Reflecting Allowed

Revisiting Impostor Syndrome

My friend Patrice sent me this article on impostor syndrome. There is a research project we had initiated (me and Patrice and something like 30 other women) on impostor syndrome in academia and/or ed tech but it has been on hold…partly coz life happens and partly coz the IRB at my institution took a long time and were critical of google Docs and Dropbox privacy policies so… And I guess having such huge numbers of people on another collaborative autoethnography (#rhizo14 being my first experience) is difficult to go on.

I am wondering if it’s time to revive this project but in a new form. I haven’t discussed with my collaborators… But instead of targeting it as eventually being a book, what if it became a website with stories shared and occasionally ethnographically researched? So narratives/autobiographical to start – anonymous or named…and then the stories would be available for us as co-authors to do conduct collab autoethnography on them?

I am personally most interested in social/institutional factors that contribute to impostor syndrome. I have theories about my own and would like to see if others have similar experiences.

I know some of us were interested in studying men’s experiences of impostor syndrome and I would be interested to see if theirs is different or similar to women’s…and whether experiences of minorities are even more different.

I’m gonna try reviving this…the project started out selfish and I think could turn into something therapeutic. Just knowing that other successful women experience impostor syndrome is in itself good to know. I know that recently I was telling someone about it and her relief was palpable all the way from the Philippines to here!

I also know that having my mentor and ex-PhD supervisor (ex becoz he was only my supervisor for the first 1.5 yrs of a 7 year dissertation) here last week gave me a strong case of impostor syndrome. So he knew me as a writer and stuff. Maybe when he came here and spent 3 full days w me he would discover I was a fraud. That I don’t really know what I am writing about. That I don’t really practice what I preach. He saw me in department meetings. Teaching a class. Facilitating a workshop. Helping moderate a session he was facilitating. Organizing events. And chatting with him and others over lunch and in the car to/from his hotel. It was exhilarating but the impostor thing was nagging in the background.

On our last hour together he said something interesting. He said he didn’t know what kind of status I held but he could see I held a lot of authority in my context. I glowed. But I wondered what the heck that meant and whether I really held that or I was putting on an act…for him? For myself? Overconfidence (that’s me) that’s unwarranted (that’s impostor me)?

I don’t know…

4 thoughts on “Revisiting Impostor Syndrome

  1. Oh do go on with the research. And it would be much more meaningful if it were done with a gender component. I don’t know any men who’ve confessed this, but I’ve heard it being said by women, of women. And I’ve heard it a lot in academia, I don’t know whether that’s a bias of my own circle and network or whether the condition is more prevalent in academia, with this concentration of nerds and high-achievers or also something about how power and knowledge work among academics.

    1. Thanks Amina! We should talk, then! I do like taking the gender angle, too, to be honest. And I do suspect it is more prevalent in academia so I need to unpack this. I wrote a few months ago about why I think PhDs automatically prime u for impostor syndrome coz u move suddenly from being a student to being a peer expected to compete for publishing space w ppl who have 20 years experience doing so! And also of course because as u do more research u learn how little it is u really know but ppl see the PhD and expect you to be “knowledgeable”. Which u know u r. But like, not really 😉 (impostor in me again)

  2. Interesting commentary Maha – as the article suggests I’m pretty sure that men are just as likely to suffer from Imposter Syndrome as women but far less likely to admit it. Being retired, I’ve no particular reason to give a hoot what people think of me but now, in a philosophy MOOC, outside my comfort zone, I’m extremely wary about using philosophical terms incorrectly among the cognoscenti and being made to feel inferior in some way. There were many times I felt like that when I was working but NEVER did I confess to colleagues – or even my wife come to think of it!

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