Normalizing Imposter Syndrome
What Do We Know About Imposter Syndrome?
It is likely a common feeling: you are sitting in your specialized course or preparing to give a
presentation, when suddenly you feel like you don’t belong there. Somehow, you must have
tricked the professor or boss to believe that you are qualified, when really you must just be a fraud. Sadly, many of us, especially those in academia and pursuing higher education, are familiar with the concept of imposter syndrome. Simply put, the concept of “imposter syndrome” refers to the mindset that one may hold about themself, believing that their successes are not the result of their competence or hard work, but rather of luck (Edwards, 2019). Commonly, individuals experiencing imposter syndrome will feel that they somehow tricked their superiors into believing that they are qualified for a position or opportunity when in reality they are fraudulent. A great deal of research in recent years has focused on the mechanisms and effects of imposter syndrome, as well as possible ways to combat it.
The current research concurs on several key points within the phenomenon. First, it is undeniable that imposter syndrome disproportionally affects individuals within minority groups. A great deal of research has examined the prevalence of imposter syndrome within different groups, such as first-generation college students (Le, 2019), women in male-dominated fields (Collins et al.,2020), and racial minorities (Bravata et al., 2020). Across the board, researchers have determined that members of such groups experience higher levels of imposter syndrome, and many of them attribute this to a lack of role models they can identify with. Additionally, imposter syndrome has been shown to be more prevalent within certain fields; for example, research has shown that a large percentage of medical students and physicians experience imposter syndrome, significantly more than their non-physician peers (Freeman & Peisah, 2021). The intersectionality of these factors proves a serious risk to diversity within such fields; as individuals belonging to minority groups feel less represented, they thus feel less capable to
succeed in such groups and are more likely to leave a position or not pursue it in the first place
(Chrousos & Mentis, 2020).
While systemic changes in diversity and support may be the best way to prevent imposter
syndrome, there are still several ways to reduce the likelihood of experiencing imposter
syndrome. First, research has shown that seeking mentorship from a figure one can identify with
can be incredibly beneficial. Such mentors can come in several forms, from professors to peers
to professionals in the field. Likely, such mentors will have their own experience with imposter
syndrome and are more than willing to provide a sense of guidance and support (Wilkinson,
2020). Additionally, it has been shown that even simply addressing the topic of imposter
syndrome and how common it is among students can be beneficial; when a group of medical
students was presented with a presentation on the prevalence of imposter syndrome among their peers and outlined simple remedies, more than 90% of the students in attendance felt that the workshop was beneficial and aided in reducing their own experiences of imposter syndrome
(Rivera et al., 2021). Finally, research has also shown that improving one’s level of resilience
and emotional health can act as a protective factor against experiencing imposter syndrome
(Safaryazdi, 2014). Especially in recent years, there has been a huge uptick in the availability and
accessibility of programs that aim to improve one’s mental health in different ways, be it through
meditation, exercise, or simply connecting individuals to others who understand their struggles
Though it may be simplistic to believe that attending a workshop or chatting with a peer can
suddenly make us completely confident in our own work and abilities, such small measures can
easily be integrated into daily life to vastly improve our experiences and thus the eventual
outcomes. If students are taught sooner about the normalcy and prevalence of imposter
syndrome, the sky is the limit on what they can believe they can achieve.
Bravata, D., Madhusudhan, D., Boroff, M., & Cokley, K. (2020). Commentary: Prevalence,
predictors, and treatment of Imposter Syndrome: A systematic review. Journal of Mental
Health & Clinical Psychology, 4(3), 12–16. https://doi.org/10.29245/2578-
Chrousos, G. P., & Mentis, A.F. A. (2020). Imposter Syndrome threatens diversity. Science,
367(6479), 749–750. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aba8039
Collins, K. H., Price, E. F., Hanson, L., & Neaves, D. (2020). Consequences of Stereotype
Threat and Imposter Syndrome: The Personal Journey from STEM-Practitioner to
STEM-educator for Four Women of Color. Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education,
19 (4). Retrieved from https://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/taboo/vol19/iss4/10
Edwards, C. W. (2019). Overcoming imposter syndrome and stereotype threat:
Reconceptualizing the definition of a scholar. Communications on Stochastic Analysis,
Freeman, J., & Peisah, C. (2021). Imposter Syndrome in doctors beyond training: A narrative
review. Australasian Psychiatry, 103985622110361.
Le, L. (2019). Unpacking the imposter syndrome and mental health as a person of color first
generation college student within institutions of Higher Education. McNair Research
Journal SJSU, 15. https://doi.org/10.31979/mrj.2019.1505
Rivera, N., Feldman, E. A., Augustin, D. A., Caceres, W., Gans, H. A., & Blankenburg, R.
(2021). Do I belong here? Confronting Imposter Syndrome at an individual, peer, and
institutional level in health professionals. MedEdPORTAL.
Safaryazdi, N. (2014). Surveying the relationship between resilience and imposter syndrome. International Journal of Review in Life Sciences, 4, 38-42
Wilkinson, C. (2020). Imposter syndrome and the Accidental Academic: An Autoethnographic
Account. International Journal for Academic Development, 25(4), 363–374.