Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

How One Postdoc Overcame Imposter Fears

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch March 7, 2022

In a Nature Career Column, Kelsey Inouye, describes her career path and her struggles along the way. She completed her PhD at the University of Oxford in November 2020. She committed herself fully to her job search and was doing all of the right things, but still getting dozens of rejections – each one feeling devastating. She notes, “I knew that many PhD holders choose alternative and equally rewarding careers. But I, like many others, could not help but feel that my ability to secure an academic position was a measure of my worth as a researcher, and I was terrified by the prospect of explaining to friends and family that, after all my degrees and years spent studying rather than working, I could not ‘make it’ in academia.”

Seven months after graduating, 15 job applications, and four interviews later, she did end up landing a postdoc position where she will be able to continue on in her research career. Her advice for those struggling and feeling imposter fears is to utilize these evidence-based strategies.

Take time to do activities you enjoy.
Job searching can be all-consuming but sometimes you need to take a step back and distance yourself from the stress. It is particularly helpful if you enjoy running like Inouye as she notes that physical activity in particular has been proven to help alleviate anxiety overall.

Take each rejection in stride.
According to Inouye “Evidence indicates that cognitive reframing — recognizing, challenging and changing the way you think about something — could be an important part of building resilience in academia. However, such resilience often comes with experience, which means that failure and rejection might be especially difficult for early-career researchers.” Rejections really are quite common and they aren’t broadcast in the same way that achievement and promotions are, so try to remember that you are not the only one experiencing this hardship.

Take breaks from social media.
Recognize that achievement are usually broadcast from these platforms and that can be great. These can be wonderful ways to keep tabs on what others are doing and to even get inspiration on where you are hoping to land eventually. However, if you are struggling and constantly comparing yourself to others, it might be time to take a social media break for a bit.

Build a community early.
Inouye said, “Looking for work can be isolating, particularly once you’ve left your institution. I kept in touch — online over WhatsApp and Microsoft Teams — with a small group of classmates who were often experiencing similar challenges. Exchanging tips with them was helpful, both practically and emotionally: it reminded me that others were experiencing similar challenges despite their considerable achievements. Furthermore, offering feedback on others’ applications helped me to critically review my own applications as well.”


Overwhelming To-Do List? Simplify it with the 1-3-5 Rule

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch March 14, 2022

A LinkedIn poll found that 90% of professionals don’t accomplish everything they planned for the day. Sounds very accurate, right? The main reason to-do lists aren’t completed is that even though we try to organize and plan, we tend to underestimate how long each task will take. Plus, we don’t factor in all of the things that pop up and on to our to-do list during a workday.

Alex Cavoulacos from The Muse has a plan to help correct this. She asserts, “On any given day, assume that you can only accomplish one big thing, three medium things, and five small things.” A “big” task might require a few hours, a “medium” task about an hour or so, and a “small” task about 15-30 minutes.  She encourages leaving one or two medium and small tasks blank for the unexpected urgent assignments that always seem to creep into one’s day.

You can download a copy of the 1-3-5 To-Do List at The Muse here -


The Five Salaries from Work

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch March 21, 2022

Calvin Rosser is a writer and startup operator who has an aim to help people lead more fulfilling lives. He tweeted an interesting thread which sheds lights on the many values associated with work and our professional identities. He wrote:

Each job pays your 5 salaries:

  1. Financial: Annual salary, bonuses, equity, healthcare, benefits, etc.
  2. Psychological: The internal and external meaning you derive from your work. Your connection to the mission, product, work you produce, and praise you receive.
  3. Social: Prestige, job title, and identity capital you receive.
  4. Education: Skills, relationships, and learnings that contribute to your development as a person and professional.
  5. Freedom: Your ability to work on your own terms.

When we’re unhappy at work, we often focus on getting more of the wrong ‘salary’. This strategic misstep fails to solve our problems and is entirely preventable.

Think about this the next time you feel unhappy at work.  Start by rating each of your five salaries on a scale of 1 to 10. This will hopefully help you identify the problem and diagnose the biggest area for improvement. Negotiating a raise ‘financial’ when the problem is really psychological means that the problem will still be there and perhaps you will feel even more stuck than before. 


7 Career-Building Tips from a Behavioral Scientist

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch March 28, 2022

Grace Lordan is a behavioral scientist and the Founding Director of The Inclusion Initiative at the London School of Economics. She imparted lessons on how to get your career moving forward in a Financial Times article.  Please check out the article to hear more from her perceptive on her own career path in addition to the seven tips noted below.

Here are the seven career-building activities she recommends:

  1. Set a ‘big thinking’ goal -
    Don’t fall into the trap of only working towards your next promotion. Set a big thinking goal that you plan to realize over the medium term: the perfect cure for myopia.
  2. Make a 90-minute weekly commitment -
    Over the medium term this is long enough to build a new skill or participate in networking events. Steal this time away from time sinkers and grow.
  3. Circumvent planning fallacy -
    Scale up the timings on your to-do list by 1.5 to avoid failure and tardiness.
  4. Quieten anticipatory loss aversion -
    Stop focusing on “success” versus “failure”. Focus on your own decision making, which you can control. If you never shoot for a goal you cannot score. 
  5. Create a diverse personal boardroom -
    The easiest way to avoid confirmation bias, grow quickly and identify new opportunities is to seek regular feedback with people with diverse life experiences.
  6. You are not in the spotlight as often as you think -
    Quieten imposter syndrome and grab opportunities safe in the knowledge that if you fluff up no one is likely watching. 
  7. Your colleagues are busy -
    Don’t assume the people around notice your progress. Join the dots to ensure your value add is noticed and rewarded.