Overcoming Impostor Syndrome with Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin

Lisa Orbé-Austin, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and executive coach, with a focus on career advancement and leadership development. She is a co-founder and partner of Dynamic Transitions Psychological Consulting, a career and executive coaching consultancy, where she works mostly with high potential managers and executives. She earned her doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Columbia University. Her views about career advancement, job transitions, leadership, and diversity & inclusion are regularly sought by the media and she has appeared in outlets such as The New York Times, NBC News, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Refinery29, Business Insider, and Insight Into Diversity. She has also been honored as a Top Voice on LinkedIn in the area of Job Search and Careers. Dr. Orbé-Austin recently gave a TEDx talk entitled “The Impostor Syndrome Paradox.”

She regularly consults with organizations in the private sector, non-profits, and educational institutions in supporting their employees and senior leadership teams to address gender bias, diversity, equity, & inclusion concerns, leadership development, effective communication, team cohesion, and managing conflict. Her practice also consults to universities on the reorganization & evaluation of their career centers to enhance their efficacy and metrics, in order to improve service delivery, data analysis, and student career outcomes.

Her book, Own Your Greatness: Overcome Impostor Syndrome, Beat Self-Doubt, and Succeed in Life (Ulysses Press, 2020) co-authored with her partner, Dr. Richard Orbé-Austin, was released in April 2020.


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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • That time when Dr. Orbé-Austin’s high-profile advisor turned out to be the web site, Grammarly
  • That time when her advisor tried to sue her
  • That time when Dr. Orbé-Austin’s toxic boss thought fetching coffee was her job description…yes, when she was a doctor
  • That time when she decided that her practice was really a business
  • That time when Dr. Orbé-Austin realized that failures in business are the keys to success
  • That time when a publisher recruited her to write a book

In this episode…

Do you feel like you’re a fraud, a sham, a pretender to your own throne? Are you sure that any day now someone is going to find you out and expose you?

In this episode of An Unconventional Life, Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin shares her traumatizing doctoral experience with Dr. Russell Strickland. Having a difficult advisor always makes the dissertation journey longer and more perilous. But having an absentee advisor? An advisor who then threatens to sue you when you finally switch to another advisor? For Dr. Orbé-Austin, the experience added two years to her doctoral studies and sent her careening into a dead-end job that was only tenuously connected to her degree. Fortunately, an epiphanous moment at work jolted her into leaving that job behind, without knowing what might lie ahead. This leap is faith was rewarded with a more fulfilling job, that gave her time to grow her private practice, which motivated her to grow a vibrant community through public appearances, speaking, and writing.

As Dr. Orbé-Austin put it, “there are a lot of really great opportunities for academics.” You simply have to get out there, “just really be human,” and the opportunities will flow.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done, America’s #1 authority in dissertation completion for working professionals.

Founded by Dr. Russell Strickland, Dissertation Done serves people in two ways:

  1. If you’re struggling with your dissertation, getting ready to start your dissertation, or just plain wanting to get your dissertation done as soon as possible, go to www.dissertationdone.com/done and Let’s Get Your Dissertation Done
  2. If you’re busy living your Unconventional Life and have a message that you want to share, maybe you should join our Expand Your Authority Program to become a published author. Go to www.dissertationdone.com/book and let me know that you’d like to talk about Expanding Your Authority.

Visit www.dissertationdone.com to learn more about our other services and leave a message or call them at 888-80-DR-NOW (888-803-7669) to schedule your free 30 to 45-minute phone consultation.

Episode Transcript

Disclaimer: This transcript is here for your reading convenience. It was created by machines and may (a-hem) contain some errors. If you email us about these errors, the machines will undoubtedly find out. I hope they won’t get angry.


