Trainer Jamie McDonald talks about the recent academic confidence workshops he held with SWWDTP students.


Here’s an interesting thought: Research is home to so many people who are worried that they don’t have what it takes to get by in research?

And yet, there is evidence all around – they are in research and are getting by in it.

But then, reality and self-impression don’t always match up. So, we overcompensate and work relentlessly, or develop self-critical internal chatter, or worry about others finding out we don’t really know what we’re doing. Perhaps we might think mistakes demonstrate our failures and shortcomings or show we’re not good enough, that others are so much better than us, or that we don’t make the cut etc.

This recent programme for SWWDTP students was run by Jamie McDonald over 3 workshops. Participants were able to examine tools, ideas and approaches to develop academic confidence and challenge impostor syndrome. The workshops took a very human approach and in a friendly, calm and appropriately light-hearted environment. During the confidential and interactive sessions, participants developed awareness, practiced using certain tools, and learned how to make helpful choices around important themes.

“It’s remarkable how, despite our many contrasts in discipline, background and everything else, there are still so many consistent patterns in the way we think about ourselves. From fixed ideas about how and who we are, to self-critical voices, impostor syndrome and all those foibles of perception and thought. It’s also remarkable that we often do not realise this commonality. We forget that we are, despite outward appearances, in a somewhat similar boat to each other. Of course, sometimes that is a bittersweet kind of thought, but it is a kind of comfort, along with the realisation that many of our challenges are inherent in the nature of a research degree. It’s good to notice that “it’s really not just me”. 

This is the kind of water into which that similar boat was sailed during our recent workshops. And not in generality or abstraction. People looked specifically at their maps of confidence and whatever the opposite was for them. They also worked on how their patterns help and how not and, on that basis, how they might be managed more actively to develop confidence through time, using an array of tools, models and practices.

Every person in the workshops participated fully and with honesty, open-ness and an acceptance of others which they also turned to themselves. And that is no mean feat. Indeed, it may have been the point of the whole workshop series. It was inspiring to me to see how, rather than by concealing, avoiding or pretending they are not there, but by shining a light on our foibles, weaknesses, vulnerabilities and messiness that our natural confidence resurfaces and is reaffirmed. It’s the kind of confidence that is not caught up in having to look smart, busy, important or invulnerable, but that accepts ourselves just as we are. It was a privilege to work with people in that spirit, and my sincere thanks to all concerned.


Here are some of the comments from participants:

“First of all, thank you Jamie. The sessions were intense and while I did find myself getting tired with all the deep-thinking, it was an enriching experience. You kept the sessions well-paced and relaxed and I never felt rushed to speak or put on the spot. Your handouts have been especially useful and going over them after the sessions really clarified my thoughts. Your directions with the session were clear and your advice helpful. I will recommend this session to all my colleagues.”

“I especially enjoyed the interactive approach, which pulled me out of my comfort zone into a new comfort zone that I didn’t know existed. I think that the practical advice is especially useful as it was partially borne out of my own thoughts, so it doesn’t feel imposed on me – modern hermeneutic, great!”

“Thanks Jamie. Excellent warm and engaging delivery and both practically supportive as well as thought provoking content. Would recommend to anyone, regardless of whether they feel “confident” or not !”

” will admit, when I first saw that this course was over three days, I was intrigued about how those days would get filled out, and what the benefits were about putting it over the 3 day period. However, I 100% see the benefits (at least personally) of constructing it that way. The homework was insightful and really helped me pinpoint what type of anxieties I was experiencing, what distortions might cause them, and what I might do to combat them. I understand this is the beginning of a very long journey confidence-wise, but I am going to try and type up all the wonderful advice, draw out some personal key points and set a few goals going forward about how I’ll deal with low-confidence/high-anxiety situations.

“Jamie was an incredible speaker, guiding us through a very vulnerable experience in a way that generated minimal discomfort. I really felt that over the three days I got to know my fellow attendees, and by the end it felt weirdly emotional, having opened up to complete strangers over the course. Sharing experiences and ideas with everyone was hugely valuable, and then being able to see them all through the frameworks provided by Jamie worked wonderfully at contextualising and naming my own issues.”

Categorised in: