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Detect and reject the impostor

From the September 2017 issue of The Christian Science Journal

I’d never heard the term “impostor syndrome” before until I attended a talk on the subject, one of a series given by my university to help graduate students cope with the stresses of graduate school. I learned that in the academic world the term is used to describe the feeling that we’re “faking it”—that we really don’t know all that we know as scholars and aren’t as smart as our intellectual accomplishments suggest. After many years in graduate school and academia, I was very familiar with that feeling. 

The pep talk culminated with the story of a world-famous academic who, doubting his abilities, remarked to someone, “I’ve managed to fool everyone into thinking that I’m an expert in my field and a brilliant intellectual.” 

The talk opened my eyes in a lot of ways. One thing it taught me was to impersonalize these impostor feelings; I had always thought that I was the only one who felt I really didn’t know enough in my field of study, and sort of had to pretend that I did. But now I saw that this feeling of inferiority is common in academia. There’s so much knowledge out there today on every subject, and when you’re surrounded by so many brilliant scholars, it’s easy to feel insecure about your accomplishments and abilities.

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