Being admitted into a Higher Degree by Research (HDR) program is an accomplishment in itself, but the high cultural value placed on HDR candidature means research students put a lot of pressure on themselves to be ‘perfect’. When you fall short of perfection, it’s common to think that you don’t deserve to be researching at a university.
You might find it useful to reframe the HDR journey as being about developing a series of skills, rather than striving for perfection. Your thesis project is where you refine your research, writing and editing skills; build relationships; and become immersed in your field.
‘Impostor syndrome’ is common among HDR students. It is characterised by the perpetual fear that you will be ‘found out’ as being a fraud. It brings feelings of incompetence and inadequacy, and often manifests as anxiety about your ability to complete your thesis, or find a job. We can assure you that every HDR student experiences this at some stage of their candidature.
Think back to when you were considering undertaking an HDR. The chances are you viewed this project as one early step on a longer journey, whether that was an academic career, a chance to explore one of your passions, or post-degree employment in sectors outside of higher education. Your project is not meant to be the last thing you achieve as a researcher. Remember: your HDR thesis or publications are not your ‘final word’ on a topic.
One tip that experienced researchers and writing tutors give to postgraduates is to stop imagining the end product (i.e. the completed thesis), and instead break down your writing goals into weekly and daily blocks. Check out this daily planner that helps you work with your brain’s energy levels throughout the day!
The University’s Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and Learning Centre offer free workshops on HDR skills, including how to avoid the pitfalls of having a perfectionist mindset. If you attend these workshops and are still struggling with finishing drafts or submitting them to supervisors because you’re worried that your work is not good enough, book an individual appointment with one of the Learning Centre’s lecturers and/or one of CAPS’ counsellors for support.
Wanting your writing to be ‘perfect’ is often a paralysing attitude. It can lead to procrastination – losing your energy and focusing on tasks that aren’t priorities.
If your faculty does not have similar groups or events, consider organising one yourself. Contact your postgraduate research coordinator to help you to book a room on campus and to promote the event to students in your faculty.
Consider participating in Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo). Some universities promote this annual event to their HDR candidates. AcWriMo began as a way to use online networks to encourage academic writers to stop procrastinating and achieve their writing goals. Participants log how many words they have written and share these figures via social media.
Social media is an important part of HDR research and networking, but it can also suck up many hours of your day. A popular option is to use productivity software, like social media blockers. Ask around your faculty/field to see what apps/programs people have found useful.