Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in Graduate School

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome brings on feelings of self-doubt and incompetence coupled with a fear of being found out as a fraud. People who experience imposter syndrome often feel as though they aren’t as intelligent or accomplished and that they achieved their success because of external factors such as luck or timing.2

This phenomenon is common, and research suggests that up to 70% of adults may experience it at least once in their lives.  

In graduate school, imposter syndrome manifests itself as comparing yourself negatively to other students, wondering if you are smart enough to be there and thinking that surely your professors will find you out soon enough. It affects your self-confidence and adds unnecessary stress to your life.  

Developing Resilience

Below are some common strategies you can use to help develop resilience against imposter syndrome: 

  1. Speak up: Let your professor or advisor know how you are feeling. Ask for help and don’t be surprised if they share their own stories of overcoming self-doubt. Reach out to your classmates if you struggle with time management or juggling your workload. They may be going through the same challenges and can offer tips for you. Numerous resources are available to help you. All you need to do is speak up! 
  2. Reframe the narrative: Practice positive thinking by reframing your thoughts and focusing on how far you have come. Celebrate your accomplishments! Remove the emotion and look at the facts. The fact is you worked hard to get here. Don’t let anyone, especially yourself, take that away from you. 
  3. Leverage your classmates: You and your classmates have unique strengths. Some classmates may even have more experience than you in a particular subject matter. Learning from your classmates and seeing other perspectives is exactly what will make your experience in your program that much more valuable. Remember, everyone in your program is there to learn — it’s not a competition. 
  4. Your purpose is to learn: Don’t let minor setbacks derail your progress. You may not get A’s on all your assignments, but that is okay. Use it as an opportunity to recognize where you might need to ask for help or spend a little more time understanding the subject matter. You are a student, after all, and your purpose is to learn. Keep doing your best, ask for help when needed, and keep moving forward. 
Graduate school is an exciting journey, and we hope that this guide provides another tool for you to help build confidence and be more successful in your program.  It’s not luck, you are on your grad school path because you earned your place in the program. Your dedication and hard work brought you to this point. Remember to celebrate your victories, and don’t dwell on the setbacks. Instead, reframe them in your mind as opportunities to learn and grow! 
1 Cuncic, Arlin. “How to Stop Feeling like an Outsider When You Have Social Anxiety.” Verywell Mind, April 12, 2023. https://www.verywellmind.com/imposter-syndrome-and-social-anxiety-disorder-4156469. 2 Benisek, Alexandra. “What Is Imposter Syndrome?” WebMD, January 15, 2022. https://www.webmd.com/balance/what-is-imposter-syndrome.

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