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Am I just a Imposter after all?

Everywhere I go, imposter syndrome accompanies me. Through each accomplishment, it has been right by my side to question whether I deserved that success. Afterall, it was probably just luck.

Maybe I’m still too close to the PhD experience to know the secret of taming imposter syndrome, but I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not about confidence or accomplishment at all. It doesn’t matter what I accomplish or how capable I am because I never think it enough for the space I occupy.

Recently, I had the pleasure of lunch with a former mentor one year post-PhD, and I told them how I still feel completely unqualified in these spaces I’ve worked so hard to claim. Here I am at the helm, yet I offer the wheel to whoever walks on board rather than steer the ship I built. To my surprise, this senior faculty and amazing researcher admitted they often feel the same, even when they’re the expert in the room. It wasn’t exactly the grand answer I was hoping for…

Since that lunch, I’ve been stuck on how we can tame imposter syndrome and whether there’s any hope for me at all. Imposter syndrome tells us that we don’t belong. It tells us we don’t know enough, aren’t smart enough, or aren’t good enough. We hear these insults inside our heads, but maybe we just aren’t listening the right way. When it says, “you don’t belong,” it could be reminding us that we can make these spaces better. When it says, “you aren’t smart enough,” it’s simply saying we have the opportunity to always learn.

From that same perspective, maybe feeling unqualified isn’t always a bad thing, either. We should be constantly learning from the people around us and building on our skillset. It’s important to recognize all we’ve accomplished, yet it’s equally important to earn the space we occupy each day rather than take it for granted.

So maybe taming imposter syndrome isn’t about confidence; it’s about believing we can always improve. As academics, it is our job to pursue the unknown. We don’t know enough, sure, but that means we’re simply positioned to always learn and discover. With some practice, maybe my imposter syndrome can become the reminder that keeps me growing rather than the bully that holds me back.


Thank you to Ellen Wixted and Deborah Joppi for the graphic for sharing her experiences.

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