Shake off self-doubt with skills@cumbria

Academic skills manager, Sandie Donnelly, says drop the doubt and pose your questions

Experiencing something new, like starting university or a new module, can provoke mixed responses. We might feel stimulated and excited by novelty and also feel a bit hesitant about what this experience is going to require of us. Some people thrive on moving into unknown territory, whereas some find it unsettling to the point they begin to doubt themselves and their abilities. 

In the skills@cumbria team, we meet students dealing with self-doubt alongside developing their library, academic and digital skills. We hear students say things like: “I’m a practical person, I can’t do the academic bits.” or “I’m confused but everyone else seems to get it, so it must be just me.”

I really love placement and practice but I’m not academic … maybe I shouldn’t be at university?

Such feelings of self-doubt can lead people to start to believe they don’t belong in a group or job or on their course. We might experience something that has been termed “imposter syndrome” where we feel like a fraud and that any day now others will realise that we’re not good enough. Feeling like this can exacerbate our stress and self-doubt, and prevent us from asking for support as we worry we’ll be “found out” through our “silly” questions.

Image by ambermb from Pixabay of boy in jeans hiding under cushions on settee

Share your questions with skills@cumbria

You know that question about referencing or using OneSearch or reflective practice or writing critically or presenting (etc) that you fear asking because you worry you should know the answer? Well we like those questions and supporting you to find the answers you need. In our experience they’re often important and common questions that other students are asking about so rest assured, it’s not just you! The skills@cumbria team is here to support you. We know that successful students make the most of all the resources available to them and they ask all the questions they need to make progress. They might doubt their knowledge and understanding at times but they don’t doubt their right to seek answers to their questions. Don’t let self-doubt about your academic work prevent you from seeking support. Explore our online academic, library and digital resources on our skills@cumbria website and find out about ways we can work with you to develop your library, academic and digital skills on our Support and Appointments page.

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Shaking off self doubt & building confidence: other resources

Watch this short video by Elizabeth Cox to explore imposter syndrome and ways to manage it: What is imposter syndrome and how can you combat it The video shows how common these feelings can be and how we can manage them by: sharing our doubts and challenges with others; keeping track of our achievements and competence; remembering that we have talent, we are capable and we belong (Cox, 2018).

You might enjoy the BBC Radio 1 Decompression series with DJ and breathwork coach, Stuart Sandeman. In the Building Confidence session Stuart shares tips such as using a power pose, learning from failure, reflecting positively on what has gone well, reflecting on opportunities for growth and surrounding ourselves with positive people who support us. These are all skills, attributes and behaviours that can help us with our academic work. If you’ve not come across the power pose before, you might find this 2 minute version of Amy Cuddy’s 2016 Ted Talk on building confidence through power posing helpful and persuasive.


BBC (2021) Radio 1 Decompression Session. Available at: (Accessed: 30 October 2021).

Cox, E. (2018) What is imposter syndrome and how to combat it. Available at: (Accessed: 30 October 2021).

Cuddy, A. (2016) More confidence in 2 minutes. Available at: (Accessed: 30 October 2021).

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