Dealing With Impostor Syndrome as a Writer and Graduate Student

The doubt and the hesitation I experienced about my writing and academic work is typically referred to as impostor syndrome. Nobody prepares you for the experience of graduate school. You go from reading academic articles to the author of one in a relatively short frame of time. Your professors no longer grade your ideas on a scale from A to F. Instead they try to steer whatever ideas you’re spouting into a project you can turn into a publication.

I remember the first time I suggested studying the strip club. I had started to learn how social behaviors can vary from one context to another. So I wondered whether they way men in predominantly Black strip clubs engaged with exotic dancers differed from men in predominantly White strip clubs. I anticipated the pay structure would differ in one context as a reflection of how different types of performances of masculinity might differ from one place to the next.

When I initially proposed the idea, I expected my professors to say something to the effect of “No, that’s a terrible idea, what were you thinking? Try something else.” Instead, people with PhDs and tons of publications to their name took my proposition very seriously, guiding me to flesh out a research question and theory that I could test. Though I ultimately decided to consider another project, I remember being mystified at how what I contemplated out of personal interest could be considered a serious academic inquiry.

That’s the way it goes in academia and in public writing, as I would later find. I write because I know my current and future employment depends on it. Once again, in the world of online publications, I would pitch a topic to an editor, write an article, and wait for them to say, “Girl, bye.”

That didn’t happen. Instead, editors pushed me to dig deeper and ask tough questions of myself as a writer and an academic. Even times when my pitches got turned down, the reasoning came down to whether or not the topic was the right fit, not whether or not the idea itself had any weight.

I think the possibility of rejection drives impostor syndrome for many writers and academics. Impostor syndrome has gotten the best of me recently as I shift from doing quantitative to qualitative work. Though I have done a content analysis before, it was with the help of a qualified graduate student. Now that I am the qualified graduate student, I kinda feel like a deer in the headlights. My biggest concern is confirmation bias, which would mean my results are just a reflection of my opinion rather than the result of rigorous analysis.

One of my professors had to remind me that I am capable of doing qualitative work because I was trained to do it. This reminder helped me recognize that what’s holding me back from getting the job done is for the most part myself.

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