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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

By: Irene Duah-Kessie, Executive Director, Rise in STEM

and Sydney Hussett, Communications Lead, Rise in STEM

If imposter syndrome has you doubting your skills and achievements, use these tips to build self-confidence and stop feeling like a fraud.

Have you ever felt that you’re not as competent as others perceive you to be? Or felt that you’re a fraud and don’t belong where you are? This is known as imposter syndrome, an internal experience that leaves people doubting their own abilities.

Imposter syndrome is experienced by everyone, particularly among high-achieving individuals from marginalized or vulnerable communities. Imposter syndrome can be felt in a range of environments and can affect people regardless of their skill level. Some of the common signs of imposter syndrome are:

  • Attributing your success to external factors

  • Fear that you won’t live up to expectations

  • Setting unrealistic goals and feeling disappointed when you’re unable to meet them

If you have consistently experienced these things, you may be experiencing imposter syndrome.

As a young Black woman, I have suffered from imposter syndrome in many instances navigating academic and professional spaces. I grew up in a diverse, multicultural neighbourhood, so moving away from home to a predominantly white institution came with its challenges, especially as a first-generation, first-year Life Science student pursuing medicine.

For one, there were not many Black students in my program. Most times I was the only Black student in my classes and the majority of my professors and teaching assistants were white men. This made it very challenging and intimidating to connect with my learning material and feel comfortable in my learning environment.

Second, it was always difficult for me to make new friends or not feel judged in my classes or within group work. I rarely ever spoke up to ask questions and contribute to discussions as I feared expressing my thoughts and ideas and was unable to own or internalize any success.

As these feelings continued to linger, I found myself running back home at any chance I had to find a sense of normalcy. These feelings negatively impacted my mental health and academic performance, leading to a ‘May Not Continue’ academic standing, which took a toll on my self-confidence making me feel like I was not capable of completing a degree and becoming a doctor.

In conversation with my academic advisor, I was told that university and medicine may not be the path for me and I should consider college or another career path.

...the feelings of doubt, fear, insecurities and lack of belongingness did not immediately go away

Although my reinstatement application was approved and I was, fortunately, able to continue and completed my undergraduate education, the feelings of doubt, fear, insecurities, and lack of belongingness did not immediately go away.

Overcoming imposter syndrome is a journey I am still on, but I have come to the realization that my voice deserves to be heard and the importance of actively shifting your perspective.

Here are some words of advice for those dealing with such struggles:

Find Community

Find or create your community with people of shared identities and experiences. After becoming reinstated, I sought friendships with other young Black women at my university who were also feeling the same way.

We created two clubs for Black women and Black pre-med students and these spaces allowed for conversations that gave me the language and understanding of my experiences such as ‘imposter syndrome’ and systemic barriers within academia and validated my feelings and experiences.

This also helped me to shape my academic and career interests and has therefore made me more confident in my path.

Celebrate Your Wins

Creating a running list of accomplishments and positive traits has helped me to build self-confidence. Compiling a list of small and big wins can be a great way of constantly validating yourself and begin formulating your own ideas and opinions of what success is.

No one will know you as you, so using yourself as a benchmark of success and challenging your own limits can help to shift your perspective and reduce symptoms of imposter syndrome.

Sydney Hussett (left) and Irene Duah-Kessie (right) at Rise in STEM

Practice Positive Self-Talk

Be your own biggest cheerleader! There are enough people doubting you and challenging your skills and performance, especially individuals communities from marginalized communities. Try to incorporate positive self-talk and give yourself grace when needed.

A good rule of thumb to start is if you wouldn’t say it to your friend, don’t say it to yourself. As you continue practicing positive self-talk, you will slowly stop self-doubting yourself and build your confidence.


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