Dear Attic Editors – Impostor Syndrome
This week, Olivia and Lauren respond to a tumblr message on impostor syndrome.
I'm afraid you might have already discussed this in another column, but seeing as it's been a particularly trying time, I thought I might ask since I admire your work very much. I'd love to pursue graduate studies, but I'm worried that it won't be the right fit for me. My professors have been encouraging, but I can't seem to shake off these feelings of inferiority... Is this just imposter syndrome, or should I be listening to my gut? If the former, any tips on how to combat it? Thank you!
Impostor syndrome is a vicious, vicious beast, and I wish it would stay away from all of us female academics. I struggle with it, my friends struggle with it, and it definitely sounds like you're with it, as well.
Are you passionate about what you study? Are you ready to put in a lot of hard work? If so, then you deserve to go to grad school. If your professors are encouraging, then it's likely that you already have put in a lot of work, and everyone around you believes in you. In the graduate world, if your professors believe in you, then there's nothing you can't accomplish.
My main advice with impostor syndrome is the old "fake it til you make it." Work hard, but more importantly acknowledge that you work hard. Acknowledge all the little steps that you take, reward yourself, and think about what you've already done rather than all you have left to do. Maybe make a list of all that you've accomplished at the end of one week as you prepare your to-do list for the next. No matter how hard it gets or overwhelmed you are, it's important to acknowledge that you aren't just standing in place, even though it may sometimes feel like you are. Constantly tell yourself that you deserve to be where you are. Maybe start a bullet journal to keep track of all the positive sides of your journey.
You can do this! You matter, and you deserve to go as far as you want to in your studies.
Wishing you the best,
Impostor syndrome is one of the worst things I dealt with in grad school. I always felt like my peers were more intelligent than I was, that it was somehow a fluke that I got in, or that there was some big joke being played on me and I hadn't yet figured it out. Grad school is a huge decision, both financially and mentally. But if you are passionate about your area of study, there's absolutely no reason why you can't do it.
Olivia is completely right - you've got to fake it till you make it. I found that one of the best ways to combat my impostor syndrome was to ask at least two questions per lecture/class. That way, I reminded myself that I was still a student and still had things to learn, but also that I was capable of understanding the academic material and of questioning it as well. Being a student often means simultaneously acknowledging that you are smart enough to be there, but that you still have so much to learn. It's a lot to juggle, and feelings of inferiority will no doubt creep in. But again, if you are passionate about what you study and you'd like to pursue further education, you absolutely should do it.
Wishing you all the best!