on imposter syndrome

So the Center funding my fellowship has regular fellow’s workshops in which each fellow presents part of their research to the other fellows and receives feedback. One week later, it’s their turn to present to an wider academic audience in the form of a public talk. Best part? Lunch is included. (Yes, I like my academics with a side of food, coffee, or both, whenever possible.)

I generally have a hard time commenting on others’ work, especially in this forum where half of the fellows are faculty members and I’m just a grad student, and they’re working in other disciplines, anyway. This doesn’t seem to stop others, so maybe it’s more my low-ish self esteem, or the learned behavior to defer to others because I’m young and female, or just my introverted self that likes to observe groups rather than participate? Probably a mix of all of the above. For some reason, although I have no trouble speaking up in class, or being authoritative while teaching, in every other environment, I kind of assume my comments aren’t relevant. Sigh. (I know, I know. I’m working on it.)

This is really how I feel every time I give a talk. That moment when they start to ask you questions? Terrifying. via

This is really how I feel every time I give a talk. That moment when they start to ask you questions? Terrifying. I’m always kind of surprised I managed to hold my own when it’s over.  via

Anyway, Tuesday’s workshop and lunch talk were on topics I’m pretty much unfamiliar with. (The one was on Milton, the other on something philosophical that included probability distributions and you all know how I get around numbers.) I was really glad they had ordered Cafe Rio for lunch, so at least I had something to distract me from my confusion..now if only Cafe Rio helped against imposter syndrome.

Any of you ever face this? What did you do to make it better?


2 thoughts on “on imposter syndrome

  1. Hanneke says:

    I totally recognise your feelings Saskia. I even feel outsmarted when other people say that I’m the smartest person in the room (or perhaps especially when…). Luckily I’m not often the smartest person in the room. 🙂 I always see the talents in others. That person left of me really knows how to expres himself, the woman next to me reallly knows all her stuff by heart, the person across from me notices things in the text that I never would have noticed… I’ve found that I add up all the talents of others and unconsciously combine them into a single entity, which I lable as: they are all smarter than me, because my talents are less then their talents combined. But that way of thinking is not fair, because how can I compete with multiple -differently talented- people, when there’s only one of me?

    Other than that: I am someone who always focusses on what I need to improve in my life, whether it’s something concerning my job, hobbys, eating habits, work-out schedule, etc. I take for granted the thngs that I already know or am capable of. Sometimes someone compliments me and I shrug it off with a comment like: “O, it’s nothing” and I really mean that. Luckily I have people around me that sometimes tell me off and say that I have to believe the compliments I’m given and that not everyone can do what I can do.

    So I hope that you have those people around you and that you listen to them. And stop comparing yourself to talents that other people have. Try to see what your talents are and you might be surprised to find that most people don’t possess those in the same amount that you do. Sure, they have other talents, but you gotta love that God made all of us unique. 🙂

    And I for one know that you are a terrific bilinguist (maybe even multilinguist), a great friend to a lot of people, a warm personality, a smart woman (not everyone I know is a grad student!!!) and a very good writer.

  2. Howard Pepper says:

    I’m somewhat the same way… but gradually improved over time. I hate saying something too obvious. But, very often, someone else says something like that or even more potentially “embarrassing”… and THEY don’t seem phased at all. Nor have my comments ever been snickered at (I bet yours haven’t been either), so “Why not cut loose?”

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