Have you ever been in a lecture or research group meeting and found yourself stressing out about whether you feel prepared or qualified to be in the room? Feelings of inadequacy are prevalent in graduate and professional school, and can be exacerbated by the misconception that we are experiencing these feelings alone. The reality, however, is that this is common and many of us face what is called “imposter syndrome” more often than we might care to admit.
But what is “imposter syndrome?” It can be defined as “feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” This might look like doubting your intellectual qualifications, mastery of your field, or even wondering if you’re ever producing high-quality work. It’s important to note, however, that these feelings should not be completely equated to low self-confidence. In fact, sociologists have instead found that many perfectionists suffer from imposter syndrome, perhaps stemming from an inability to be satisfied with or give praise to their own work.
Imposter syndrome can be particularly prevalent for students of color, international students, first-generation students, students from low-income backgrounds, and others who are traditionally underrepresented in academia. When you’re the only one from your lived experience in the room, it can often feel especially isolating, and you might start to wonder if something is wrong with you versus if something is wrong with the lack of representation.
So, now that we’ve identified the problem, what can we do about it? While these strategies are by no means exhaustive, they can be a great place to start.
- Continue to talk about it, share your feelings, and raise awareness. Consider taking advantage of the many resources on offer at the Tang Center, including a six-week class on self-compassion offered by Dr. Amy Honigman, Senior Clinical Psychologist and Graduate Assembly Wellness Specialist at UC Berkeley.
- Own your wins. Honigman observes that students often deflect compliments, or explain away success as happenstance. She encourages students in situations like this to move away from cynicism and towards self-compassion.
- Allow room for failure and call into question the desirability of a perfectionist culture. Honigman suggests that “students [should] ask themselves if they are becoming the person they want to be,” not if they’re meeting an unrealistic standard of perfection.
- Set reasonable goals for yourself, and accept your strengths and failures.
- Join graduate student groups to find community.
- Get in touch with on- and off-campus resources and expand your networks of those who share your lived experiences.
- Office for Graduate Diversity – Resources for underrepresented graduate students.
- Grad Life – Resources for graduate student life on campus.
- National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD) – Online workshops and mentorship groups.
- Counselling and Psychological Services – Trained counselors, helpful group classes, and a variety of online resources.
Imposter syndrome is real, but we can overcome it together.
About the Author:
Rachel Wallace is a Professional Development Liaison at the Graduate Division and a Master of Public Policy Candidate at the Goldman School of Public Policy.