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The Imposter Syndrome

January 14, 2009

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Now that you’re in, are you qualified? Are they going to find out you’re really an imposter?

Maybe you just got into grad school, started a new job, or landed a new project. A case of the “Imposter Syndrome” can grab you no matter your experience or accomplishments. It’s the feeling that you don’t really belong, that you’re a fake or a fraud.

Actually, it’s a feeling that’s not uncommon, as I found out when I entered grad school. I’d gone back to school after a few years of working, so some of my technical skills were a bit rusty. I was hitting the books hard and putting in hours at the lab, but I was feeling overwhelmed and not sure of myself. Everyone else seemed to have it together.

Then I found out about the “Imposter Syndrome”. Apparently, it is well-known in grad-school circles, although not recognized among psychology professionals as a real disorder. For me, just knowing that people much smarter than me were having the same feelings helped. Hmm, I guess it didn’t occur to me at the time that this could have made me feel worse.

Confidence is often a fine line. Don’t dwell on your failures OR your successes. Be honest with yourself. Recognize your accomplishments, learn from your mistakes, and move on.

A few relevant links:
Wikipedia
Cal Tech Counseling
Chronicle of Higher Education
Overcoming the Imposter Syndrom

Photo credit: Meliha Gojak

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