How to be a more confident grad student

Going from undergrad right into grad school feels a lot like going from grade 12 to first year of university: intimidating and stressful.

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It’s easy to feel out of place and very common to experience imposter syndrome.—that's when you doubt the abilities you know you have in a certain situation.

In the Spring of 2021, I graduated from Dal’s BSc Health Promotion Honours program and this past fall I started the Master of Arts Health Promotion program. I didn’t have the shock of moving to a new city or starting at a new school, but nonetheless, I still felt like First Year me: a little nervous, a little shy, and a little unsure of myself.

Now that I’m in my second semester of the program, I’m gaining more confidence and shedding those feelings of self-doubt. Don’t get me wrong, I still experience imposter syndrome often and sometimes my self-doubt is warranted (I am learning after all), but I feel far more confident than I did a few months ago.

Here are a few of my tips for anyone who may be experiencing a similar lack of confidence:


Make friends in your program

This might seem obvious, but I didn’t do this right off the bat and it definitely impacted my self-confidence—in a bad way. Since I’ve been a Dal student for a while I figured, “I already have friends in Halifax…why make more?” Well, making friends in your program can make you feel a lot less alone, and chances are, they’re going through a lot of the same struggles as you.


Find a mentor

This could be an older student, a professor, or a supervisor—anyone you admire and whose values you respect. For me, this is a supervisor, and we have a great student-supervisor relationship. I feel comfortable reaching out to them, asking them for reassurance, and coming to them with my questions and concerns. It’s great to have someone you can turn to in times of doubt, and it's even better when that person is a role model in academia as well as life in general.


Get involved in something you love beyond academics

Academics take up a lot of your time in grad school, to a point that’s (in my opinion) bordering on unhealthy. It becomes too easy to attach your worth to your academic outcomes. In reality, your worth as a human being has nothing to do with a mark on an exam, a grade on a paper, or your ability to secure a grant. In order to avoid falling into this trap, reserve some of your time for a hobby you genuinely love that has nothing to do with school. For me, that's running and bouldering. It could be knitting, singing, weightlifting—you name it.


Remember why you’re here

Remember how you had to apply to grad school? How you had to have an idea for a thesis, a potential supervisor, and a genuine interest in the program to be admitted? Remember how you had to achieve a certain GPA, offer excellent references, and provide a detailed entry essay? Getting into grad school wasn’t easy and you were admitted to the program because of your ability to excel in it. Whenever you’re doubting yourself, remember what it took to be where you are and find security in the fact that you deserve to be there.

Confidence is something that takes work, and these tips won’t work for every person or every situation. But hopefully someone can gain some confidence from my experience. You’re not alone in lacking confidence as a grad student, but it's important to remember that everything you need to succeed is already within you!

Looking to connect with others who are going through the same stuff as you? Student Health & Wellness runs a weekly online support group for grad students. Register at