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Thread: Current/graduated students: first year advice and overcoming imposter feeling

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    Current/graduated students: first year advice and overcoming imposter feeling

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    Iím starting a phd (accounting) this fall as Iím sure many others here are too and I was hoping some students could help answer questions and explain issues that will crop up during the program.

    My problem is that even though itís a few month away I already feel like the weakest link in my class. I have the worst math background with no formal calculus classes and will be attempting to skip to calc 2 while the other student has a strong math background. I know logically I wouldnít have been accepted to this amazing program if they didnít believe in me but I feel so far behind already. So I ask others what should I do to prepare for the program and how do you overcome feeling like the worst person in your program?

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    Re: Current/graduated students: first year advice and overcoming imposter feeling

    Well, I started my PhD last year. I try to do my best, I sometimes I tried too hard in this first year. But by now, I'm completely convinced I'm often one of the worst in most courses related to calculus. It's not impostor syndrome, it's just a fact.

    However, to be close to such an amazing group of people is already something outstanding. So, I'm the worst, but in a class with some of the best in the world. It's a lot better than being the best in a class of mediocre students.

    To study and become friends with such an amazing group of people is a reason to be happy, not sad. And something that really helps me to improve. Do you really prefer to be with people who are worse than you? I don't.

    Who cares if I'm one of the best in class or not? The goal is not to be one of the best, the goal is to do my best.

    I don't think of other people in class as competitors. I think of them as allies, and I want strong allies, not weak ones.

    If I knew what I know now, I'd have studied a lot about matrices, integrals, and derivatives before starting my PhD. Maybe you can do that.

    And, even if I'm the worst in those classes, I also know I'm better in other aspects. My advisor told me today, for example, that I'm very good with research ideas, literature review, writing, so he doesn't plan to help me very much with that kind of thing. Being older, I'm often better with some things that are related to life and professional experience.

    We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Find yours, and work on them. The best in class are amazing, but they are not supernatural creatures. I notice that the best student in the Econometrics classes is a genius to calculate things, but he has a harder time understanding how all those matrices, integrals, and derivatives are related to real-world problems, for example. And, maybe related to that, he had almost no experience reading research papers.

    If you really have a hard time during the PhD, talk with other people. At least at my school, there is a lot of support. People know it's hard, and people are willing to help.

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    Re: Current/graduated students: first year advice and overcoming imposter feeling

    Brazil made some great points. I am graduating in accounting, so I can offer my perspective.

    You need to look at your cohort as a group of colleagues that can complement and strengthen each other. A finance professor told me early on that some cohorts all do well while some just don't really make it in academia. It has a lot to do with how well you work together, challenge each other, and help one another.

    Right now math seems really important. It still matters later on, but you probably won't do any proofs after your second year. You need to understand the material, but econ and metrics really change the way you think about problems and the math just gives some structure to the logic. Your classmate will be able to help you with some of the math stuff and I'm sure you will be able to help them with other things. Study together for the first classes. You can include finance, econ, or other students, but it is important that you start working together.

    Everyone feels imposter syndrome at some point. The PhD is harder than any schoolwork you have done before. You are trying to teach something new about accounting to accounting professors that have been doing this for 20 years. It is tough. You also don't get a ton of positive feedback. Your work gets criticized in order to make it better. You won't go into your advisor's office with an idea and be told that it is great and you should write the paper immediately. Most feedback in the profession is negative as well. You go to workshops and get criticism and you get rejected from journals much more often than accepted. All of this is to say, focus on the positive. People are criticizing your work and ideas, not you.

    At the end of the day, you are surrounded by intelligent people all investigating something that you find interesting. You will get paid well to do this and have a lot of flexibility throughout your life.

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    Re: Current/graduated students: first year advice and overcoming imposter feeling

    Quote Originally Posted by BrazilianPhD View Post
    So, I'm the worst, but in a class with some of the best in the world. It's a lot better than being the best in a class of mediocre students.
    Yup. There is a saying in the Talmud that goes 'Heve zanav la'arayot, ve'al yehi rosh la'shualim', which literally means that it's better to be a tail to lions, than a head to foxes. You get my drift.

