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What is your experience of imposter syndrome and your best advice for overcoming it?

We all recognise those feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy creeping in sometimes, but in high-achieving, stressful and gender imbalanced professions – like science and research, and STEM in general – these feelings can become much more prevalent, particularly amongst women.

What is your personal experience of imposter syndrome? Do you remember a time when you lacked confidence or felt the need to overprove yourself – what stage in your career were you at?

Have you come across any form of gender stereotyping at work before?

What is your no.1 tip for dealing with imposter syndrome when it strikes?

Please share your replies below! (simply login or sign up and hit the blue reply button).

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I definitely think my imposter syndrome gets worse the further into my career I get, especially when starting a new role. I guess because there’s more at stake… but is there? I once dropped a really expense piece of lab equipment (well, expense t the time) and it traumatised me for months! It was easy to fix and no-one cared, but it stayed in my mind for way longer. I also find that when I’m the only woman in a meeting or working on something then I feel a bit of internal pressure (as in from myself) to be heard or valued.

I try to remember that everyone experiences imposter syndrome as some point - the discomfort is normal and means we’re challenging ourselves. My top tip is: try keep track of your achievements and successes, and take a moment (or longer) to celebrate them when they happen, the big things and the small things!

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I feel like an imposter every single day and I remember talking about my phd and work struggles to my uncle (economist) and his response remains with me to this day…(verbatim from memory)

"The reason you feel this way is because…

YOU ARE AN IMPOSTER AND SO IS EVERYONE ELSE

When you do ambitious and important work that hasn’t been done before, you can’t be 100% it’s going to work, because it is, by definition never been done before at least by you. You are stretching far beyond your abilities and that is a good thing. Keep going.

You think, the scientists at NASA knew how to exactly put a person on the moon? You think, Neil knew?
You think, Jeff Bezos knew exactly knew to create a multi-trillion-dollar company?
You think, Rosalind knew exactly how to calibrate the X-rays to deduce the shape of DNA?
You think, Tim knew what he was doing when he connected hypertext with TCP and DNS?
You think, Rosa, knew how the face of US politics would change when she sat alone, in that bus?
You think, Darwin knew what he was looking for when he came you with the theory of evolution?
You think, Elinor (his fav. Economist) set out to get her Nobel prize in economics?

NO. NO. NO. All of these achievements only look great in hindsight, not when they first put pen to paper.

If you only do the things you are only capable of doing, you would end up doing nothing of value. So instead of denying how you feel, look at the fear as a symptom of doing something challenging, welcome it, embrace it, understand the fear. speak to it like a friend who pushes you to be better. The harder you try to make it go away, the more powerful and debilitating it becomes.

Every single one of those people felt like an imposter. Forget about what any mumbo-jumbo help books might say - You should compare yourself to them, not to feel inadequate, but to learn and stand on their shoulders. Learn how they saw the world a little differently, but more importantly how they persevered through the fear. They stood on the shoulders of others. You can too!"

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thanks for sharing your thoughts @susheel.varma. It’s so true that the more you try to push it away, the more powerful and exhausting it becomes. At these times it’s definitely helpful to remember the we all experience imposter syndrome (it’s a normal feeling) and it’s important to celebrate and reflect on positive things, no matter how small the ‘win’ (I posted in this forum for the first last Friday, and straight after I made a cup of tea and took a bit longer to sit down and drink it compared to normal, thinking and feeling a bit proud of what I’d just done).

And also remember that we can learn a lot when things don’t quite to plan or we don’t set out to achieve exactly what we intended to, and that is OK. It’s the process of actually trying to do something that matters more.

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I liked @susheel.varma 's post. I do wonder sometimes if Imposter Syndrome is also another manifestation of our humility?
When we know how much more there is to know (and do wrongly believe that others must know the answers to them anyways) - we feel an imposter.
I have felt an imposter and have refused assignments when I thought “Nah, they have got the wrong guy! What do I know about it?”
I now ask myself - with a push, can I possibly do it?

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Thanks @girish.vaidya for your reply. I love your idea that feeling imposturous is simply being human, which of course it absolutely is! Thanks for the reminder. And that’s a great question for everyone to ask themselves before we even start thinking about not taking on a new task or project (or perhaps a new job) because of an internal worry of a lack of knowledge or experience - most of the time I bet the answer is “yes, I (we) can do it” :slightly_smiling_face: