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  • Zuzanna Smurzynska, B.S.

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

facing.


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.


References


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-

2959/2020/3.1207


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,

18(1). https://doi.org/10.31390/taboo.18.1.03


Freeman, J., & Peisah, C. (2021). Imposter Syndrome in doctors beyond training: A narrative

review. Australasian Psychiatry, 103985622110361.

https://doi.org/10.1177/10398562211036121


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.

https://doi.org/10.15766/mep_2374-8265.11166


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.

https://doi.org/10.1080/1360144x.2020.1762087

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