Impostor Syndrome article

There’s an article this week on Science Careers talking about impostor syndrome. The writer does a good job exposing the problem:

“Impostor syndrome” is the name given to the feelings that Abigail and many other young scientists describe: Their accomplishments are just luck or deceit, and they’re in over their heads. The key to getting past it, experts say, is making accurate, realistic assessments of your performance….
Impostors have trouble putting those feelings in perspective and worry about their errors, not recognising that their colleagues make them, too. They also attribute their successes to luck or other factors beyond their control, while attributing the successes of their peers to skill….
[Career Counselor] Young says the root of the problem appears to be “very unrealistic notions of what it means to be competent” and says that people “set this internal bar exceedingly high.”

That’s just a taste of the article; I encourage you to click the link and check out the whole thing. And I’m not just saying that because I’m quoted in it.


  1. #1 Rosy
    February 17, 2008

    Oh, how this strikes a nerve. “Abigail” sounds an awful lot like me (even down to the grad school experience). I just interviewed for a tenure-track position (I’m currently research faculty) and the hardest part was wondering if the search committee would realize that I don’t know as much as they thought I did. I try hard to instill in my own students the confidence to believe in their own abilities, it’s just tougher to do it for myself.

  2. #2 guppygeek
    February 17, 2008

    When I heard about Imposter Syndrome a few years ago it changed my outlook a lot (for the better, I guess). It made me realize that maybe just maybe I had some degree of competence and that feelings of insecurity might just be this irrational syndrome whose cause we just don’t undertand. I still feel like an imposter more often than people who know me would believe (several times a month: in the middle of class, while reading a paper, while thinking about my research), but now I can turn my rational side on it and point to my successes (in the last 2 years: paper in Nature, paper in Proceedings of Royal Society, instutution’s award for intellectual contribution, new NSF grant, endowed chair). My point is not to blow my own horn here (really!) but to point out that Imposter Syndrome is really really deeply rooted. My advice: remind yourself every time that those feelings of being an imposter are baseless!

  3. #3 Burrow
    February 19, 2008


    I have been having these doubts and feelings for the past year: that somehow I’ve been able to get this far in math and physics not because I am smart and capable, but because of what you mentioned, luck and deceit. Hopefully, knowing that this is something that happens to lots of people will help. Especially since I really want to go to grad school and become a mathematical physicist (or do pure mathematics, I’m torn really. I love them both and am good at them both.)

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