Podcasts

Podcast – Dealing with failure and imposter syndrome

Hosted by Dr Chris Hardy

Reading Time: 29 minutes

We all have to deal with failure during our careers. But how do you handle it? In this podcast regular host Chris Hardy is joined by Charlotte Mykura from Swansea University, and Oz Ismail and Anna Volkmer both from University College London.

Being a researcher can be incredibly rewarding. The potential to improve the lives of people with dementia, improve care, find new treatments or better understand the disease and its causes is amazing. However, a thick skin is useful.

Dealing with rejection, and trying to not feel like an imposter are important things for us to learn. These are issues that come up time and time again, and not just during early careers, but even for the most senior of people. Failed experiments, rejected papers, unsuccessful grant applications are all part of the job, and event when we are successful we have to avoid feeling like impostors, and enjoy the success and the rewards.

Finally, of course, we are using the term ‘failure’, however, we are know that failure is open to interpretation. Because we learn from our failures as much as we do successes…. can our panellists help?


Click here to read a full transcript of this podcast

Voice Over:

Welcome to the Dementia Researcher podcast, brought to you by dementiaresearcher.nihr.ac.uk, a network for early career researchers.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Hello, my name is Chris Hardy and welcome to our podcast recording for the NIHR Dementia Researcher website. This week we will be visiting a couple of topics, which can affect us all. We’ll be looking at dealing with failure and Imposter syndrome. And I, myself, am trying to deal with the cruel blow dealt to me by the Dementia Researcher website when they emailed me having had a paper rejected and a grant application rejected that day, to say that they were doing a podcast on failure and that I’d be the perfect person to host it. So thank you very much. This week I’m joined by Anna, Oz and Charlotte, so welcome all. Anna, Anna Volkmer, is a speech language therapist and NIHR doctoral research fellow at UCL, and we actually work together. So I have the pleasure of knowing what you do, but can you perhaps tell our listeners what you do in your research?

Anna Volkmer:

Absolutely. So I’m a speech and language therapist by background and my research project is focusing on refining and piloting a communication training intervention to be delivered by speech and language therapists in the NHS, to people with language led dementia. So I’m in the third year of that four year project at the minute.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Perfect. Thank you. So next we have Oz Ismail, who is a PhD student at the UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging, and also a stand-up comedian. Is that correct?

Ozama Ismail:

God, the Imposter syndrome is just setting in so much right now. Hi, I’m Oz. So I study the glymphatic system in the brain and specifically what role it may or may not have in Alzheimer’s disease, so essentially how the brain cleans itself of toxic proteins. Yes, I also do some comedy sometimes and also run a podcast and also do lots of science communication stuff.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Great. Welcome. And last, but by no means least, we have Charlotte Mykura. Did I get that right?

Charlotte Mykura:

Yeah, that’s fine.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Sort of.

Charlotte Mykura:

Perfect.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Who is a medical student at Swansea University, but you previously did a PhD at Imperial College London.

Charlotte Mykura:

Yes.

Dr Chris Hardy:

And you are also a comedian and a passionate science communicator.

Charlotte Mykura:

That’s correct. Yep.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Great. Well, welcome to you all. Thanks so much for giving up your time to be here. So in this podcast we were talking about failure and Imposter syndrome and as scientists, these are concepts that we’ll all be familiar with, failure in terms of paper and grant rejections. Imposter syndrome, in perhaps the feeling that we might not belong, we might not be good enough or might not deserve to be in the position that we’re in. And so perhaps we’ll start there. So Charlotte, I’ll come to you first. So what does Imposter syndrome mean to you?

Charlotte Mykura:

For me, Imposter syndrome is the overwhelming sense that I’m a fake, that I shouldn’t be there, and that this fear that they’re going to find out that it’s not real, that I’m not really a scientist and that everything I say and I’m trying to appear intelligent and it’s not true. For me, that can be quite crippling and quite uncomfortable, and that this is a community of scientists or whatever career that you’re in, that you will somehow never be part of that community. That it’s so far above you, it’s completely unattainable and that they will never accept you. That’s how I feel about it. Yeah.

Dr Chris Hardy:

That sounds horrible to feel like.

