Tackling Imposter Syndrome at University

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By Emma, Chemical Engineering
College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Birmingham

Imposter syndrome – the feeling that you are not as able or qualified as others perceive you to be – is something that impacted me particularly during the pandemic. The lack of in-person exams made me feel like I was going to be ‘caught out’, and when I spoke to my friends many of them felt this way too. Studying at university is mostly independent, and being responsible for your own schedule and success can sometimes make us feel as if we are not putting enough effort in.

Luckily, this year I have managed to overcome a lot of the imposter syndrome that I felt in my second year of university, and I have developed some tactics to prevent the feeling returning. Firstly, it is important to stop attributing any of your successes to luck or chance. I had, and sometimes still do have, a bad habit of crediting luck for achieving my goals or targets, as I always felt that I didn’t work hard enough to deserve what I had achieved. We must credit our achievements (big or small) to ourselves.

It is also important to not compare yourself to others. Other people’s successes are not your failures, and it is easy to forget that there is a much higher visibility for other people’s successes due to ‘survivorship bias’. We notice our own failures and disappointments, but other people are not likely to tell you about theirs.

Setting a schedule for the times of day which you will be completing university work can also reduce the feeling of not working hard enough. I often felt that I didn’t deserve what I had achieved just because I could have put more time towards it, but this is not true, and setting a schedule allows you to prove this to yourself when you are having doubts in your abilities.

Another active way of overcoming imposter syndrome is saying yes to opportunities. Often it can be difficult to do so when you lack the confidence in your abilities but testing myself within these opportunities has allowed me to prove that I can put into practice what I have been learning within my degree. My placement this summer has allowed me to see the responsibilities that people are willing to trust me with, and if others have such trust in you, you should trust yourself too. It may be nerve-wracking to start a new opportunity during periods of self-doubt, but it can be greatly beneficial in the long run.

Ultimately, imposter syndrome stems from self-doubt and many of us experience it within our lifetime. It is important to be kind to yourself and remember that nobody is 100% confident in themselves all the time. It is the ability to criticise ourselves that helps us to improve, but it is also valuable to acknowledge when we have got things right.