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Imposter syndrome

Dan Harvie recently finished his PhD and so is in a good position to look back and try to deconstruct the process. Here is one of the lessons he learned along the way.

70% of academics have Imposter Syndrome. Do you?

In the same way that our parents may have difficulty internalising our adulthood, it seems that we academics may have difficulty internalising our successes—leaving us feeling like imposters.

Those with imposter syndrome are unable to internalize their accomplishments. That is, regardless of their level of success or what external proof is available, they remain convinced that they do not deserve the success and are essentially frauds. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, and their ability to deceive others.

You may have imposter syndrome:

  • If you worry that others will find out that you’re not as capable as they think you are.

  • If think ‘Phew, I fooled them again’ when you have a success.

  • If you believe that other people are smarter and more capable than you.

  • If you feel crushed by even constructive criticism, seeing it as evidence of your incompetence.

  • If you tend to chalk your accomplishments down to being the result of ‘chance’ or ‘no big deal’.

  • If you hate making mistakes because this may cause you to be ‘discovered’ or ‘unmasked’.

In a bygone era, a person’s identity was engrained in his/her profession. Shown by the fact that professions were sometimes last names—Baker, Smith and Schindler for example—leaving little room for you, or others, to question your identity. Today, however, we have a different relationship with our professions: I work in research and in physiotherapy. Notice that I didn’t say I was ‘a scientist’ and ‘a physiotherapist’, merely that I worked in these roles. Today, we are more likely to seeing our professions are things that we do not things that we are.

Perhaps today we define ourselves by more than our profession, which I do not deplore. However, we may not overcome Imposter Syndrome until we own our success, and this involves owning the roles we fill. As a recovering imposter, I resolve from this day forth to own my profession. I am Daniel Simon Harvie: scientist and physiotherapist.