January 22nd, 2015
For those of you who were unable to attend the Impostor Phenomenon 101 Panel event on Tuesday, I thought I’d post a quick reflection piece about the event to share all the great advice and insights . First off, the event was very well attended which indicated that many grad and PhD students may be struggling with the impostor phenomenon.
There were a few key take-aways for me:
Longing for Belonging
So what is this whole impostor phenomenon thing and why did GradMinds devote a whole panel event to it? Dr. Janelle Joseph poetically described the phenomenon as a “longing for belonging”- to be an accepted member of a group.
All of the panelists described it in their own ways, but I think the best summary is that it refers to the feeling that you’re not good enough in the particular role or setting you’re in. It stems from not internalizing your own accomplishments and leads to the feeling that you don’t belong among your peers. Despite putting on a confident facade, you may be thinking “how can anyone think I have something of value to contribute?”
“Fake-it-till-you-make-it” but also “stay true to your authentic self”
This may seem like a contradiction, but really it’s a fine balancing act between maintaining your authenticity and forcing yourself to act with more confidence than you’re feeling. Many of us have been in situations when we feel out of our element. This may be in a job interview, entering a new academic program, or giving a presentation. You want to fit in and make a good impression, so you may be trying to act the way you think you should to appear comfortable and confident. This is totally normal, just be sure you are still acting within the realm of your comfort zone and staying true to your self and to your values.
Panellist Curtis Norman, who spoke to his experience of being a first generation student, put it well when he said “we need to stop internalizing what an “academic” looks and acts like, and stop trying to fit into preconceived boxes.”
It’s Impostor Phenomenon NOT Impostor Syndrome
Panellist Natasha Brien, PhD student from the Faculty of Social Work made this distinction, that the framing of the problem is important, and it’s positive to frame this issue as a phenomenon rather than a syndrome. Sometimes this issue is referred to “impostors syndrome”, implying it is a defect at the individual level. Natasha noted it’s more productive to recognize the issue as a broader and systemic social phenomenon that is a result of our culture’s fixed notion of what success looks like.
Impostor Phenomenon is common when you’re taking a risk
Each panelist described their personal experience with the impostor phenomenon, and it was noted that in all cases, this impostor feeling was most prevalent when they were trying something new and putting themselves out there. This varied from entering a new PhD program, applying for jobs, or starting new jobs. Taking risks, while stressful and sometimes scary, is important for your professional and personal growth. Of course you may feel nervous and a little like an impostor when you’re in new situations, so next time you feel that way, remember that it’s because you were confident enough in the first place to try something new! Let that confidence creep back into your present self and maybe you can slowly push that impostor feeling away.
Here are a list of on-campus resources that were mentioned at the event:
- The U of T Career Centre where you can find one-on-one career counselling. @UofTCareerCtr
- The Academic Success Centre can help you improve your academic skills and “fake-it-till-you-make-it”, eg. helping you find the confidence to give great presentations
- GradMinds hosts many events for grad students to share their experiences, like their Peers are Here chats which are a non-judgemental drop-in space where you can connect with fellow students, discuss your campus experience, and practice mental wellness through mutual peer support.
Did you attend the panel? What did I miss and what was your key take-away from the Impostor 101 Panel?