With the first week of school having just been completed for many undergraduate and graduate students, many of them might be thinking

I don’t belong here…I’m clever and hard–working enough to have faked them out all these years and they all think I’m great but I know better…and one of these days they’re going to catch on…they’ll ask the right question and find out that I really don’t understand…and then…and then….

Those type of thoughts and feelings are known as imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome was first described in a 1978 paper by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, and is basically when an individual feels they don’t belong, that they are a fake, or that they don’t deserve their accomplishments.

Soon they will all know the truth that I am an idiot and don’t belong here. I better not speak up because I am surely wrong about this. These people know so much more than I do/have so many more accomplishments than I have/belong here and I don’t. – Gradhacker

They are imposters!

This imposter feeling is especially present at the beginning of a school term, or job, or position. An article in Science points out that this is an incredibly common occurrence,  but  notes that impostor feelings have a way of festering silently for a long time. Spending energy on feeling like an imposter can be quite self-destructive, especially if it prevents us from speaking out minds. There are several tips out there for trying to overcome the imposter feelings. Connecting with peers anonymously can be a great first step toward realising that great scientists (or students, or new professionals) are made, not born, and that even some of the best of them faced on-the-job doubts along the way. Another good step for dealing with feelings of being an imposter is to count your assets.

There are lots of resources out there for helping a person to deal with feeling like an imposter, but perhaps the most important thing to start with, is to know that most everyone has these feelings.

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