Impostor syndrome: Feeling like a fraud is common among students

Amtec StaffingIt wasn’t until a mentor mentioned to me, it sounds like you have impostor syndrome that I realized what I had been feeling about my work ethic is actually a common phenomenon shared by many people. It’s disorder that is actually documented in scientific literature. As an aspiring scientist, documentation in scientific journals tells me that this syndrome isn’t some rumor or fad, but is observed in many people, especially students. It reassured me to know that other people feel the same way I do about my work ethic. However, I did not really understand impostor’s syndrome until I was watching a Talks with Google presentation given by Frank Abgnale, current FBI agent and former fraudulent commercial air pilot, doctor, lawyer, and expert check counterfeiter. Anyone who’s ever seen Catch Me if You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio knows that Abgnale did not just feel like a fraud, he literally was one. It wasn’t Mr. Abgnale that was consoling me, but a computer engineer at Google that asked him for advice about her impostor syndrome. For me this was huge, Google is a world renowned, transformative company that must hire some of the most creative and intelligent people. Yet some still feel that they are not good enough at their jobs.

Dr. Valerie Young explains that there are five different types of impostor syndrome; you can read about all five types in this Fast Company article. The type that I find myself expressing is titled “the expert.” People with this type of impostor syndrome struggle with a fear of being exposed as not being as scholarly as their peers. This leads to the feeling that you do not know enough. This aspect can be good and bad because despite the feeling of inexperience, it also motivates you to work harder to educate yourself and gain the perspectives you need to become successful.

Flickr CCFor people struggling with any of the negative effects of impostor syndrome I have several words of advice to overcome this burden. First of all, learning that other people feel as if they will be exposed as being a fraud helped me think that maybe this is all in my head.  I just need to keep doing what I have been doing to become successful.

Here are some things you can do to combat symptoms of impostor syndrome:

  • Create a list of short and long-term goals that align with your major and what you want to accomplish by the time you graduate and for post-graduation.
  • Identify people whom you admire that align with your goals. For example, you can reach out to TAs, professors, or people you may know in industry. All of these people are usually happy to speak with undergraduate students.
    • Create a set of interview questions that will help you understand their journey to help you understand how they got to their current position.
    • Think about how your own situation compares to your interviewee, and from this make up strategies to try to emulate aspects of their path. This concept is especially important for introverts for whom it is hard to start networking, which is a crucial skill that everyone needs as a developing professional.
  • Reflect. This means taking time to think about the dreams or goals you have, mistakes you’ve made and how to address them.