Saturday 10 April 2021

Imposter Syndrome at university

Rowchell shares information about Imposter Syndrome after researching on this topic to help fellow students who are experiencing feelings of inadequacy, incompetence and fraudulence despite the evidence that indicates otherwise.
- Rowchell Green 

Have you ever felt like a fraud? As though you have been placed in a fortunate position that you did not deserve? Or as if somebody else would be more appropriate to fill the shoes that you have stepped in? If you are familiar with these feelings, then you might have heard the word Imposter Syndrome and you would know first-hand, how over-bearing this can be, especially at university. 

Imposter Syndrome refers to the feeling of inadequacy, incompetence and fraudulence despite the evidence that indicates otherwise. With many friends who have been or are experiencing the impact of this issue, I started looking into this problem to try and help them find ways to mitigate those feelings.

Who can be affected by Imposter Syndrome?

Some may find it hard to believe that Imposter Syndrome can impact and affect the lives of individuals from many different walks of life, from a secondary school child to a ballerina, to a banker or even a librarian. Imposter Syndrome is a widespread condition: research shows that 70% of the population experience Imposter Syndrome at least once in their lifetime.

Whilst all humans can be affected by Imposter Syndrome, researcher Sherman has shown discriminations towards different groups could contribute to a higher vulnerability of individuals experiencing Imposter Syndrome among those groups. In societies where women are prejudiced against, females leaders might question whether they are deserving of their success regardless of the external evidence of their capabilities. Racial and ethnic stereotyping could also intensify the self-doubt experienced by ethnic minority students. 

How can we identify Imposter Syndrome?

To understand what Imposter Syndrome is and to remove common misconceptions, it is helpful to look at what the syndrome is not. Imposter Syndrome is not low self-esteem, workaholism or nerves — though individuals may experience these elements alongside having Imposter Syndrome. Three main signs are associated with Imposter Syndrome: the fear of being exposed as a fraud, the sense of fooling others into overestimating one’s ability and attributing one’s success to other factors. These feelings can be all-consuming. 

Imposter Syndrome and university life

Many of us may have experienced self-doubt. In small doses, this feeling of inadequacy can induce determination to disprove these troubling ideals. However, for an individual with Imposter Syndrome, these feelings are more likely to accumulate and produce an overwhelming sensation of fear about being exposed and losing all credibility. 

Evaluation and assessment are common themes of university life. Students are often required to be self-reflexive and self-critical in those processes. With the amount of pressure and tests that students face, whether this is in the form of assignments, group projects, grades, the constant need to brand, network or represent the best parts of ourselves to future employers, teachers or parents, it is understandable that a large number of university students experience Imposter Syndrome.

Starting university can be particularly difficult for people with Imposter Syndrome. Some of us might feel lost at the welcome lecture, finding 100 students sat down, blanked faced, staring at a grinning teacher who tells us that “you are welcome”,  that “the next few weeks may be challenging”, and that “if you made it here then you must be capable, and smart, and knowledgeable“ and everything else which you may think that you are not. It can be hard to hear those words, and suddenly see the corners of everyone else’s mouths turn up, smiling in agreement, smiling in confirmation, that they are smart and capable and deserve to be here, whilst some may think otherwise. So how can we overcome this? 

Small steps to overcome Imposter Syndrome

Fortunately, it is possible to overcome Imposter Syndrome. First, we can pay attention to our thoughts and acknowledge whether they are disabling or empowering in order to navigate the habitual cognitive patterns that we may have. We are also advised to consider our strengths and be appreciative of the fact that perfection is unrealistic, to reduce the high expectations we have of ourselves. Most importantly, it is helpful to discuss our feelings with a trustworthy friend or family — opening up about insecurities or struggles can allow us to make progress in the right direction and receive the support we need. 

If you identify with some of the topics mentioned, I urge you to remember that you are not alone. In that welcome lecture, where 100 of you are sat down, many of you may feel the same way and it is important to know that there are support services available to you — all of you!

** Following studies were consulted when writing this blog:
  • The Imposter Syndrome, or the Mis-Representation of Self in Academic Life (Joel Bothello & Thomas Roulet, 2018)
  • How to Stop Feeling Like a Phony in Your Library: Recognizing the Causes of the Imposter Syndrome, and How to Put a Stop to the Cycle (Lacy Rakestraw, 2017)
  • Imposter syndrome: when you feel like you’re faking it (Rose Sherman, 2013)

Visit Student Space to explore online resources for self-care, access direct support via text, phone, web chat or email and find the support available at your place of study. 



Hello, my name is Rowchell Green and I am a student at Warwick University. I am studying Psychology with Education studies. I have an extreme passion about understanding human behaviour and bettering the education system. Outside of studying, I enjoy writing blogs and creating content! You can go to my blog The Student Voice to find more academic-related and wellbeing content created by me. 

No comments:

Post a Comment