Charlotte Mykura:

Yeah.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Crippling as you said. And in terms of how you kind of rationalize that with your external proofs of what you can achieve and what you have achieved with your PhD success in Peru, how do those two things equal, how you feel on the inside, but then kind of the external evidence of how good you are, objectively?

Charlotte Mykura:

Yeah. So, it’s a bit of a sad story really, because I mean, I really enjoyed my PhD. I love the subject matter. I really feel that I tried, I put everything into it. But for me, where I did my PhD, I don’t think I actually was ever accepted.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Okay.

Charlotte Mykura:

I felt that by a large part of the community that was there, I was always looked down upon and I was never given the opportunity to network, to collaborate, and my abilities were doubted. And that’s one of the reasons why I’ve now left academia.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Okay. Well, thank you so much for sharing that. That sounds really tough. Yeah, really tough experience.

Charlotte Mykura:

Well I’m happy about it now because I’m overwhelmingly excited to be a doctor, and I’ve also come out of it so much stronger. I mean, when I started my PhD, I was 22, 23, and I looked up to these fantastically intelligent people, this person given me a PhD, wow. Give me the funding. And I think I just glorified them in my brain almost as deity, and now I’ve got to the end of my PhD. I’m very much more realistic about what those people can achieve and I’m more realistic about what I can achieve and I’m much happier just dealing with humans now, than I was at the beginning.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Okay.

Charlotte Mykura:

Yeah.

Dr Chris Hardy:

So despite it being a really difficult experience, you’ve been able to draw some positives from-

Charlotte Mykura:

Definitely. Definitely.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Great. And so Oz, coming to you, what does Imposter syndrome mean to you?

Ozama Ismail:

I think it’s quite similar to what Charlotte described, but for me it’s this constant sort of in a monologue, that everything you’re doing is kind of a front and you’re just pretending that you know what you’re doing, constantly pretending what you know you’re doing and really on the inside you’re just this crippling mess and overwhelmed by this worry that one day someone’s going to pull back that curtain and be like, “Holy shit, there is nothing here.” And it’s constant.

Ozama Ismail:

It doesn’t matter, like in the PhD, I sit in meetings and I worry that people are going to realize that I’m not actually understanding everything that everyone is saying. But then if I take myself away from it and someone else said that to me, I would say, “Well, I’m sure everybody else in the room has not understood X, Y, Z of what everybody said.” But it’s really hard to tell yourself that for some reason. And it’s the same, I’m about to go on placement to this other lab and I’m constantly worrying that they’re going to suddenly realize that actually this guy’s a bit of an idiot because you apply for these things based on, “I’m so good at this,” and “I’m so good at that.” And it just feels slightly fake, even though when you’re writing down those achievements, they’re action real and they happened.

Anna Volkmer:

Fake it till you make it.

Ozama Ismail:

Yeah. Yeah. And I feel like that’s what I’m constantly telling myself. Just keep faking it until you just make it to that place where you’ve made it. So yeah, it’s constant and it can be quite crippling and sometimes you just have to do stuff to silence it, to just get past whatever you have to do for that time.

Charlotte Mykura:

I think for me, in the end, it was just not caring and then I was quite happy to just sit in my office and sing at the top of my lungs and just be, “I know everyone on the corridor can hear this, but I don’t care. It’s fine. I don’t mind what you think of me anymore.” Yeah.

Anna Volkmer:

I think you go through waves as well, don’t you? Where you go through periods of building up your confidence and saying, “Actually I am okay. I am okay. I’m gliding now. I’m all right, I’m all right.” And then something catches you out and suddenly you’re back down at the bottom of the trough, “Actually no, I don’t know what I’m talking about and I’m sure everyone knows again.” Certainly, and I would say that’s across all domains of my life, be it as a mum, where we’re all just pretending we know what to do with our children. But also, as a clinician, a speech therapist and a researcher, I’m constantly followed by Imposter syndrome. I think I have to sometimes just accept that it’s lurking and manage it, in its box.

