Developing Resilience Against Imposter Syndrome

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a term used to describe a common phenomenon that can bring on feelings of self-doubt and incompetence, often coupled with a fear of being discovered as a fraud. Individuals who experience this phenomenon may feel as though they aren’t as intelligent or accomplished and that they achieved their success because of luck, timing, or other external factors.1

In graduate school, imposter syndrome manifests as comparing yourself negatively to other students and perpetuating self-doubt, sometimes making you question whether you are smart enough to be there. Negative thoughts can intrude into your mind, causing you to wonder if your professors will find out soon enough that you are the fraud you have convinced yourself you are. This type of thought track is common among those experiencing imposter syndrome, and it affects your self-confidence, adding unnecessary stress to your life.  

Developing Resilience

There are some common strategies you can utilize to help you develop resilience.

  1. Speak up: Let your instructors or advisor know how you are feeling. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t be surprised if they end up sharing their own stories of overcoming self-doubt. Connect with your classmates, they may be going through the same challenges and be able to offer tips or support. There are numerous resources out there to help you, all you need to do is speak up!
  2. Reframe the narrative: Practice positive thinking by reframing your thoughts and focusing on your successes. Go ahead and celebrate your accomplishments — you’ve earned it! Remove the emotion and look at the facts. The fact is you worked hard to get here. Don’t let anyone, especially yourself, take that away from you.
  3. Leverage your classmates: You and your classmates have unique strengths. Some classmates may even have more experience than you in a particular subject matter. Learning from your classmates and seeing other perspectives is exactly what will make your experience in your program that much more valuable. Remember, everyone in your program is there to learn — it’s not a competition.
  4. Your purpose is to learn: Don’t let minor setbacks disrupt your progress. You may not get A’s on all your assignments, but that’s okay. Use it as an opportunity to recognize where you might need to ask for help or spend a little more time understanding the subject matter. You are a student, after all, and your purpose is to learn. Keep doing your best, ask for help when needed, and keep moving forward.

Your place in the program is not by luck. You earned your spot through dedication and hard work. Remember to celebrate your victories, and don’t dwell on the setbacks. Instead, reframe them in your mind as opportunities to learn and grow! 

1 Benisek, Alexandra. “What Is Imposter Syndrome?” WebMD, January 15, 2022.

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