Teaching Workshop II

To receive a certificate for the teaching workshop, each of us has to do a final (capstone) project. This entails choosing a topic in education related to our field, and writing a 3-5 page summary of a seminar we would give on that topic, listing the motivation, objectives, and pedagogy.

Based on my experiences (especially over the past few weeks writing this thesis) and on a very interesting paper I posted last week, I have chosen my topic to be the Impostor Syndrome. This topic is extremely important because it is rampant in the sciences, it has greatly affected me personally, very rarely do people accept its existence, let alone actually addressing it, and it’s just plain interesting.

The project is due at the end of June, so I have some time to do some research. That is where you come in, my readers! I am planning to use group discussions throughout, but I want to make sure certain key points/strategies are hit on before moving on in the seminar.

First, a short summary: The Impostor Syndrome is an inability to internalize accomplishments. People that suffer from it do not believe they deserve the success they have achieved, even if there is evidence to the contrary. They often minimize their successes/abilities (i.e., it’s because of luck, timing, etc.) and feel like they don’t belong or that they are a fraud and will be “found out”. It is especially prevalent at the graduate level. My seminar will discuss the syndrome, what events cause/perpetuate it, ways to address it at the undergraduate level, and the importance of not knowing in scientific research.

What I want you to help me with is some answers/examples for the following two major discussions/brain-storming sessions in the seminar:

1. A group discussion on the causes of the Impostor Syndrome. These can be examples from personal experiences, or just general thoughts (i.e., in undergrad, you’re taught to get the right answer, and this might not be possible in research; professors are made out like they know everything already; etc.).

2. A brainstorming session on how to address the issue at the undergraduate level (i.e., giving problems where only the method is asked for; having guest speakers talk about road blocks in research, and how they overcame them; etc.).

So, let me hear it! How have you felt like an impostor in academia (or otherwise)? When did it affect you the most? What situations perpetuated it? Did any situation help alleviate it? What would you do to address it with undergraduate students?

I look forward to your thoughts!!


Comments on: "Teaching Workshop II" (5)

  1. <>How have you felt like an impostor in academia (or otherwise)<>?

    Whenever I get an award, receive a compliment or even get a job offer, I feel as though it’s been a mistake.

    <>When did it affect you the most? What situations perpetuated it<>?

    It really didn’t start to hit until I started grad school. I’d had a 5yr break between undergrad and grad school and felt like I’d forgotten everything and that my grad student peers were so much more knowledgeable. It got progressively worse as I transitioned into my postdoc and has hit in a big way now that I’ve got a faculty job.

    <>Did any situation help alleviate it<>?

    After I got the call to interview for my current position (my first faculty interview ever), I thought the school had made a mistake and/or that I was going to die. What helped was having my postdoc mentor sit me down and tell me that my cv was stronger than most of my peers and that he had been pushing the bigwigs at Postdoc U to offer me a faculty gig.

    <>What would you do to address it with undergraduate students<>?

    Don’t know. I’m guessing that it would only be the higher achieving students that might be affected.


  2. Anonymous said:

    My undergrad advisor had the belief that science is a tough profession and he had better toughen up his students or they won’t make it. The end result is that we all felt pretty insecure with ourselves as scientists due to his lack of support.

    A professor down the hall was very supportive, hands-on, and encouraging of his students. They all demonstrated confidence in themselves as scientists (though demonstrating confidence doesn’t mean you’re not suffering impostor syndrome).


  3. Thanks Mrs. Comet Hunter for posting this. I didn’t know about the imposter syndrome and am so glad to have learned about it! For me, I think it would manifest itself in regular discourse, like, if I’m talking to another student about a concept and I explain it to them and I help them understand it, and then when they thank me I cannot truly feel that I helped them. Thats the impster part, i think — instead of feeling good about helping that person, i’d question my own “worthiness”. When I learn something new, I have trouble taking ownership over it and can’t really feel like it’s my place to be talking about it or teaching it unless someone else has “granted” me that power. Does that make sense? Can anyone else relate?

    As for the second part, what to do about this…. I don’t know, maybe it’s just a cultural thing. I don’t know where I got this idea that some types of material belong to “other” people and you have to be accepted into “the club” before you can go around researching that topic and putting thoughts out there on that subject. I also feel like I’m the only person in the world who feels like an outcast in this way, and, heh, maybe I am!! But thanks MCH for the opportunity to share!


  4. I think the first time Impostor Syndrome hit for me was in college…I went to Badass Rockstar Ivy U and suddenly I was not the smartest cookie in the bunch, and I felt so out of place, since I was used to kicking ass. It probably starts from the first moment you realize that you are amongst peers and not the big fish anymore. Then, at any moment you realize you don’t understand something, and someone else does, you are sure you don’t belong there. That’s my conjecture.

    It did get quite a bit worse for me in grad school in some ways, because many of my peers there had been computer geeks their whole lives and I hadn’t, which made it hard for me to converse with them on some technical subjects and made me absolutely certain I was not supposed to be in graduate school. Even worse, I thought I was probably affirmative-actioned in.

    What got me through, honestly, is just ridiculous stubbornness and perseverance – I stuck it out long enough to realize I could learn anything and now I feel good about myself and my work. It didn’t hurt that my advisor is a very very nice person, and while not explicitly supportive, he never did anything overt to make me feel bad, and that my labmates that knew everything and i didn’t, were also very nice people who didn’t ever go out of their way to rub my face in my lack of knowledge and helped me when they could.

    finally, i had a few girlfriends who were also in PhD programs in engineering and they were instrumental in helping me deal when i decided i was an idiot. they would convince me that i wasn’t, and i would do the same for them. we are all either graduated or almost graduated now, and that little group was SO important as well.

    so….in short:

    causes: 1) suddenly entering a pool of intellectual peers whom are at least as smart as you are, and not knowing how to deal with not being the “best”

    solutions: 1) stubbornness 2) a healthy and supportive environment 3) friends who know what you’re going through and support you.


  5. Thank you all for your replies so far – keep ’em comin’!


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