Charlotte Mykura:

I think on the flip side, there are amazing positives that can suddenly lurch you forward and make you feel incredible. For example, I went to a conference in Galway and I met loads of amazing scientists. They were so accepting and so interested and so interesting, and I think that’s key that they were interested in me as well as being interesting themselves. And I came away from it feeling so lifted and like, “Oh, actually I can do this and this is incredible and I am intelligent.” But then something else can kick you, like you said, kick you down quite quickly.

Anna Volkmer:

I think they’re really valuable experiences aren’t they?

Charlotte Mykura:

Yeah.

Anna Volkmer:

And also I find in my clinical discipline, in speech and language therapy, Imposter syndrome is something we talk about a lot. So there a course today. I was presenting a course and in the middle of the course I said something that I often worry that someone that may think I don’t know what I’m talking about. And you could tangibly see other people in the room, their facial expressions changing, and they responded to that. They were saying, “Oh, thank goodness she thinks that as well. And you realize that we’re all experiencing the same anxiety and doubt. And actually, that is almost lifting in a way that makes you’re sharing the same experiences. It’s quite nice.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Because I know you in a professional capacity, so it’s really interesting to hear you say that because you come across as incredibly confident. You’re an incredibly good presenter. You’re someone that I want to emulate when I present because you’re going to fill the room. So it’s amazing to hear that you don’t have that kind of internal monologue saying, “I’m great. This is amazing.” That’s how you come across.

Anna Volkmer:

I’d tell you what one of my patients once said to me, a long time ago, I was running a group and it was with Parkinson’s patients. And I was late and the patient said to me, “Oh, we really missed your loud piercing voice, Anna.” And since then, I’ve always had this enormous anxiety that actually I’m just too loud and dominating. And actually, when I’m presenting, I’m just annoying.

Dr Chris Hardy:

No, that’s not the case.

Ozama Ismail:

I guess all of these things, they play into the whole Imposter syndrome, don’t they?

Anna Volkmer:

They do.

Ozama Ismail:

And you adapt in these different ways, but I don’t know. Like for me it’s the same. For me, comedy is such a front to be like, “I kind of know what I’m doing and I’m going to tell you some jokes about it.” But again, it’s a coping mechanism.

Anna Volkmer:

It is a coping mechanism.

Ozama Ismail:

For the Imposter syndrome I think.

Charlotte Mykura:

It’s such a shame that we don’t all talk about it more. I mean, when I first started my PhD, I made a promise to myself that I was never ever going to pretend that I understood something that I didn’t understand. I was going to be the one that put up my hand and said, “I’m sorry, I’ve lost you there. Is it okay if you repeat that bit for me?” Or ask a question at the end that perhaps I was a bit worried about, maybe I should have remembered it from my undergrad. I promised myself, and I think that’s one of the reasons, this is horrible, one of the reasons why I lost the respect of my colleagues and of my supervisor, because they’re so used to that high level of people kind of putting on this front that they actually thought I was less intelligent because of it.

Ozama Ismail:

But for me, I feel exactly the same in sort of academic environments, but I think that’s one of the things that drove me to want to be a science communicator because I am always sitting there in any given science room going, I don’t know 50% of what’s happening here, maybe less. For that reason I want take a step back and understand step-by-step, and that’s why I like start doing stuff around science communication because for me I thought if I can break it down to myself then I can break that down for anybody, and make anybody understand the science. And I don’t know if it’s the same for you Charlotte.

Charlotte Mykura:

Definitely. The thing is, it’s completely unreasonable to make someone feel like they’re an idiot when you’re explaining something. It’s so important that we’re all, as a society, a lot more accepting of the fact that the person that we’re talking to probably doesn’t understand half what we’re saying, especially as scientists. And I really love having an open, honest dialogue for people as a science communicator, where I can see that they’re understanding and that they will stop me. They have the confidence to stop me if they ever don’t understand me because they respect me on a level as a human that is, we’re standing together as equals. I’m not up on some like pillar as a ridiculously intelligent unattainably intelligent person because it’s not the case.

Ozama Ismail:

Yeah.

Charlotte Mykura:

Anyone who knows me knows that that’s not the case.

