If you ever feel like you’re not smart enough to be here, you’re not alone.
Imposter syndrome — doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud — is a phenomenon most people will experience at one point or another. In a competitive academic setting like university, experts say these feelings can be heightened.
Sophie Crow, a fourth-year Western University kinesiology student, is no stranger to imposter syndrome. It’s a feeling that has been exacerbated now due to her impending graduation date and her graduate school applications.
“I feel like I’m not deserving, even though I know I’m a competitive candidate for grad school,” she says. “It’s easy to forget the uniqueness within yourself.”
Crow says her feelings of imposter syndrome are often enhanced by social media, especially LinkedIn, where it can be intimidating seeing everyone’s career and academic accomplishments.
“It’s hard to remember that you’re presenting yourself in the best light, but so is everyone else,” Crow says. “It’s not easy to stop yourself from comparing your achievements to theirs.”
Taylor Pratt, a clinical psychology master’s student, completed her undergraduate thesis on imposter syndrome at Brescia University College. She says that imposter syndrome is often found in high-achieving individuals when they enter a new environment.
“When you’re entering a new job, or graduating high school and going to university, there is a demand to perform which can lead to major feelings of self-doubt,” says Pratt.
Though a lot of research has been done on imposter syndrome and high-achieving professionals, Pratt found there was a lack of research on undergraduate students — despite it being a time of extreme change.
“Undergraduate students are emerging adults — they are transitioning to a high stress environment and can feel like a small fish in a big pond,” Pratt says. “I surveyed 48 females at Brescia [in my undergrad], and every single person said they have had feelings of imposter syndrome at one point.”
Marnie Wedlake, a registered psychotherapist and assistant professor in health studies, adds that she believes university settings can be a breeding ground for imposter syndrome.
“A professor I used to have during my PhD always used to tell us, ‘academia eats its young,’ no matter if you’re an undergraduate student, master’s student, postdoctoral candidate or a tenure-track faculty,” she says. “It’s a highly competitive environment. They’re always asking what you’ve got on your CV, or how you’re performing compared to your colleagues.”
But these feelings don’t have to last forever — there are ways to break the cycle.
According to Pratt, creating an understanding environment where students feel comfortable openly discussing their feelings of inadequacy and doubt can help combat these isolating experiences.
“For a lot of people, when they experience this feeling, they think they’re alone, but that’s really not true,” Pratt says. “It’s really important to talk about because so many other people are experiencing this too.”
Wedlake agrees that we must openly talk about our insecurities in order to “beat” imposter syndrome.
“I think we would find comfort in the fact there are so many other people around us who are also trying to find their way,” Wedlake says. “We are all just trying to find a sense of belonging and talking about it will remind us that we actually do belong here.”
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