Intro [00:00:03] Welcome to An Unconventional Life, a podcast where we share stories about the crazy one percent out there who earned their doctoral degrees and then went on to use them in crazy, cool, unique, and unconventional ways. Here’s your host, astrophysicist turned teacher, author, dissertation coach, and more, Dr. Russell Strickland.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:00:28] Hello, this is Dr. Russell Strickland, the founder and CEO of Dissertation Done, and your host for an Unconventional Life podcast today. I have with me Dr. Orbé-Austin. She’s a licensed psychologist, executive coach, an author, TEDx speaker, and more. We’re going to get into it here soon. Dr. Orbé-Austin, welcome. Thanks for coming here today.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:00:48] Thank you so much for having me.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:00:50] You are so welcome. Want to let everybody know that today’s episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done. If you are an adult doctoral student and you are getting ready to start working on your dissertation or embroiled in the battle right now, feel free to reach out to his DissertationDone.com/done. And we’ll see if you might be a good fit for our Fast-Track Your Dissertation coaching program, where we get our students through the dissertation process, usually about in about a year or so, but definitely saving you years off your time to graduation. And if by any chance, you’ve already won the battle and you’re a doctor and out there operating in that expert space and you would really like to expand your authority and credibility, the best way to do that is by becoming a published author. And we take folks from the blank page to becoming an expert published author in less time than you would think possible. And we do that in a way that strategically designed to help you grow your impact and authority so you can check us out at DissertationDone.com/book, fill ouot our little contact form, and we’ll get in touch and see if you’re a good fit for that. So that’s the commercial. Dr. Orbé-Austin. I am so excited to have you here today. And again, welcome.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:01:56] Thank you. I’m excited to be here, so I’m excited about this conversation.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:01:59] So I often will start off by asking folks, tell us a little bit about why you made that decision to jump into a doctoral degree program. It’s a decision that 98 percent of the population doesn’t make. So so we’re the crazy ones out here to do that. What what was your particular reason why?


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:02:17] I think the reason I pursued a PhD was because I was in a master’s program in the field. I was in a counseling master’s program. And at the time the master’s program had just these master’s programs had just become license eligible. OK. And as a result of that, there weren’t a lot of states that were accepting the license or actually had the process to become licensed. And some of the states that had I wasn’t necessarily interested in living in. And so I started to think about what are my other options if I couldn’t become licensed or in some cases it was hard to become licensed because the process wasn’t all that solidified. So I thought I would have to pursue the Ph.D. and get licensed as a psychologist to practice or to have the ability to practice without being so encumbered by the newness of a license. That’s what kind of drove me to apply for a Ph.D. program.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:03:06] I think that’s a completely unique story, that earning your Ph.D. was the path of least resistance.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:03:12] Little did I know it was going to be a lot worse than I thought. But so, yes, at the time I thought it was going to be that way.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:03:20] So we all go into this with the best intentions, right? We have all these successes behind us, but a lot of us in the hitting a hitting a bit of a stumbling block at some point. Did this experience ever throw up any roadblocks for you or any challenges you weren’t expecting?


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:03:38] Of course it did. It did. I think because I had gone to a master’s program, I was able to bring in like 30 credits into my doctoral program. And coursework had never been my issue. So I cruised through my coursework. I our programs are a little different in psychology. Our programs are what we call and sometimes consider two PhDs. And so we have like a like a clinical kind of component to our food and a research component to our PhD. So typically on average, our programs take around five. It’s purported to be five years, but in American Psychological Association they say it’s that average of seven. Actually, the programs say five, but it’s actually accurately seven.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:04:16] And so for those going into doctoral programs, heed those words. It’s always the programs say one thing and then the data says something different. Look at the data, the data.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:04:28] And so I thought the program said five, I can get on five and maybe even quicker because I was able to get thirty credits that gave me one year. I cruise to the rest of my, my, my coursework. I was done probably by second year. I had finished all my coursework and I was ready to start my dissertation. My particular advisor had a very messed up process around how to begin the dissertation process. He would not discuss your topic with you. You had three chapters written, which is kind of crazy because once you talk about it, until you have three chapters written, yes, he would have one little conversation with you about the topic itself and usually a very top kind of discouraging conversation. Like I think it’s a good idea. No matter what it was, it was never a good idea because I talked to other people who had these conversations with him. You get one conversation and then you have to produce these three chapters. And so that’s a really daunting thing for someone who’s never done a dissertation before. And, you know, I. I didn’t want to lose the time or momentum, so because I didn’t even get to start my dissertation, we had a dissertation advisement class, but I wasn’t eligible to start it until the following year. And I was like, I don’t want to lose time. So I got some support from another faculty member who kind of in secret met with me and helped me to put it together because she felt it was also a messed up, cruel process. And so she helped me put these three chapters together and I was able to produce the the first three chapters for the conversation with him prior to even beginning my dissertation. So I was a third year and I had my first three chapters done. And when I when I gave it to him, he was shocked because he made didn’t know I was getting the help that I had to do it. Yeah. And I think he thought it was going to take me a lot longer, which it should have, you know. And I remember turning into to be so proud of being so excited that I was on track to finish in the way that I wanted to. And it took him like I think it was two months to get me the first set of comments back. And the first set of comments was so devastating because I looked through the entire document and all he corrected was the demonstrative pronouns. Literally, all the corrections were with this, that, these, and those. And there was no substantive comments on the material. So it was frightening because I knew in that moment, even as a naive third year doctoral student, that this was going to bode for a very long process and that I was in trouble. And so my dissertation was the hardest part of my my doctoral career. And it was very a very rocky road that eventually led to me leaving my advisor and having to be assigned a new advisor. My new advisor was fantastic. It was kind of a little scary to go to my new advisor. I was the first, he was a new faculty member, I was the first dissertation he was ever working on, I mean, other than his own. But so it was nerve racking. He didn’t know the process as well in terms of like all the administrative, but getting the outside reader and all this other administrative stuff, I had to figure out a lot of it on my own, which I was pretty resourceful at doing. But all of that time I was able to finish by the third year, I didn’t get out of my doctoral program until I was a seventh year.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:07:39] When did you start with the new advisor? How long did that take?


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:07:42] I started with the new advisor my fifth year.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:07:45] So about two years with the new advisor then?


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:07:48] Yeah, it took me two years with the new advisor to get through. Yeah.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:07:52] Yeah, so lots of lessons there. I mean, we certainly hear from everyone, well, almost everyone that the classes are fairly straightforward, fairly. And the analogy I always tell folks is that you’re your last doctoral class is much more similar to classes you were taking in fourth and fifth grade than it is to your dissertation, because it’s true.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:08:13] It’s kind of you know, they were they were they weren’t hard. They were they were less hard than undergrad and a lot of ways. And they were you know, I got the materials, I took the certificate. We had a certification exam in order to be ready. I took the certification exam, killed it like did amazingly well. And certification exam when most of my classmates failed it and I was doing well. But then this process where I wasn’t in control of all you know, I’m not going to control the way that it turns around kind of stuff. That really slowed me down. And I had a very powerful adviser and I couldn’t get help. I mean, to the point where I actually I actually went to the dean of my program to tell him what was happening and ask him for help, the dean of my college, actually, and he told me to stand up and to get out of his office and to and that we never had had this conversation.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:09:02] Because of the power that that.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:09:05] Yes. That my professor wielded. Yeah.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:09:08] Then this all smacks of very old school, traditional academic, academia, politics, all of this sort of thing. He probably has this notion of you. He’s going to stand guard on the, you know, the doors of the ivory tower and you have to knock him down.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:09:23] Yeah, I guess that was exactly what it was.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:09:26] If you’re good enough to do that you deserve it. And if you’re not…


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:09:29] Then you stay, you stay here like he had some students that were like twenty years, twenty fifth years, like, insane, disgusting kind of things.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:09:36] You wonder at some point when someone gets the hint, right?


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:09:41] Yeah. I mean I think you know,.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:09:42] What kind of career I am going to have? I’m twenty years into my doctoral degree.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:09:45] Yeah. And they just keep going. I mean. Yeah I don’t know, they just want to give up and you know, I think you’re right. I mean, I was I was at Columbia, so it was the Ivy League and this idea of like kind of that he held a throne and and he was only going to allow certain people to the throne. And it was just, you know, no matter how competent they actually were to complete the thing, he was going to decide who was or was not going to move forward or at what pace they were going to move forward.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:10:11] And so incredibly, incredibly important piece of information here is if you have at your school that your program, the ability to choose your advisor, do your research and ask people how long are they are they advised by this person? Well, it depends on what you’re interested in. Right? Most of the students that I serve want to get graduation as soon as possible. They have other things. They’re not going to stay in academia, persay. And so what their advisor thinks of them or anything else is irrelevant so long as their dissertation is approved. That’s the level at which they need to care. And so if that’s you, then make sure that you’re choosing an advisor whose actions and hopefully attitudes are consistent with your goals. If you want a spot in academia and Dr. All-Star is going to be able to secure your your next position in in the field, then by all means you have to deal with Dr. All-Star, most likely, at least that’s one path. But to be clear on your intentions, be clear on your goals, be clear on your objectives and make sure that you are managing your doctoral experience so that it aligns with those goals.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:11:16] And make sure to I think I think you’re totally accurate on all of those points. And I think also to make sure that Dr. All-Star has had a history of putting other faculty members into other institutions because a lot of them look like they can and they talk like they can. And then when you look at their recent your recent grads and where they’re at, they’re not doing it. And so I think it’s really important that they actually show you with evidence that they’re actually you can see.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:11:40] And again, just know what your goals are, know what your intentions are, and then make sure that you are, as you put it, checking off the boxes, that the path that you’re taking is a proven path to get to your goal. So if that person to put you in a faculty position, has he put others?


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:11:58] Yeah. Don’t think of yourself as an exception. Don’t think I can do this differently. I can do it. I’m the one who’s going to get. No, you’re going to get through on the average of everyone else.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:12:07] Exactly right. Every doctoral student I’ve talked about is smarter than any other doctoral student. And they don’t realize that you’re now talking about doctoral students. You’re not talking about everyone anymore. So you’ve got to remember that. Yeah, you’re probably going to be in general. You’re going to be the average doctoral student.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:12:27] Yeah. And that if there are parts of the process that are out of your control. And so you really have to understand how those function with the particular person you’re going to work with. I mean, I was told I think that we our particular program called the old English Method of PhDs, you get assigned an advisor, they determine the future of your life and the trajectory. And so you figure out sort of what and believe people when they tell you if they tell you something hard, you don’t want to. It’s like listen to them.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:12:55] Yeah, if you talk to one of your Dr. All-Star’s, current students and they like I can’t talk about him.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:13:00] Listen to that.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:13:01] That means something. Yes. Yeah, absolutely. So. The process can be daunting, the process can and is not entirely in your control in some cases. So depending on how early you are into your doctoral journey, look into that and figure out how much you can control. You’ll be happier the more. Yeah, the higher your locus of control is.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:13:26] Exactly. So my husband and a great advise0 here, a very different, much smoother process.,.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:13:35] What are you talking about? This is easy.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:13:38] He had a blast. I mean, his adviser was fantastic and in a very different experience.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:13:43] And that’s so and so that experience does depend often on your degree program, your institution.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:13:48] And your advisor. Yeah.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:13:50] Absolutely. OK, so once you once you started with his other advisor and you were really making true progress, so now you didn’t have someone literally standing in your way and trying to keep you from progressing at that point, did things move smoothly or were there still some obstacles that you had to overcome?


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:14:09] I mean, I think things moved to really I mean. Well, to be honest, yeah. It didn’t move completely smoothly because my my advisor threatened to sue me and my dissertation being part of his intellectual property because I had passed I had passed already my proposal hearing. And I’d also pass my data hearing with and we have a proposal, little data and then defense. So I had passed I just passed the proposal hearing with him. So he said that my my work was his intellectual property. Meanwhile, he hated my work and so.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:14:40] The philosophy of the dissertation is that it is the student’s work. So yes, in academia you are often doing your professors work for some period of time. And sometimes I have the experience of writing papers and the professor’s name goes on the paper. Then my name goes on with his, then his goes on with mine. And then you get your name on your own paper, which is often your dissertation might be the first time that happens.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:15:05] That’s the healthy academic experience. But that’s not what I had.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:15:12] And any threat is just inconsistent with the philosophy of the dissertation. He is saying that your work.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:15:17] And he was saying it was his work.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:15:19] Right.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:15:20] And so what happened was that the administrators at the college decided with my advisor who they had assigned to me, he was forced to take me on because this guy would have demolished anyone who took me on voluntarily. And he was he was told that if I could, I could proceed with him on the same dissertation. He wanted me to start over. That was what he was trying to do. He was trying to sabotage me to start all over again. He said I the administrators decided that that I would continue on the work that I have been continuing on if when I published it, his name was on it and that he didn’t get off that, because he was off the committee, didn’t get off the publication. And I said over my dead body, will I ever I ever published this dissertation. So like, I never published it and I never intended to publish it so that I would make sure that I never had to include him on anything.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:16:09] So you agreed with their stipulation and then silently like, I just won’t publish it then.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:16:14] Exactly. That’s what I did. And then my my advisor was fantastic. And he really was incredibly supportive. It was incredibly different experience. I was able to we have to do an internship, an approved internship, kind of like medical students. And I finished my dissertation while on internship, which is pretty unheard of because it could be a very intense experience being an internship or working in a hospital. And and you’re having to spend time on your research on the weekends. So but I was able to finish it and I was able to defend at the end of that year that I finished my internship thanks to my advisor who carried me through a really complicated data hearing where my chair of my data hearing was a statistician, which is not easy, but it was fantastic. We did really well and and then defend and it was really it was a very lovely celebratory experience. And he took me for that. And it was it was very reparative.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:17:05] And that is so, so good. I hear occasionally people saying that their defense was, you know, a difficult process. And certainly if you had stuck with your original advisor, that you would still have been that difficult.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:17:17] Probably, yes.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:17:18] But I think there’s some benefit to being challenged in this process, because certainly if you stay in academia, you will be challenged at some point in your career.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:17:28] And it was challenged, but nothing that felt unfair, like especially in my day to hearing, like not my defense.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:17:34] That that final OK, now I’m defending this should be like your mind off on your work and they know what your work is. And unless you stand up there, you can’t speak English anymore…


