Want to know how to deal with imposter syndrome in academia? We’ve put together these top tips with research and the invaluable advice of our podcast interviewees.
Tip 1: Acknowledge how you’re feeling
Combating imposter syndrome isn’t about ignoring it. Instead, it’s important to acknowledge how you’re feeling and to realize that it’s common and nothing to be embarrassed about.
“It’s a part of natural reflection, looking at who you are,” agrees Dr Mark Proctor from the University of Sunderland, another podcast interviewee. “When you start something new, something you’ve never done before, then you immediately question yourself and your abilities.”
Tip 2: Talk to others
If you take a leap and share your experiences with others, you may be surprised by just how many of your peers feel the same.
“I’d say talk to others, be honest with how you feel” confirms Dr Kolawsky. “Chances are that others are feeling the same way as you and hopefully that will encourage you and give you some confidence in yourself.”
Speaking to trusted lecturers and tutors may also help, even though it may feel awkward at first. Most faculty members will have experienced imposter syndrome at least once in their academic career, so they could be a great source of first-hand advice on how to cope with it.
Tip 3: Seek out feedback (it might be better than you think)
Trusted lecturers and tutors are also great people to approach for feedback on your work. If you’re doubting yourself, it can be scary to ask for feedback, but often it’s the best thing you can do to boost your confidence.
Getting a clear picture of how you’re really performing, rather than imagining the worst, will make it easier for you to have confidence in your abilities. And even constructive feedback about where you can improve is useful in this regard as it will give you a focus on where you do need to work to improve your skills.
Tip 4: Take time to acknowledge your achievements
It’s all too easy to look ahead to what’s coming, rather than recognizing the many achievements already under your belt. On top of that, many people struggle to focus on positive feedback and instead home in on any perceived criticism. That’s why it’s so important to take time out to acknowledge when you have done something well.
“Be kind to yourself, pat yourself on the back when things are going well,” agrees Dr Proctor. “If you’re feeling a little low, then remember what you’ve accomplished already.”
Tip 5: Look for a mentor
Researchers today are expected to have a whole range of skills – as we heard from David Uribe earlier. To fight impostor syndrome, you can try actively improving your hard skills and soft skills. That way, whenever you feel you’re not good enough at something, you can feel confident that you’re improving your skills.
A great way to do that is to find a mentor. This might be something that your institution offers already, or you may need to do a little work to find the right person. Who you choose will depend on what skills you’re most keen to develop, but don’t limit yourself to looking for people in your field.
“When I [advise looking at] mentoring, I’m not saying scientific mentoring,” confirms David Uribe. “Instead, [try looking for] another professional that is providing advice beyond scientific activity. For example, an industry expert, a businessman, or an alumna could provide this kind of mentoring.”