Ozama Ismail:

It’s the nature of science, isn’t it? I don’t know if it’s science or if it’s academia. When I was very junior, in my career, I remember thinking, “Oh, gosh, everyone in science has a certain level of knowledge that they somehow magically get, and I’m supposed to get that knowledge somehow.” And that’s how it’s seen. And then you start to move through the different ranks of your career and then you realize that either you didn’t get the memo somewhere, or everyone’s pretending to know all of this stuff and talking in this very high level language. And it’s only when you then start to meet more normal scientists, who are willing for you to stop and ask questions and discuss it in a bit more basic level, then you go, “Oh, so there’s stuff I know that you don’t know.” So it’s okay that the stuff that you know, I don’t know.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Yeah.

Charlotte Mykura:

Have you guys ever had a senior member of staff convince you that you’re wrong about something that you were like, “No, I’ve read all the literature. I know what I’m talking about here, this is this.” And they’re like, “No, no, no. I researched that for many years. You’re wrong there.” And you’re just like, “Oh, okay then.” And you go away and you’re totally correct and they were wrong. And I’m just so frustrated sometimes at the unwillingness of some people who are very high up to just be like, “Oh actually, what’s that? I don’t know what you’re talking about there.”

Anna Volkmer:

Yeah. I guess it’s about losing face, isn’t it?

Charlotte Mykura:

Yeah, definitely.

Anna Volkmer:

And probably for the same reasons that we’re worried about, our Imposter syndrome. They would lose face and everyone would know they maybe didn’t know anything. I know that I’ve done it in clinical situations where a patient’s asked me. So for example, I was seeing a patient, I was working in Australia and they made a word error on the test, and it was pictures, it’s a picture naming test. And they used a word I’d never heard of and I’d assumed. So it was a cigarette and they said smoko. Chris is already laughing. I assumed that meant that they’d made a semantic error, phonological error. And I said, “Oh, so that’s because of your stroke.” And the guy stopped me and he said, “Actually Anna, it’s an Australian word.” And I carried on and I said, “I’m really sorry, Mr. Smith, you’ve actually had a stroke. That’s a really common thing.” And we had this back and forth and I said, okay, I’ll just go across the corridor and ask the psychologist. And I went over and much to my shame, it is in Australia and it means cigarette break.

Anna Volkmer:

And I was so I was like, “No, they called me out.” So on the one hand, I’d actually convince myself as well that I knew, because it kind of makes sense with language, that you could make an error like that. So I was quite convinced and then I realized that I just demonstrated that I didn’t know the relevant context for the word. So in the one hand, that actually also confirmed my Imposter syndrome. But he didn’t seem to mind. He thought I was human, I think actually afterwards, the patient. He was laughing his head off. He thought it was really, he was saying, “Oh you British, you’re so funny.” He took it as a really, it improved our relationship.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Nice. So that brings me back to something, so it’s that kind of acceptance of you having made a mistake. That brings me back to something that you said that earlier, Charlotte, about acceptance being really important in being in an environment where you have that acceptance. And Charlotte, you both said actually stand-up comedy or actually science communication is something where you do have that acceptance where it’s okay to ask a questions, it’s okay to stop you, as a speaker, and say, “No, I don’t understand that last part.” So I’m wondering if we can reflect on acceptance in an academic context, because for me, it seems you have less of that acceptance in this environment where it’s all very, very competitive. You don’t want to look stupid in front of your peers, in front of your bosses. Does that ring true with?

Charlotte Mykura:

Yeah. I think one of the issues, and I’m just talking personally now, actually and from many of my PhD peers, that when you go into a lab, for some reason in science, it’s a bit enriched for people who are lacking certain social skills, or they just honestly, they’ve just met someone and they just don’t know what to say. I met somebody in my lab for the first time. They looked at me and grunted and ran away when I first met them because they just were so confused by a new human. And so there’s that. And then you also have, yeah, the extreme competitive nature. Some people will just work 12 hours plus a day, including weekends, all the time because it means that much to them. And when you shut yourself away like that and you focus yourself like that on this one, singular object, other things like relationships with your peers, they absolutely go out the window.

