The Daily Illini

Imposter Syndrome real among University students

Toni Pantone

Toni Pantone

By Jamie Linton, Columnist

What do the tech community and higher education have in common? Imposter syndrome. While this phenomena probably isn’t the only intersection between those entities, it’s one worth talking about.

According to Psychology Today, imposter syndrome is a term that was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes that essentially describes high-achieving individuals as not being able to “internalize” their accomplishments and are constantly afraid that they will be “exposed as fraud.”

This term has been popularized recently by its relevance to the Silicon Valley tech community.  So much so that companies like Facebook and Google have internal precautions (like a 90 minute presentation on the topic during orientation) to help employees overcome this particular anxiety.  

However, although popular among Googlers and Facebook employees, this phenomena isn’t restricted to Ivy-goers and the Silicon Valley elite. In fact, 70 percent of people will experience feelings of unsupported self-doubt, over-preparation, pressure to be the best, feeling of failure and invalidating praise. What’s more is that it’s even more prevalent among women and minorities.

Imposter syndrome is something that I’ve seen run rampant in our own academic community.  In fact, some of my peers with the highest GPAs, University honors and are interviewing for — or landing — the most coveted internships in their fields, feel unqualified for the positions they hold.  

For example, a friend of mine recently came out of an interview panicked that her competitors had done extensive, high-caliber research and are graduating with degrees from exclusive, private colleges. She considered pulling out of the application process altogether because she felt inadequate in comparison, even though her own accomplishments granted her the same professional successes as the other applicants.  In this case, and likely many others, she sacrificed what could’ve been a great experiential opportunity due to the anxieties of imposter syndrome.

But this predicament isn’t something that’s discussed in schools, let alone something that students are taught as being normal and possible to overcome.

Unfortunately, in many cases, their feelings of incompetence can lead to the student to overcompensate, which can lead to overworking themselves and burning out, passive and active self-sabotage or failing to finish work to avoid these feelings of inadequacy.  

If the University took similar precautions to the one’s tech companies are implementing, like providing literature to normalize these anxieties and teach students how to overcome them, we may be able to prevent some of the ways this syndrome is affecting students.  

The University (and society’s) failure to educate about the harmful effects of imposter syndrome can not only harm individuals but inhibit students from furthering their own success due to their own invalidation of pre-existing ones.

Jamie is a sophomore in Media.

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