Impostor Phenomenon Part 2

How to Manage Impostor Phenomenon Feelings in Grad School

by Paul Delgado, Graduate Program Assistant

In a previous post, we defined impostor phenomenon (IP) and provided a couple tips. Part 2 continues below.

Why do people experience impostor phenomenon?

There’s not really an answer. However, we know that it can happen to anyone at any point during their career. From newly arrived graduate students to professionals close to retirement (yes, we’re not kidding). It has been shown that high-achieving people often suffer from these feelings, especially women and academics. In addition, studies have examined the detrimental impact on ethnic minority scholars resulting in feelings of not belonging and diminished mental health.

IP is also seems to occur regardless of profession. Here are two takes on IP: one from artist, Gemma Correll and another from a professional in the tech industry. If you can relate, check out the tips below!

Graduate Student Tips

1. Remember what you do well and what you bring to the table.

You’re at Hopkins and you know there are brilliant people sitting next to you. Although you may not be an expert in their area of study, you know your research very well. That is normal. We all have areas where we’re pretty good and some other areas where we’re not the best. Maybe they have been conducting research for a longer time than you have. Don’t compare yourself to others. Remember that your experiences are valuable and what you’re doing is important.

Write down the things you’re good at and the areas where you’d like to see some improvement. In the end, you will see how you have a longer list on the things you do well.

If you want to stay informed on the latest research on public health, attend seminars outside of your department. That’s one of the best and easiest ways to become familiar with areas other than your own.

2. Reframe your thoughts.

You don’t have to be 100%, 100% of the time. Find your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Whenever the impostor kicks in, consider the context and look at your weaknesses under a different lens.

If you’re in class feeling lost during lecture, reframe it: “the fact that I’m feeling ignorant right now, doesn’t mean that I really am. I will prepare and do good in my exam”.

Learn to value constructive criticism and be realistic about the nature of academic work. Not because your publication got rejected means that you have failed and your impostor mask has come off.


3. Be kind to yourself.

Graduate school can be tough. In difficult moments, remember to be kind to yourself. Take the time to be real with yourself and the people around you. Most people experience moments of doubt, and that’s normal. You don’t have to be perfect to succeed, you are human and will make mistakes. 

Remember you are here for a reason. You were chosen for a reason. You are better than you think you are. You know more than you give yourself credit for. You belong here. Remember that.

Impostor Phenomenon Part 1

How to Manage Impostor Phenomenon (IP) Feelings in Grad School
By Paul Delgado, Graduate Program Assistant

Do you ever feel like you’re tricking everyone around you and in reality you don’t belong in a particular space? You’re not alone and you’re definitely not the only one feeling like this!

The impostor phenomenon (also known as the impostor syndrome) was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. They described it as a common feeling among high achievers unable to internalize and accept their success. In most cases, they attribute their accomplishments to luck or good timing rather than their ability to succeed. Although it’s not an actual disorder, it’s based on a very specific form of intellectual self-doubt.

In my case, I remember when I first joined the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. I felt like it was probably a mistake on behalf of the admissions committee. Although I had the credentials and the training that got me that acceptance, I felt like they would sooner than later discover that I was a fraud and that I didn’t actually deserve a spot in my program. I had just been lucky enough to get in or maybe it was just the result of affirmative action.

Was I wrong for feeling like that? Maybe not. Do I still feel like that? Sometimes. Although those thoughts have not completely gone away, I continue to remind myself that I do belong in the space and I am not here by accident.

Impostor syndrome [phenomenon] will have you questioning your place in the spaces that you prayed about being in. It’s a lie. You’re capable. You’re allowed to learn. You belong.

Navigating Impostor Phenomenon in Grad School

We have five tips to help grad students navigate IP. The first two are below and part two will cover the rest.

1. Recognize the problem exists

Awareness is the first step to change. Recognize when you’re feeling like an impostor and what situations trigger those thoughts. Many of us go through that phase when starting a new phase of our careers. The key is to not let those feelings control your actions. Everyone says, “Fake it till you make it!” But is pretending that everything is okay the same as things actually being okay?

You may not be able to overcome the problem without talking to someone about it. Talk to your mentors and people you trust. Graduate school is challenging and you want to have a strong support system. You will soon find out that these feelings are common among academic scholars and many people experience moments of doubt.

2. Own your own successes

You know how much work, commitment, and consistency you have done over the years to get to where you are. Although you may have had mentors along the way, take pride in your achievements and learn to celebrate all wins.

You can do this by creating a success log where you write down things that made you feel accomplished at the end of the day or the week.

Remember you are here for a reason. You were chosen for a reason. You are better than you think you are. You know more than you give yourself credit for. You belong here. Remember that. If you need to talk through issues related to IP, contact us in the Office of Student Life. We are here for you!