ECR self…

One of the most popular Happy Academic blogs last year was the post featuring advice that senior researchers would, in hindsight, give to their earlier career selves.

This month I’ve built on the theme, by posing the same question to a handful of my fabulous mid-career researcher colleagues. Once again I was struck by the enthusiasm and generosity with which they shared their expertise. I hope you enjoy this collated wisdom as much as I do! Heartfelt thanks to all contributors, and special thanks to my talented Research Fellow, Dr Lena Stephens, for illustrating this post. (And please be sure to read to the end, to hear about an exciting new EMCR initiative!)

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Homage to white space

white space pineapples

What makes a piece of art a masterpiece? Great artworks are composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally important, what is not. Artists and designers often use blank or white space to convey visual power. One of the finest examples of the dramatic use of white space is Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, which forms part of a fresco in the Sistine Chapel.  In the painting, the hand of God reaches out to spark spiritual life into Adam – but it doesn’t touch him. The resulting atmosphere in this painting is electric; it’s left to the reader to complete the act. In examples like this, what is missing serves to magnify and highlight what is present.

This same principle of white space is applied in other artworks, including novels and literary works; architecture; symphonies; even speeches, where sparse words and pauses have made for some of the most memorable orations in history.

While white space is a design element, it can be applied much more broadly. In essence, white space is effective as it allows the most important components to be the focus, by reducing background tension, clutter, fuss, and less critical details; and introducing more harmony and balance. Does this sound like something your calendar (or your life!) could benefit from?

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When and how to go for promotion (and when and why you shouldn’t)

career ladder

Being promoted up the academic ladder is widely viewed as a kind of holy grail. A Professorship or other academic leadership role is something we’re almost indoctrinated to believe is where we as academics must head, what we must aspire to.

So what I’m about to say might seem almost sacrilege. You don’t have to want a  promotion! One of my Early Career Researcher mentees recently said to me, “I see what Professors do, and I don’t know if that’s for me. I’m happy and doing fine at my current level – is it ok to just want to stay where I am, and do good work here?”

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The foolproof approach to saying no

Multitask no woman-1733881_1920

Welcome back to Happy Academic 2018!

Already we’re into the pointy end of February. Have you stuck with any of your New Years’ resolutions? I’ve heard from several people who shared some version of my single resolution this year: Do less. There are myriad reasons that doing less/creating white space/taking down time are very good things to do (there are whole books written on it, like this). But many of us don’t do these things and I suspect one of the key reasons is because we’re NOT VERY GOOD AT SAYING NO.

There are lots of reasons you might struggle with saying no when asked to take on a new task, and as a first step in addressing no-aversity it can help to understand what they are.

Is your no-aversity due to:

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Let’s make kindness the next academic disruption


Academia can be a tough world. The environment is competitive, funds are limited, egos are large. The metrics by which we are judged focus heavily on first authorship or principal investigator status, and self-promotion is an art form; there are workshops in how to do it. Fellow academics are at times colleagues and other times competitors. Lots of EMCRs are clamouring to climb the academic career ladder – or merely just to stay afloat – with increasing desperation and decreasing reserves of energy. Many are doing it with minimal support.

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Knock knock. Who’s there? Opportunity

How do you answer when opportunity comes knocking?

hold world

Opportunity arrives in many guises. As an EMCR it might be an invitation to:

  • work with a new collaborator
  • become involved in a new project
  • present your work at a particular forum
  • peer review for a journal or funding body
  • take on a new research student
  • apply for funding from a different source

Sometimes as an EMCR it can seem like every new opportunity that comes your way in the course of your work should be seized. It’s a competitive environment, and opportunities don’t drop into your lap every day; you may worry about when the next one will crop up. You may be flattered to be offered, or respect the person offering the opportunity and not want to appear ungrateful or let them down. The opportunity could lead to something amazing! Indeed, it might! But the downside of jumping onto every new opportunity that knocks is that they inevitably DON’T all end up leading to amazing things. They may end up leading to a whole lot of hard work, or stress, for little gain, or not the gain you’d hoped for. Adding to the frustration is that they’ve also displaced time you could have spent pursuing things that matter more to you.

So how do you weigh up whether a new opportunity is worth taking on – or whether it risks you becoming an “opportunities addict”? (yes an actual thing – see this great post where academics share their tips on the fine art of saying no to what might seem attractive opportunities).

‘The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything’  – Warren Buffett.

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My PhD in rejection: 5 survival tactics

I have come to the conclusion that I qualify for a second PhD: in academic rejection.

sad train abbie-bernet-329631

Image by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash


I have:

  • lived, breathed, and grappled with it for well over 3 years
  • formulated and discussed with colleagues numerous hypotheses (yes, it’s claimed that time spent writing unsuccessful grant applications is never wasted, but how strong is the evidence?)
  • taken a multidisciplinary approach (I’ve had not just funding applications rejected, but also papers, job and award applications)
  • collected loads of data from different sources: dozens of granting bodies, zillions of journals
  • triangulated my data (as a grant applicant, manuscript author, grant and journal peer reviewer, grant and fellowship review panel member)
  • been kept awake many nights turning over in my head the best way to analyse and interpret findings (Revise? Resubmit elsewhere? Ditch it? Give up altogether?)

– and am finally now getting around to write-up. Continue reading

How to master the EMC teacher-researcher balancing act

One of the difficulties I most often hear EMCRs express is how to balance teaching and research responsibilities. As much as I empathise, it has been many years since I was employed in a combined teaching-research role, so this month I’ve drawn on the expertise of a colleague, Dr Megan Teychenne, who does a fabulous balancing job every day, to share how she does it. Here is Megan’s post, including her top 6 sure-fire teacher-researcher balancing tips.  ~ Kylie


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