Do I Even Belong in a Doctoral Program?

Doubt and Uncertainty

I have been toiling with some concerns as of late regarding my doctorate.  Before classes even started, I was awash with insecurity and doubt.  And that’s not generally how I roll.

I told myself, “I’m not that smart. They’re gonna find out. I’m in trouble.”  The fact that I’d be in close quarters with other dedicated and passionate people pursuing a doctorate made me wonder if I’d be able to stay afloat. Forget about rising to the top.

I had a million excuses. Being a good student isn’t something I did until the second half of my life.  I’m not a great writer. I don’t read enough. I don’t have enough experience. I don’t have the right experience.

That was the mindset I had walking into the first day of class.

And what I quickly realized was that I wasn’t the only one with insecurity and doubt.  In our small cohort of 11, I was hearing other people describing how they were feeling. It wasn’t that much different from how I felt.

So I’ve had a night to sleep it over.  Where did that doubt and insecurity even come from?

It’s still hard to see with clarity when I’m in the midst of navigating this new phase of my life, but I reckon that one part of it is my natural tendency to compare myself to others.  As if it were a competition.

There’s no competition here! The only person I’m competing with myself.  Where am I going to grow? How am I going to stretch? Where are the places I’ve never been that I want to go?

And that’s the kind of uncertainty I can be comfortable with.

What’s become certain is that in a short amount of time, I’m going to be making some big decisions about the general direction of my scholarly work.  The activities, rituals, and routines I design for myself as I move in that direction will be formative.  No one is going to hold my hand and make me accountable except for myself.  This is my own, and this is my work. This is my responsibility.

I’ve never had this much agency in my academic life.

Asking myself whether or not I belong is not productive.  I’m done with that question.  I have purpose. I have passion. I wouldn’t say I know exactly what problem(s) of practice I want to address, but I have a point of view that is uniquely my own and I’m going to lean on that.

I do belong. I declare it.

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1 Response

  1. HIllary says:

    Oh, heck yes you do belong! I am glad you got that sorted out early on. Do your thing, David!

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