Field of Science

The impostor syndrome

The New York Times is carrying an interesting story about the Impostor Syndrome: the belief that any success you have enjoyed is due to luck. Many graduate students I know admit to feeling -- or, at least, admit to their friends feeling -- that they are a fraud and don't deserve to be in the program.

The Times article suggests that at least some impostors are impostors (phony phonies). Read on.


Rana said...

I can't comment on the original research, but it seems to be a lot of focus on a very peripheral issue. The Times article just touches on it but then seems to get confused …

"In mild doses, feeling like a fraud also tempers the natural instinct to define one’s own competence in self-serving ways. Researchers have shown in careful studies that people tend to be poor judges of their own performance and often to overrate their abilities. Their opinions about how well they’ve done on a test, or at a job, or in a class are often way off others’ evaluations. They’re confident that they can detect liars (they can’t) and forecast grades (not so well)."

Even that seems understatement. So the natural instinct is to attribute success to personal qualities or actions when actually it may be largely down to environment or luck. I am not sure that I would define that feeling as "natural instinct" but it seems to be undeniable that is what people do. The "feeling like a fraud" case is a comparatively uncommon scenario and is less relevant to explaining "normal" human behaviour.

Anonymous said...

Good post.

The Impostor Syndrome is the feeling that you are not as smart, talented, or skilled as people think you are. It's the feeling that you are a fake and have been getting away with something and are about to be found out. It affects 70% of adults and is especially prevalent in high achieving women.

I've spent the past two decades living with and learning about this common condition.

The Impostor Syndrome is a fascinating topic and the subject of my new book.