Charlotte Mykura:

And there’s a lot of breakdown in mental health as a result of that. And this really affects the relationships that people are able to build in labs. On top of that, this might all be okay if we had strong management for a lab. But of course, lab supervisors, principal investigators, are not trained as managers, they’re scientists. And managing sort of this social situation in the lab is quite difficult. We don’t have days where it’s not like, “Hello everyone, let’s all get to know each other. Let’s sit down and make friends.” You walk into a lab and you start working for some people. And you go and stand next to someone and you’re like, “Hi.” And then they look at you angrily and then you’re like, “Okay, I won’t say hi again to you.” But maybe they’re just in the middle of something and they didn’t want to say something. But yeah, it’s a tricky one, making friends in labs.

Ozama Ismail:

Well, I think I agree with all of those things and I think sometimes, on the other sort of side, sometimes you do have to look or behave in a certain way to fit in a lab. And so it’s almost like that human side has to be taken out because if you don’t fit that image, and this is again, this is maybe my personal experience in my early days in working in science, you had to like talk a certain way or you had to maybe just come across a little bit posh, or you don’t talk about your personal life. So for me, in the early days at least, I never used to talk about being gay in sort of a science environment. And so I felt like I was being fake in that environment.

Ozama Ismail:

And then that again, I’m like, “Okay, so now I’m faking upon a personal level and I’m a fake scientist. What even am I?” And it just drives you nuts thinking about those aspects. And even still, even though now I’m very open and being open has helped me sort of challenge those kinds of behaviours, I guess, where people are like not willing to accept that you do actually have a human life behind all the science. There’s this one instance I remember recently where we were at this conference and just based on the way the presenter was speaking, someone leaned into me because I was gay and said, “Is that person gay?”, almost as if I was supposed to know. And also, it’s funny how this person is giving this amazing talk and you’ve noticed this one thing about them. And it made me think about how much I had to hide stuff in the past. And it’s like you have so many more barriers to break through, not just if you come from a minority group, I guess, is what I’m trying to say.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Yeah.

Ozama Ismail:

And that contributes massively to this sense of not being real. And I don’t know if that’s something that other people have experienced as well.

Charlotte Mykura:

I can’t speak on behalf of being a minority, but as a woman, I mean there’s lots of women and scientists, but particularly as a young woman, I found it quite hard because I was often referred to as a little girl. “Oh yeah, we have the sales here, it’s for the little girl with the orange hair.” And I was like, “I’m a fully-fledged woman, actually.”

Ozama Ismail:

You’re challenged on your competence.

Charlotte Mykura:

Yeah. I was just brought down in that moment, because I’m a young woman. I wasn’t even that young, was kind of a normal age. But yes, I definitely felt that people spoke to me, at times, like I was a child, which was a bit confusing.

Anna Volkmer:

Wow. We were touching on this before we started the podcast, weren’t we, about how there’s a stereotype of what researchers are perhaps expected to be at certain levels. And when I walked in one of the guys who was saying, “Well, I expected you to be 20 years old.” And I’m not, I’m quite a lot older than that. But equally, I’ve reflected with some of my friends who are clinicians, that when I did my undergraduate training, I did my undergraduate degree in speech therapy here at UCL, and I wasn’t academic, I wasn’t very clever, I didn’t get good grades. And then I went to become a clinician and I felt like you had to be really intelligent to be an academic. That was the key skill and I certainly didn’t have that.

Anna Volkmer:

And then as I started working in speech therapy and meeting other health professionals and some who had done perhaps further research work, I also realized that actually, perhaps I didn’t need to be uber intelligent, I needed to be really enthusiastic. And having come back round to the field of academia, coming from a clinical background into academia, that idea of not being intelligent enough still haunts me in some ways. This expectation that if you’re an academic, you must be incredibly clever, have really good ideas all the time and really high IQ. And yet, the other day it took five of us PhD students to work out how to do print page on the computer. These things suddenly creep in and you’re like, “No, I’m not intelligent. I can’t do anything.” And actually, I also realized, yeah, so I do identify much more with being enthusiastic and passionate and hardworking rather than having to fit this high IQ box.

Charlotte Mykura:

The same is definitely true for me. I don’t feel like I’m an intelligent person. I just work very hard and sometimes something that someone else in my lab will sit down and do in five minutes, I’ll be like, “Okay, let’s think about this.”

Anna Volkmer:

That’s right.

