Victoria Sellas
Victoria Sellas, MPP Class of 2022

While the application will soon open for prospective students, many incoming students are preparing for orientation programming and the upcoming fall quarter. Victoria Sellas, MPP Class of 2022, shares her thoughts on imposter syndrome, the phenomenon in which people feel as though they do not belong or deserve to be where they are, despite evidence of high achievement.

As you prepare to start this next chapter of your life, maybe you feel entirely ready, without a whisper of doubt or self-questioning because you know you belong here.  However, maybe you are reading this and feeling, "I am not even sure if I should be here. I have not done enough, and I have no experience.” And that was exactly what I was thinking when I was in your shoes one year ago.

 Imposter Syndrome, also referred to as Imposter Phenomenon by psychologists (as it is not a classified mental disorder), is a sense of not belonging or deserving to be where you are based on some unspoken, unseen standards. You may feel like a fake or fraud, despite evidence of high achievement and accomplishment, or worry that you got into an academic program or got a job by mistake.

As graduate students, these feelings of self-doubt and isolation may negatively impact our ability to fully participate in our academic experience. Many who experience imposter syndrome frequently believe they are the only ones who feel this way and that their peers know more than them. Many who experience Imposter Syndrome worry that if their peers really knew them, their peers would think they do not belong.

 One reason this feeling is so common is that we often do not see how hard people work to achieve their goals. We tend to assume we are not working as quickly or efficiently as our peers. Stereotype threat, a situation in which people fear they risk conforming to stereotypes about their social group, can also exacerbate Imposter Syndrome, as students from marginalized groups often navigate challenging racial, cultural, and gender dynamics, as well as micro-aggressions.

 As a second-year student, I can attest to both the frequency and the severity of these feelings. Not everyone will struggle with such trepidations—ideally, none of us would. Unfortunately, this feeling is surprisingly common among not only Harris students, but graduate students and professionals throughout their career at every level.

 It is important to recognize that you likely have this feeling in common with your peers, professors, and supervisors, and you can use this feeling to build empathy and community. Talking about imposter syndrome in the context of graduate school not only creates a sense of belonging, but also may help students admit when they don’t immediately understand concepts, prompting the professor or graduate assistants to provide resources or useful examples. Imposter syndrome can also help to drive your ambition if you channel the urge to prove yourself in a constructive way. One of the best ways to ensure this feeling does not inhibit your growth is to remember its sharedness.

 Also, make sure to take ownership of your accomplishments instead of chalking them up to luck. It took a lot of hard work for you to get to this point, and you deserve to acknowledge and accept your abilities. Recognize your strengths and what you can contribute to the Harris experience, and do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

If you are experiencing imposter syndrome, check out these resources from UChicago Student Wellness.