Stages of PGR Student Identity
The expectations you place on yourself at the beginning of your PGR studies and during your research can have a significant impact on your wellbeing overall.
Becoming a PGR candidate is a process that takes time and personal development. However, many new students fall into the trap of assuming that they should be able to do everything that a PGR finalist can do, right away. Imposter syndrome can also exacerbate this – focusing your attention on what is different about you, what you don’t know or can’t do or where you currently lack confidence .
This can lead to new PGR students feeling like a fraud just waiting to be discovered.
In fact, research in this area clearly shows that PGR students move through a series of phases of identity and competence . You begin in, what is called, the Anticipatory Stage becoming aware of the skills, behaviours, attitudes and knowledge that you will need to be successful – and recognising that these may be different from current previous skills, knowledge, behaviours and attitudes.
Noticing this gap is not only completely normal and visible to researchers, it is actually helpful. It allows you to plan a route forward and take the necessary steps to acquire these competencies, as you move into the next phase. If you accept this gap as normal and expected and work with it, then you will move forward, improve your abilities and gain in confidence and a sense of belonging.
The problem only arises when you identify this gap as evidence that you don’t belong and allow worry to prevent you from doing what will be helpful. Accept the fact that at the start of your PGR studies, you won’t know how to do this yet – and that this is ok. You will get there but there are things you can do to help.
For example, the next stage of development is the Formal Stage – when you use the resources around you to develop the knowledge and skills that you need. Research has shown that PGR students who engage in training programmes and events, have improved self-efficacy, confidence and wellbeing . Speak to your supervisor and/or the graduate/research office, identify the development opportunities that are available for you and go to as many as you can. Prioritise these events, as they will help in multiple ways.
As your confidence increases, you will move more into the third stage – the Informal Stage. At this point you begin to become more a part of the research community and to feel a greater sense of belonging. Again though, you can help yourself to get to this point by being willing to attend Faculty events and pushing yourself to speak to others in your community – both within your university and externally on forums and at conferences.
Finally, you will move into the Personal Stage – when you actually feel like a researcher and are confident that you belong in this role and in this community .
Allowing yourself to move through this process, accepting where you are in each moment and then taking active steps to move from one stage to the next, will help you to feel confident and comfortable in your identity as a PGR student, a researcher and a member of academia.