Charlotte Mykura:

Half an hour later.

Anna Volkmer:

Yeah.

Charlotte Mykura:

Come out with it, maybe it’s the wrong answer, maybe it’s the right answer. Who knows? But yeah, definitely, I try much harder. That in a sense, I think is a good thing, apart from when the enthusiasm wanes.

Anna Volkmer:

Yes, of course.

Charlotte Mykura:

And then you’re left in a bit of a pickle.

Anna Volkmer:

That’s true, statistics.

Charlotte Mykura:

Yeah.

Anna Volkmer:

I had to do some statistics recently and I was trying to work it out and I was at home and my husband actually said, “Anna, what did you get for GCSE Maths? You should know this.” I said, “Oh, I got an A.” And he said, “I got a C and I know exactly what this is. It’s just basic algebra.” I said, “I definitely didn’t learn this. Why are my GCSEs important, 30 years later?”

Anna Volkmer:

And yet, still talking about that grade I got, and I said to him, “I think I’m just really good at remembering things,” and my enthusiasm for statistics, after the third time I’ve had to do a statistics module, are really waning. I just can’t maintain an enthusiasm for this. I guess that’s where your peer group, and actually that, so in my office, the other girls in my office, we happen to be all girls. Some of the girls are really, really good at statistics, much less skilled in, for example, writing a polite British email. So we trade skills.

Charlotte Mykura:

Oh my gosh.

Anna Volkmer:

So they helped me with my statistics and I help them articulate a polite email.

Charlotte Mykura:

Yes, I had to help so many people do that because I was, a lot of the time, the only British person in my lab and I was called on all the time. I felt so clever. I was like, “Well, let’s go through this point by point,” and they’d send me the email and I’d modify it for them before sending it on.

Anna Volkmer:

Exactly.

Charlotte Mykura:

It was great fun.

Anna Volkmer:

Absolutely. The peer group is wonderful.

Charlotte Mykura:

Yeah. I think one thing that’s key to getting rid of Imposter syndrome is goofing around with your peers. If there is a massive cardboard box, let’s all climb in it just for 10 minutes and laugh about the cardboard box or fling things around. Or when you drop your sample on the floor that you’ve spent three weeks preparing, verbalize it as aggressively as you desire, and everyone does it. And then very soon, so I mean, although I really struggled with the sort of, “Oh, do I know what I’m doing? Is this good enough?” Especially because I don’t think that was necessarily my fault. I don’t think that was a narcissistic tendency. I think that the goals, as a PhD student, are so nebulous, you don’t actually know what you’re supposed to be doing. But goofing around and just being so honest when you made a mistake with your lab mates and then laughing at it, it just really helped banish Imposter syndrome for me.

Ozama Ismail:

Everybody sees that you’re human, you see yourself, that you’re human, don’t you?

Charlotte Mykura:

Yeah.

Ozama Ismail:

I would agree with that and I think just talk about, just be human in the lab. I don’t think that’s necessarily always like met very openly either.

Anna Volkmer:

Absolutely, yeah.

Ozama Ismail:

So I’ve had comments made to me when I first started doing comedy and podcast, someone said, “Oh, you’re very sort of open about yourself.” And I was like, “Okay. So I’ve talked about sex, big deal.” And they were just like, “Oh, so shocked that you were just being a normal person, and that there was a normal person behind the scientist.” But for me, that was really important to just feel like I was this complete person, not just this front I was putting on at work, and for me to just let go of that kind of, I don’t know, uptightness I guess.

Anna Volkmer:

Absolutely. And I think the more you’re open about it, the more people offer help and their advice. There’s the old saying, “Two heads are better than one,” or, “It takes a village.” I think that those sayings are there for a reason because we can’t all have all the skills to do everything and we need to share our resources and our knowledge. And I think you can find that not only from within your immediate peer group, but from broader peer groups. So I do some blogging and I’ve had other clinical researchers email me saying, “Your blog helped me, and I live remotely and I’m a remote student to this other university. I have very little in terms of peer group.” And she was saying that things like blogging really helped her, so reading my blog.