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:17:46] And you’re burnt. So, you’re so badly burnt, you can’t do anything. But I think, you know, the questions were fantastic in my defense, they were really thought provoking. They have made me think about where the where the data and the research was going next, things like that. It was very collegial and collaborative. And I think I loved that my data hearing was challenging. It was questioning the stats. I ran the results, the tables. That was much more challenging. Got through it, but I think I got through it because I was really supported with a fantastic advisor, really having that heart is.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:18:14] Yeah, and then when you mentioned that you’re the word to use with your defense was collegial. And that’s a point that a lot of doctoral students don’t grasp as they’re in the doctoral experience, is that when you graduate, you’re a doctor. In this defense, you should be talking almost at a peer level. Yeah, these guys are still kind of supervisors because they have to sign off on your work, be it should feel they will know that you’re ready if they feel like they were talking to a peer, if you were not intimidated and you were not deferential, but you were here, this is the work and this is what we said. And if someone disagrees with you, feel free to get right back to them. What you’re talking about, that’s all.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:18:52] Yeah. And get away. And and actually, like, things came out of that defense, like, you know, out of that defense, people wanted me to work on collaborating on grants with them. And so it was a really lovely, fantastic experience and did really well, but it started very dramatically.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:19:07] Now, coming out of that experience, I know you’ve done all sorts of wonderful things. So I want to talk a little bit about the experience of of building a new business for your practice, because that’s really what it is a lot of experts think about. And I’m building a practice and helping other people and they don’t think about it in that way of I’m also building a business. And I know you’ve had some success with that. Your TEDx talk, your book. Tell me, tell me what came next after you sort of cross that stage, either literally or metaphorically.


Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin [00:19:36] So what came next was like a mental collapse where I really kind of like just like totally messed up, like I just was so burnt out after, like, all that experience in the seven years there that I just have a lost a lot of confidence. And I had I was struggling with imposter syndrome and I made some like, you know, they were fine choices. They weren’t like that. They weren’t great choices for me for where I could go. But I was very insecure and I was in a very kind of like cheating place of my skills. And I ended up in a really bad job that had nothing to do with being with being a psychologist. And I had a really toxic boss. I talk I talk about this in my TEDx talk and that and in that in that in that experience that that toxic boss, you know, he was harassing me. He was very he made me feel he would humiliate me publicly and kind of like, you know, ask me why there’s no hot coffee. I was I was training professors on how to teach. That was my job in an unconventional way. So I was teaching them kind of how to think about using math with context and all these different things. But the job was somewhat interesting. But the way he treated me was like as if I was there to serve coffee. And it was really quite embarrassing and really rough. And and eventually, you know, I struggled to leave the job. I struggle to believe I deserve more, that I could really start a practice or do anything for myself. And then I was in a meeting with him. We had an all female senior staff and there was music playing. And someone asked, what is this music that you’re playing? And he said, it’s music to soothe the savage breast. And in that one moment, I just like the lights went on and I was like, what am I doing here? How am I taking this degree? I worked so hard for and like, just throwing it down the tubes, like I’m letting this country I just, like, had this momentary life flash before my experience and I decided to quit the job on the spot. No. Two weeks notice, nothing. I cleared my office out. I quit the job on Monday. He threatened my career in academia, said I would never work in academics again. He would make sure of it. It was really, really awful. And I think that I, I always say, like, I don’t remember going home. I remember my footsteps walking on the linoleum outside of his office because I was so heightened. But all I remember is being in my living room, walking in a circle, having like a panic attack and figuring out what what did I just do, what if my career’s over and and all this stuff. And and my husband said, just give yourself some give yourself some room to breathe. Give yourself some time. You’ll have a job in no time. Don’t think about it. And within two weeks, I had another job in an academic setting actually within the same academic institution, not the same college, but in another college, within the same system.

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.