Impostor Syndrome, anyone?

An illustration showing three faces - one is green and smiling, one is yellow and ambivalent, one is red and sad. Above the faces are three tick boxes and the box above the smiling green face is ticked.

In this post Anna Goodwin and Ella Robson, our FoNS Wellbeing Advisors, explain what impostor syndrome is and share their tips for keeping those niggling feelings of inadequacy – at university, work and in social situations – at bay.

By Anna Goodwin and Ella Robson

First off, well done for making it to the end of this term! Hopefully you’re now starting to feel settled in your routine, and enjoying your course and all that student life has to offer.

If this not the case for you, however, then fear not – you’re almost certainly not alone. The later part of the autumn term can be a tricky time to navigate. With Freshers’ and start of term events now a distant memory, longer evenings drawing in and the reality of course demands kicking into gear, it’s understandable if you feel a little disheartened or overwhelmed.

If you also find yourself doubting whether you deserve your place on the course, or whether you belong at Imperial, then you may be experiencing a phenomenon known as impostor syndrome.

What is impostor syndrome?

Impostor syndrome describes an experience that makes a person feel inadequate in their surroundings, be that at work, at university or in their personal life; they might feel like a fraud and question their talents and value. It can affect people from all walks of life, including high-achieving students at prestigious institutions (sound familiar?) Feeling like an impostor can sometime begin to impact on a person’s ability to engage with their studies, and even affect their sense of contentment in life.

What to do?

If this sounds like you – what to do? Here are some practical tips and strategies you might consider exploring:

  1. Be kind to yourself and others – notice whether your self-talk is helping you. Is it critical or supportive? Decide what you would you say to someone you care about in this situation and take your own advice.
  2. Acknowledge your achievements (however big or small) – getting a place at Imperial during normal circumstances, let alone the exceptional times of a pandemic, is pretty extraordinary!
  3. Celebrate your achievements – but know that these do not have to define your worth. You are valuable just for being you.
  4. Get involved in societies – meeting new people, learning new things and having fun experiences can help us to gain a different perspective and see that we are part of a community.
  5. Talk about how you are feeling – with a personal tutor, peer, friend, family member.
  6. Set yourself a routine – be realistic, look to create balance, include time for your hobbies.
  7. Schedule in break times – take time away from social media, screens, your studies. Allowing yourself time to slow down and refocus can be invaluable for our sense of wellbeing.

Depending on our backgrounds, individual situations, and previous experiences, it can take time to adjust to studying somewhere new. For all incoming students at Imperial this year, the amount of time it takes to settle in will vary from person to person, and it’s very normal for things to feel strange whilst you adapt to your new environment. There may also be other factors contributing to feelings of disconnection and non-belonging – and it’s not only new students who have to navigate the ups, downs and challenges of university study and life in general. The important thing for you to remember is: there are different kinds of support available if and when you need it.

Who to talk to

Departmental support

You can speak with your departmental personal tutor or student liaison officer in the first instance, particularly if you have queries or concerns about your course.

Student counselling

If you are experiencing persistent symptoms, such as a low mood or anxiety, and wish to speak with someone about how you are feeling, our Student Counselling team can provide you with support.

Faculty of Natural Sciences (FoNS) wellbeing team

The FoNS Student Wellbeing Advice Team is here to support you too: find out more about who we are and what we do. If you would like to make an appointment to discuss feelings of impostor syndrome, or other concerns about your wellbeing, you can email us or contact us via our referral form.

We’ve also listed some links and resources below.

Take care and rest up over the Christmas holiday!

Anna & Ella

FoNS Student Wellbeing Advisers

Links and resources

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