Anna Volkmer:

And I certainly read other people’s blogs, there’s lots of really nice blogs about writing, academic writing. That’s not a skill I feel I’ve got, necessarily. It’s a skill I feel I’m working on. And I think many people say that but I feel I’m working quite hard on. But actually a lot of those blogs are really useful. They give useful tips and hints and strategies and the more I practice and use some of those tips and hints, not all are for me, but some of them are, I think that helps. And then always, Chris and I have talked a bit about things like exercise, running.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Indeed.

Charlotte Mykura:

Exercise. I think they’re the two things that got me through my science communication and comedy, which is where I met Oz.

Ozama Ismail:

I think we bonded over Imposter syndrome because my first set was about being a complete fake in London.

Charlotte Mykura:

Yeah, I felt-

Ozama Ismail:

We connected.

Charlotte Mykura:

We did. I sat in the audience, like, “Yes.”

Dr Chris Hardy:

[crosstalk 00:29:18]. Trying to find out who you were.

Charlotte Mykura:

Yeah, making friends, I guess, with PhD students from other universities who also were massively keen for communication, it really lifted me, and just having a really solid moan with them was fantastic.

Anna Volkmer:

Yeah.

Charlotte Mykura:

Exercise as well. Get out, get running, it was lovely.

Anna Volkmer:

It’s good.

Charlotte Mykura:

It helped burn off that rage.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Yeah. I completely agree.

Anna Volkmer:

Talk to your mom. That’s always good, I find that useful. It sounds really silly, but my mum is a female in a male dominated industry. Excuse me. She’s a financial journalist and she told me when I went into my grant application, grant interview, sorry, she told me to think like a man. And although I don’t think she necessarily meant that, I think what she meant was, in her industry, at the time when she was working in the late 60s and 70s, she became more, what’s the word, well known in that industry. It was male dominated and I think what she was referring to was just be confident and outgoing, and have a go, rather than, and so I just thought, “Well, I’ll just try that.” And it actually really helped. I think that advice, and often I go back to my mom and say, “Oh, it’s so hard.” She says, “Just keep going.” Those kinds of support networks were really helpful as well.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Yeah.

Charlotte Mykura:

Yeah.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Well I think that’s some really good advice and it’s been a really interesting discussion. We’re going to have to wrap up soon. Before we do, does anyone have any final words on the subjects that you’d like to say any words of wisdom that you feel they should impart to people out there listening?

Ozama Ismail:

Well, I guess from a personal point of view, I think just remember that science, all through your science career, there are so many failures. I feel like science is pretty good at setting you up, because you will fail, not just in your experiments, you will fail, you get rejected from grants, you get rejected from papers. But for me, you just have to keep going. What I’ve learned over the years is that you just have to keep trying. What I would like to see, I guess, from academia, from science is just more of a support system or more of a net for people to be caught when they fall because that’s what I’ve lacked and that’s where I’ve found my mental health struggle in many times, is when I haven’t had a real support network for when experiments were failing time and time again. I had to just keep going, or facing many rejections on applications, grants, even my PhD. But yeah, just if you don’t have a formal support system, then just lean on your friends, lean on your comedy friends as well, and just find hobbies, like I 100% will say what saved me in a very dark time in my PhD was finding this comedy world and just letting everything out through that. And had I not entered that side of things, I would have definitely quit my PhD because it was that dark.

Charlotte Mykura:

I think I massively agree with, yeah, there will be lots of ups and downs, lots of downs in particular. But so long as you, I can’t say this word, can you help me Oz? Compartmentalize.

Ozama Ismail:

Compartmentalize.

Charlotte Mykura:

Yes, I said it. Yeah. So, go home at 6:00 PM and have an evening to yourself, have your weekends, make that rule for yourself and don’t overstretch yourself, and just allow yourself to be human. And also, this is kind of the opposite advice to keep on trying, which is know when to quit.

Ozama Ismail:

Yeah. Absolutely, I would agree.

Charlotte Mykura:

And really be firm with people who tell you to do something ridiculous. Go in there, march in and say, “No, actually I don’t think that’s a good idea,” because you can say those things and you should say those things, and in the end you’ll be respected for it. Don’t keep your head down and keep on grinding, keep on banging your head against the wall just because someone’s been like, “Oh, carry on trying. Oh, carry on trying. Oh, carry on trying.” Go in and say, “This isn’t working, I’m going to try something different, something new, take a new route, a new path.” Don’t be scared to do that because I was and I was so afraid of putting my foot down and in the end it cost me quite a few years.

