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Library Service Blog

Wellbeing Wednesday - I is for Imposter Syndrome

by Kirsty Hemsworth on 2022-06-22T07:00:00+01:00 | Comments


Imposter syndrome is a feeling a self-doubt, a nagging feeling that you somehow don’t belong or have cheated your way into a position of responsibility that you don’t deserve. It’s a sense that you’ve accidentally managed to fool everyone that you’re smarter or more competent than you are, and often arises when you’re in a new position or environment – for example, starting at university, a new job

Imposter syndrome has been fashionable phrase for some time. I remember starting my PhD at a new university in 2013, and I spend the first 6 months feeling that I must have been accepted onto the course by accident! I was overwhelmed and felt that the people around me were doing better, and this was often described by my supervisors as imposter syndrome. The phrase has re-emerged recently in the wake of Covid – ‘Britain’s Covid-era university students may suffer ‘imposter syndrome’ read one headline in the Guardian – suggesting that the move away from traditional exams during lockdown might lead students to feel they hadn’t earned or justified their place at university.

I read an article recently that changed my thinking on imposter syndrome – ‘Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome’ by Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey. The article argues that imposter syndrome isn’t always a helpful diagnosis, as it puts pressure on the individual to overcome the obstacles and emotions that make them feel side-lined or not included. Instead, Tulshyan and Burey argue that it is often environments that make people feel this way. For example, a mature student returning education after an extended period in employment may experience ‘imposter syndrome’– they may compare themselves to their course mates with more recent experience in education, exams and A-Levels, and feel that they aren’t as well-equipped for university, or that they aren’t deserving of their place on the course. But Tulyshan and Burey argue that these students aren’t imposters, they just have different backgrounds and experiences – differences that should be valued and accommodated by their tutors, rather than being used to create ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups.

Top tips for beating imposter syndrome:

Talk to others: Imposter syndrome can often be a result of comparing yourself to others and judging yourself harshly. Opening up a dialogue with other students or your tutors can help you to see another perspective and recognise that others may be feeling the same.

Journaling and reflective writing: Keep track of your progress and small successes across different aspects of your life, not just studying. This can help you to recognise your skills and appreciate your own strengths.

Notice inequality: Imposter syndrome can often be caused by your environment. Look out for situations where people’s biases may be at play – this can help you to rationalise some of your worries or feelings.

If you’ve experienced imposter syndrome, or recognise some of the experiences in the article above, here are some books and resources on how to manage these emotions:

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