By: Sajra Trto
As one of my electives for my undergraduate program in Health Sciences, I decided to take a social psychology class. One of the projects for this course included writing a paper on academic impostor syndrome. This term was new to me, increasing my interest for the project. Of course, to start off my paper I had to do some research on the topic. The more I researched, the more I realized that the term ‘academic impostor’ was a perfect fit to the way I was feeling as a student. Academic impostor syndrome is a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and are certain that they do not deserve the success that they have.
This all began once I started studying at Carleton. My parents immigrated to Canada at a very young age, thus I am the first person in my family to attend university. With this, I felt immense pressure as the idea of university level studies was scary and foreign to me. This, in addition to anxiety led to constant self-doubt. Starting off university is hard for every student, no matter the age or program. Everyone is learning and trying to adapt to the new life style, as it is very different from high school. The flexible schedule and independent lifestyle can take a little while to get used to. From my experience, the first and second year were the hardest in terms of maintaining good grades. When I received a lower mark than average, my confidence levels would take a hit. This all added to my feelings of being an ‘impostor’. I had imagined that the feelings would fade throughout my bachelor’s degree but it remained constant and the feelings grew even stronger near the end of my degree, as I had to make a decision about my future goals. I was always the type of person who was interested in many different topics, from psychology to physiology to anatomy and so on. So when the time had come to choose my next step, I had no clue what I was going to do with my degree. Then I found the ‘Health: Science, Technology and Policy’ program at Carleton. The interdisciplinary nature of the program interested me as I was able to study multiple subtopics of health sciences at once. I applied and got accepted but still felt like a fraud. Would I be able to face the challenges ahead?
Now fast forwarding to the end of my first year as a master’s student. The first year was a struggle, trying to adapt to the differences between bachelors and masters level courses. But one thing that first year had to offer was the flexible design of the research project associated with the program. The research project had allowed for me to study a subtopic of my choice. So I decided to focus on mental health. I had been researching mental health for a while now, and focusing my studies on what I knew best, helped minimize my feelings of self-doubt. The doubt was still there from time to time but I was able to see how far I had come in my education and I could see myself going even further now that I had found my niche.
Not everyone overcomes their thoughts of being an academic impostor this way. No matter how smart or accomplished they are, some people constantly have a feeling that they are ‘faking it’ through their careers, whether academic or in the workplace. There is also no age limit to this as people who are reaching retirement may still have this feeling as well. With this, academic impostor syndrome is no easy feeling to get rid of, but my takeaway from my experience as a masters level student is to take a step back once in a while and recognize how far you have come, due to the hard work that has been put in.