What is imposter syndrome? Well, if other people would say you’re a high achiever but you don’t feel that way, you might have it. People with imposter syndrome feel they aren’t qualified for the job they have (or for the job they want) and no amount of success relieves these feelings.
For Halloween, I dressed as imposter syndrome. It was a 2-part costume:
- Physical representation of imposter syndrome: The ugly mask represents how we feel about ourselves. We know about our failures and rejections and the many times we felt like the only person in the room who doesn’t understand. The pretty mask represents how we present ourselves–our resume, our polished presentation that only shows the experiments that worked, the elevator pitch that makes us sound like the ideal match, etc.
- Survey: I’m a big fan of collecting people’s experiences. I wrote speech bubbles based on a) common experiences of imposter syndrome and b) direct quotes from the stories I collected to make my Grad School Stresses presentation. I carried sharpies with me to the grad student party I went to on Saturday and asked people to add tally marks below the speech bubbles they related to.
- Most grad students have or have had imposter syndrome (Okay I actually knew this already). Heard from a party guest while they were drawing on my costume: “What do I get if I relate to all of them?” Me: “A hug, if you want it.”
- Hot glue doesn’t stick to latex, and E6000 glue (which does stick to latex) smells terrible when it isn’t 100% dry.
- Having 2 removable parts to the costume (graduation cap, mask) meant that I found myself shedding parts of the costume throughout the party and only retrieving them when I got the very reasonable question, “wait, what are you dressed as?”
Full questions on the costume (most are geared towards grad students, but could be adapted to be relevant to other jobs):
- I’ve pretended to know more than I did or been afraid to ask questions [in class]
- Sometimes people tell me I look good but I think if they saw me without my clothes/makeup they wouldn’t think that.
- I don’t know what makes me special or unique [as a researcher].
- My project fails so much and it makes me wonder if I’m a bad researcher.
- Other people seem better at presenting/communicating their research.
- I worry that my mental/physical health issues will always interfere with my goals.
- I don’t have enough publications (or didn’t when I started grad school)
- I haven’t made as much progress as I had hoped.
- I worry I need too much work/life balance or am too lazy.
- I think about leaving grad school and/or sometimes regret starting.
- I worry a lot about my productivity and whether I’ll reach my goals.
- Because I may not go into academic research, sometimes I feel like an outsider.
- My perfectionism slows me down.
- I haven’t prepared enough so thinking about my future is overwhelming.
- I don’t feel as qualified as my peers and I worry people will find out I’m not good enough.
- I’ve avoided applying for something because I didn’t think I was good enough.
- I obsess over criticism.
- I compare myself to postdocs, advanced grad students, or the people who are the most successful.
- I don’t know if I’m smart enough.
- I forgot much of what I learned in undergrad.
Relate to any of these? Share your experience and/or share this post!