Did I Really Do That? — Overcoming Impostor Syndrome as A Graduate Student

Imposter Syndrome

By Fatim Lelenta, Wasserman Assistant Director for Graduate Student Development

As a graduate student, you are navigating multiple roles and tasks which include taking tests, writing research papers, submitting conference proposals or leading a professional organization in your field. Typically, your graduate program is a crucial time where your personal and professional identities meet. The success you achieve throughout your program can often be perceived as a direct reflection of the impact you will have in your field of choice.  With this, comes a lot of expectation to perform and meet high standards. 

What Impostor Syndrome Looks Like

Most graduate students have the talent and skills to meet those standards and are able to successfully  navigate the demands of their graduate program. You may have feelings of self-doubt or question if you can rise to current or future challenges. Oftentimes, you might ask yourself one or more of the following questions: “Am I even qualified for this opportunity?”, “Did I earn this accomplishment and recognition?”, “I’ve been successful in the past, but was that due to luck?”

This experience is defined as “impostor syndrome”, the collection of feelings of inadequacy, particularly around one’s academic or professional abilities (Corkindale, 2008 ). These feelings and thoughts are common, especially for graduate students who are in an in-between phase in their professional development. Despite having numerous accomplishments and accolades, someone experiencing impostor syndrome may attribute their success to pure luck or interpret it as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they are (Weir, 2013). When in reality, you’ve put in hard work, dedication and effort to reach success. As a graduate student, you  are deeply invested in your field and are excited about diving into your career after degree completion. Learning how to identify these moments can help you continue to be successful in reaching your goals. 

How Impostor Syndrome Impacts Your Career

As you prepare to enter the world of work, it is important to understand this phenomenon and it can impact your career development. As a Career Coach specializing in graduate students, I often work with students and encourage them to pursue new opportunities, develop meaningful connections and achieve their own version of success. In regards to career development, impostor syndrome may show up in the following ways: 

  • Avoiding New Challenges: You may tend to avoid seeking out new challenges or engaging in tasks outside of your comfort zone. 
  • Discounting Your Success: There is a tendency to downplay or discount your level of success, when evidence suggests otherwise.
  • Question If You Are the Right Fit for The Job: You may question if you are the right person for a job opportunity, even though your background, skills and experiences are a perfect fit.  

4 Ways to Overcome Feeling Like an Impostor 

During periods of life transitions like graduating, starting a new job, you make feel like an impostor or compare yourself to others. Here are some strategies to help you navigate those feelings: 

  • Keep Track of Your Accomplishments: Taking note of your accomplishments is more important than you may realize. Create an easy way for you to keep track of your achievements. You can use this as a reference when you are updating your resume, drafting your cover letter or preparing for an interview. I recommend creating a spreadsheet or online document where you can take note of what you did and the date.  
  • Step Outside of Your Professional Comfort Zone: It is important to engage in new challenges and opportunities so that you can diversify your skillset. Be sure to start small – this can be volunteering to lead a discussion in class or in a meeting, sharing a new resource you found interesting or taking on a leadership role in a club or committee. 
  • Seek Out Mentorship: Find a mentor who can listen, advise and guide you during your academic or professional journey.  If you currently have a mentor, this is the perfect topic to discuss with them and find support. Mentors typically have several years of experience and are able to provide you with support and guidance as you navigate your career. Additionally, they can help you identify your accomplishments and teach you how to learn from experiences. Tapping into the NYU Alumni Network on LinkedIn is a great way to build your community. 
  • Celebrate Your Success: Always remember to celebrate when you have reached a new milestone. Whether that is with a friend, family member or classmate create a space to acknowledge how far you’ve come. You can also share your updates on LinkedIn or share with us at the Wasserman Center (career.development@nyu.edu)  – we’d love to hear from you! 

Everyone has moments of doubt, but it is important to not let it impact your actions. Take a moment to reflect on how you can apply these tips now and throughout your career development journey.  

References: 

Wire, K. (2013). Feel like a fraud? American Psychological Association. Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud

Corkindale, G. (2008). Overcoming impostor syndrome. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2008/05/overcoming-imposter-syndrome

%d bloggers like this: