Imposter Syndrome

Updated: Oct 2, 2019

We all experience feelings of imposter syndrome at different points in our professional careers, so what is it and how can you stop it screwing up your day?



What exactly is Imposter Syndrome?

I hear a lot of chat about imposter syndrome in academic circles, but it took me a while to get to the crux of what the phrase meant. So here you go...Imposter syndrome is borne out of a feeling that you are not capable of something or feeling that you are not as capable as others perceive or evaluate you to be. Dr Pauline Clance has written extensively on this subject.


Hugh Kearns helpfully indicates a visual framework of imposter syndrome and sums it up as a distinct set of states that you might experience as an academic. Does any of this resonate with you?


Examples of Imposter Syndrome

I think it's fair to say that imposter syndrome is a major challenge for most of us early career academics and is something that is potentially impeding us from becoming our best selves in our profession. This could be for a whole host of reasons - you've not been in the academic game long enough, you feel you haven't done enough for your viva or dissertation, because the higher education goal posts keep changing, because you've just received a rejection on a recent paper you spent a year working on. Alternatively, perhaps, you just got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning.


Steps to Becoming More Resilient

Imposter syndrome is always going to be there, in some shape or form. When you get your first, second or third promotion, when you publish that journal paper or when you receive feedback those feelings are not suddenly going to disappear overnight. So we need to be kind to ourselves and be resilient in the ever-changing landscape of higher education. Here are a few ways to say (I'll let you insert the words here) to imposter syndrome.


1. Raising Consciousness - The benefit of experiencing imposter syndrome is that it raises your consciousness of how you are currently working. It recognises you are trying to be the best that you can be and that you want to develop and improve. So see it as a positive in the fact that you care about your work and how you go about it.


2. Recognise your Value - We each have interesting journeys into academia, and this is because we all have different skills and ideas to bring to the table. While I might seek advice from a colleague on one thing they in-turn might approach me for help on another project. Life would be pretty dull if we were all good at the same stuff, right?


3. Celebrate the Small Wins - Make sure you celebrate your successes, even small ones. For me that's a spot of retail therapy after tackling those paper corrections. Taking the time to recognise when you have made some progress towards your goals will spur you on to achieve more. 


4. Identify the reason for your imposter syndrome - If there are some areas of imposter syndrome that are still niggling at you then take charge. Write down the things that are still bothering you and think about positive steps you can take to address these issues. Look at the list, are all the points logical and based on fact? For those that aren't, get rid. For the issues that remain on your list, think about a logical solution: what can you do to help you improve? So if it's a paper rejection, don't give up, tackle the corrections and send for review, get some feedback from an experienced colleague or try another journal.


5. Take Risks - As part of taking tentative steps to address my own imposter syndrome I have tried to take more (considered) risks in what I do as an academic. For example, publicising this blog in itself was a slightly risky foray. Who am I to share thoughts ideas about life as an academic, does anyone actually care for that matter? Aim to see the value in what you bring to the table and sometimes that value may not be in the traditional areas you thought were your key skills. So be open to ideas and trying new things.


6. If all else fails, put the pen down, shut down your PC and talk to someone: a mentor, a friend, a colleague, you could even tweet us fellow early career folk, read some online articles. Remember, there is no formula for being the perfect academic.


If you have any topics that you would like me to cover on the blog tweet me at @drsamlynch.

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