The Impostor, the Hamster and You
A person at the Live Journal applying to grad site asked a good question: How does one deal with impostor syndrome?
Now, this person shouldn’t feel like an impostor. This person got into Stanford. The members of the Live Journal group were super-supportive, which is great to see, as the academy doesn’t always get props for having a supportive community.
Impostor Syndrome is a common problem for academics. But why all the low self-esteem? Academics are among the best and brightest. Here are some of the top sources of Impostor Syndrome, at least in my own experience:
The realization that you haven’t read everything. The reading lists for most grad programs can turn a confident person into a sufferer of Impostor Syndrome right quick. Everyone will seem smarter than you, and they will speak more languages than you do.
Hamster image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
A lack of teamwork. Since there’s very little teamwork, you won’t get the chance to realize that each member of your class has strengths and weaknesses. You’ll just assume that you have weaknesses, and you won’t realize that other people have weaknesses, too.
Isolation makes cattiness hurt more. If you don’t build up a tight cluster of friends, you’ll wonder if anyone has your back. Luckily, people did have my back, but it’s the nature of grad school to feel lonely every once in a while. The good news about the Hamster World is that you have to interact with more people, and you will find allies.
The real impostors have too much self-esteem and too little common sense. Someone in your department or your office will try to one-up you at some point. The one-upper is one of the most dreaded of all grad-school types. If you tell that person you got an “A,” and he or she responds that he or she got an “A plus,” the one-upper is hiding something.
I can’t really tell you how to avoid Impostor Syndrome. I had it. I still have it as a Hamster. The academy is a prime breeding ground for the problem, and the only recommendation I have is that you should take a calm look at your accomplishments and realize the program accepted you for a reason.
And, if you realize that you really sold them on talents you don’t have, which you probably won’t … well, you’re a hell of a salesperson, and I think that you might want to get on the Hamster Sales & Marketing track as soon as you can.