Anna Volkmer:

I was just going to also add, excuse me, that I think it’s really important to talk about it because if you talk about Imposter syndrome, you generally find that other people are experiencing it. And the more you talk to other people about it, who’ve been through it, the more they’re generally willing, like today us coming here, to pay their knowledge and experience forward. And these kinds of opportunities, these kinds of podcasts, I think are great ways of sharing those experiences and strategies. And I’ve been part of a group of speech and language therapists, we’ve come together. One of the only things we’ve done so far is we’ve developed a Twitter handle called @ClinAcSLT, at clinic academic SLTs, and we’re trying to develop an online community of academic speech therapists who can share their knowledge and pay it forward to aspiring speech therapists who may want to try academia but feel too anxious and worried. And so hopefully people won’t waste years trying to do that.

Charlotte Mykura:

I have one more point, which is that I feel a lot of people at the top are like, “Oh, I went through a terrible time. Therefore I would treat those lower than me not as nicely as I should do.” And I think part of we’re all talking about this is great, yes, like you were mentioning support networks, it’s so good that you’ve created that Twitter handle, you are creating this community. But we also need the people at the top to be nice and to be accepting.

Ozama Ismail:

But it’s seen as a rite of passage, isn’t it?

Charlotte Mykura:

Yeah.

Ozama Ismail:

Like, “We went through that, so now you go through that, and then you will graduate a broken mess.” But you will have a PhD. So everything will be okay.

Charlotte Mykura:

Yes.

Anna Volkmer:

Hopefully, they’ll all retire soon.

Charlotte Mykura:

Yeah. We would take their places.

Anna Volkmer:

Yeah, that’s it, a new generation, the new wave.

Dr Chris Hardy:

That’s kind of the bully mentality, right? I was bullied at school, I will be the bully, it’s that vicious cycle.

Charlotte Mykura:

Yeah, definitely.

Dr Chris Hardy:

And I think you’re absolutely right. I think we do need to break that. So I mean, I think it’s been an incredibly interesting discussion. Thank you so much for sharing so openly, so honestly. We talked a lot about the real importance of acceptance and being able to have that internal monologue and express that openly to your friends, to your colleagues, and to be silly sometimes, to do some exercise, to actually make sure that you have some breaks from that work or from your PhD.

Charlotte Mykura:

Big breaks.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Yeah. And to go home at 6:00 PM.

Ozama Ismail:

Go on holiday.

Anna Volkmer:

And guilt-free breaks as well. Don’t sit there watching the TV being like, “Oh, I should be at the lab. It’s fine, you’re allowed a break.”

Dr Chris Hardy:

And for me the most important thing is to talk about it because I think, as you’ve all said, this is something that it’s almost something we’re ashamed to talk about. But actually, by being open about it, by sitting opposite three amazing people here for a variety of reasons and then hearing you talk openly about your Imposter syndromes and some of your failings, if you call them that. I think that’s amazing and I think that’s really inspirational for the people listening. So thank you so much. So that brings us to the end of today’s podcast recording. So thank you Anna, Oz and Charlotte.

Ozama Ismail:

Thanks for having us.

Anna Volkmer:

Thank you.

Charlotte Mykura:

Thank you.

Dr Chris Hardy:

Pleasure. So, you can visit our website to look at profiles of all of our panellists and Anna, your regular blog contributor. So please visit the website and take a look. And if you’ve got anything to add on this topic yourselves at home, please do post your comments in the forum on our website or drop us a line on Twitter using #ECRDementia. And please remember to subscribe to this podcast through SoundCloud and iTunes, and to tell your friends and colleagues. Thanks so much.

Charlotte Mykura:

Thank you.

Ozama Ismail:

Thanks.

Anna Volkmer:

Thank you.

Voice Over:

This was a podcast brought to you by Dementia Researcher, everything you need in one place. Register today at dementiaresearcher.nihr.ac.uk.

END


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