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Three strategies to combat imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a term often used by people to express a lack of confidence in themselves, or a feeling that they aren’t qualified to do the job they’re doing and will surely be found out. 

What’s happening is a mismatch between the individual and their environment. The individual experiences a low sense of control, whereby they feel that any success they achieve is as a result of luck rather than their own ability – it’s externalised. Any failure, however, is very much down to their own incompetence, an internalised feedback loop that contributes to and reinforces stress and avoidance behaviours. 

Students can have imposter syndrome too – it’s not restricted to professional careers. 

Imagine a new first year arriving at university, feeling challenged and overwhelmed by the new academic situation they find themselves in. It’s unlike anything they’ve experienced before. Some of them will thrive and succeed. But some of them won’t recognise themselves, or be able to connect their previous knowledge and abilities to what they are doing now. 

It’s a stressful situation. When they don’t understand how to do well, the rules of the game, or when they feel incompetent and incapable, engagement will fall. These, unsurprisingly are the students most at risk of dropping out. 

So, what can we do to help them?

Happily, there are strategies we can use to combat imposter syndrome in students:

  1. Help them to feel validated and recognised. Think about how to bring the whole person into the classroom. Give them opportunities to pursue their interests and demonstrate their personality.
  2. Build a community of practice through which they can learn from each other without embarrassment. Imposter syndrome thrives in isolation but when the transition into higher education is carefully managed through socialisation, students have like-minded others with whom they share common goals.
  3. Show that students are valued and supported, so they can gain confidence. An individual’s identity is developed through their experiences and also their perceptions of those experiences, and this directly impacts on their sense of belonging to a group or an organisation. Valuing those experiences, and providing opportunities for positive, constructive feedback, shows the value of the person. 

If you would like to find out more about imposter syndrome, or discuss any aspect further, please feel free to contact carina.buckley@solent.ac.uk