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    Re: Current/graduated students: first year advice and overcoming imposter feeling

    on.a related note, what is the best preparation for PhD? taking a break or doing some intense preparation in the months leading up to a PhD? I'm one of many entering a PhD after finishing a rigorous masters this month, so a break might be good for me. On the other hand being prepared for the 1st year coursework also has merit. Just wondering on everyone's thoughts

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    Re: Current/graduated students: first year advice and overcoming imposter feeling

    Quote Originally Posted by ted23 View Post
    on.a related note, what is the best preparation for PhD? taking a break or doing some intense preparation in the months leading up to a PhD? I'm one of many entering a PhD after finishing a rigorous masters this month, so a break might be good for me. On the other hand being prepared for the 1st year coursework also has merit. Just wondering on everyone's thoughts
    If you just did a rigorous masters then I expect you to be fresh on all of the important stuff. Make sure to take at least a couple of weeks to enjoy yourself. I did a really nice cruise with my wife the summer before I started and I am really happy I did. I haven't had a really relaxing vacation since.

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    Re: Current/graduated students: first year advice and overcoming imposter feeling

    Quote Originally Posted by ted23 View Post
    on.a related note, what is the best preparation for PhD? taking a break or doing some intense preparation in the months leading up to a PhD? I'm one of many entering a PhD after finishing a rigorous masters this month, so a break might be good for me. On the other hand being prepared for the 1st year coursework also has merit. Just wondering on everyone's thoughts
    Different people will probably have different perspectives on this.

    My opinion is that trying to find a balance is the best. Taking a break with no preparation at all is not good, and intense preparation with no break at all is not good either. Since you just finished a rigorous masters, I think taking a break is a priority now if you can. Some preparation is ok but not an intense one.

    Actually, I think that trying to find a balance is important not only before starting but probably for your whole life now. Because that's important while doing a PhD (from my own experience so far) and after you become a professor too (from what I've heard from professors).

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    Re: Current/graduated students: first year advice and overcoming imposter feeling

    Quote Originally Posted by ted23 View Post
    on.a related note, what is the best preparation for PhD? taking a break or doing some intense preparation in the months leading up to a PhD? I'm one of many entering a PhD after finishing a rigorous masters this month, so a break might be good for me. On the other hand being prepared for the 1st year coursework also has merit. Just wondering on everyone's thoughts
    I would not recommend either extreme. You definitely want to take a break, but doing *some* prep can be very helpful. Reviewing some basic statistics, basic matrix algebra, integrals, and derivatives will be valuable. If you aren't already, I would recommend becoming familiar with some sort of reference/citation software. Also, depending on your field and what is most used in your department or by your advisor, learn some basic coding in a stats software, such as how to import data and running simple statistics (means, quartiles, etc.) or cleaning the data. I wouldn't go crazy - maybe just a few hours each week, such as taking 2-3 hours 2-3 days each week. I think if I had done this, my first semester would have been so much easier and more organized.

    Other than that, I would just recommend some light reading into topics of interest, your advisor's interests, etc. If your PhD program is in the same field as your masters program, then much of this advice may be unnecessary since you may already have been doing this for a while. If that's the case, then just continue doing some reading and enjoy your break.

    As for the OP - I had a similar background with no adequate math prep. It was time consuming, but I was able to keep up although I, too, felt like the weakest link. But as another poster stated, everyone comes in with different strengths and weaknesses, and while you might be envying your peer's math skills, they might be envying your writing skills, or ability to theorize and come up with interesting research questions and studies. You should only be comparing yourself to yourself - are you learning? Are you growing? Your peers are not your competition. Look at them as partners and help one another grow through the program, and you will have a better time than if you're always trying to compare and outdo each other. The way I overcame feeling like the weakest link was to recognize my own strengths and focus on them, and sharpen them in addition to working on my weaknesses. I realized that I do have something to offer, and that it's silly to expect to be perfect at everything because no one is. Even among the faculty you will see strengths and weaknesses, and once you learn how often a tenured, highly-cited professor is rejected by top journals, you'll realize that everyone feels that way to some extent at some point in time. It's your attitude about how you handle it that matters most.

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