Thursday, 29 September, 2022

Imposter Syndrome in Students

Jainab Tabassum Banu Sonali

Imposter Syndrome in Students
Jainab Tabassum Banu Sonali

Popular News

It happens many times that many students feel low, down and full of self-doubts when they find themselves in a whole new academic environment that is higher in degree, more populated and surrounded by more brilliant people with astonishing academic and professional accomplishments. Students, despite having the worth of securing good positions in the particular field of study, often feel unworthy of the place. They are scared of being found out as incapable and brick-headed learners who mistakenly fell out of their place and got lost in an unknown labyrinth. Out of the fear of getting caught dumbfounded, they start posing like fake intellectuals. They get out of their true selves and start showing off like the Other who, they think, would belong to this brilliant troop of academics. This sense of not belonging or not believing in one’s own capacity and competent is an internal crisis which is called “imposter syndrome”.

Imposter syndrome, often termed as fraud syndrome, is an anxiety of self-doubt that is caused by continuously undervaluing one’s own competence. As the word itself suggests, the person who suffers from this syndrome, that is an impostor, often pretends to be someone else. We do not realize, but many students around us commonly suffer from it. Instead of getting rid of it, they keep on playing the pretenders’ roles and finally end up making miserable choices for their careers and lives.

One thing is to be clarified that imposter syndrome does not hit every student similarly and equally. The first-generation university students suffer from it the most. In my teaching career, I have gotten many students coming from non-academic backgrounds who were the first in their families to get enrolled in the university or tertiary level education. Because of having no prior knowledge or even second-hand experience of being university students, they often underestimate their achievement and keep feeling low about themselves. Still, for the sake of belonging to the broader community, they pretend to be smart scholars.

Students coming from rural places also tend to have imposter syndrome. First, they get into the campus and try their heart and soul to cope with the new urban academic environment. No matter what they achieve, they still think of themselves as unfit and incapable addition to the cohort of bright intellectuals. As a result, they outsmart their mates by pretending to be over smart. They feel the pressure to look, talk and be like others and so they become posers.

These impostors do not even ask questions in the classroom because they think that their questions would sound silly and everyone including the teachers would judge them. Their silence ultimately does not protect them, rather prevents them from learning a new concept properly and growing intellectually. When this syndrome sustains for longer time, the impostors even suffer from bigger problems. From choosing careers to choosing life partners, they underestimate themselves and make miserable decisions.

Dear readers, especially the university students, if you find imposter syndrome in you, read my next couple of paragraphs more carefully. First of all, I confess that I have been suffering from this syndrome after coming to the US for pursuing my PhD in Rhetoric, Writing and Culture. Since English is not my mother language, my tongue cannot twist like the way the American tongues do. I thought to myself, despite having a good number of publication and adequate teaching experience, I am incapable of using this language like others around me. I felt low, inexpressive and eventually stopped writing anything. Still, I pretended to be smart though all my intellectual growth suddenly was in coma. The anxiety, in my case, was a silent killer. It was slowly killing my confidence and self-worth. Before I lost myself completely, my classes start!

Then I was assigned with a reading task by one of my professors Dr. Alison Graham-Bertolini. It is a chapter of a book Grad School Essentials written by Zachery Shore. I read about this imposter syndrome and then self-diagnosed it. It was a relief when I noticed that my peers, even the American mates, were going through the same phase. And then the magic words poured down from Dr. Bertolini’s mouth, “You are here, because you’re enough and you worth it! Don’t pretend to be someone. You’re enough for yourself. Be yourself. Just be YOU!” This statement coming from my teacher with utmost believability drastically changed the way I was looking at my new academic sphere and I immediately felt empowered all over again!

It is important for the students to know and acknowledge that they are capable of learning so many things that are there on heaven and earth. They are worthy of getting the university degrees in the fields of their interests. They are enrolled in a program to express and contribute their ideas to the academia, not to impress their cohort or community. As Zachery puts it in his words, “impostors forget that they are not supposed to be scholars yet. They are scholars in training”. And they are capable of being trained to be scholars. They are teachable, because they have this cognitive faculty in their brain.

Many students still do not get rid of the imposter syndrome because somehow, they are humiliated by their teachers. I know about many similar cases where students were made fun of when they asked questions to the teachers. So, it is also a teacher’s job to help an impostor to deal with his or her internal disaster and get rid of it. Even teachers have occasional imposter syndrome when they go to conferences to share their ideas and present their papers in front of a super-intellectual belt of people. So, suffering from imposter syndrome is quite common with the teachers too. However, we all have our own way to handle our anxiety. 

Every day does not go equally well. There are times when we feel low and stupid. Just that we feel it, it does not mean that we are meant to be it. Everyone has his or her own pace to move forward. If we stop comparing ourselves with others, all the fake poses will eventually get dismantled. If we just develop positive thoughts about ourselves by knowing and recognizing our capacity, we can fight against the negative emotions that make us feel unworthy. Lastly, if we just accept ourselves as the way we are and always keep rooms for further improvements, we can surely get rid of imposter syndrome and shine in our academic, professional and personal lives with flying colors.


The writer is an assistant professor

of English at Premier University and doing her PhD at North Dakota State University, USA