Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Imposter Syndrome

Dr. Richard Sigurdson, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Professor of Political Studies at the University of Manitoba, has an enlightening introduction to the phenomenon known as the Imposter Syndrome.
... the term "Impostor Phenomenon" (IP) was coined by psychologist Pauline Rose Clance. Working with psychotherapist Suzanne Imes in 1978, she discovered a condition of self-doubt and failure to internalize success in a sample of more than 150 high-achieving women. [Link]
Now I know. After 16 years of post-secondary education and 3 further years of post-doctoral training, I learn that there is possibly a term to describe what I experienced all those years. Ironically, I learn about it at a time when I finally feel self-assured and confident enough to look forward to a potentially meaningful and successful academic career ahead of me. All it took for me to experience this transformation was to work on my own for the past 2 years--identify a new research area, write my own papers for peer review from start to finish, and call my successes (and my failures) my own--without the comfort of support and timely criticism that are usually taken for granted within established research groups. It also helps that I am no longer living on a post-doctoral salary. Much as I hate to put it in writing in a public place, the fact remains that being paid comparatively better also makes me want to prove to myself and to my seniors that I am worth the price.

How else can I explain the change in my attitudes and beliefs toward myself and my professional scope? Except for age (and marriage and motherhood), all other background variables I came with when I stepped into a postgraduate program in North America remain the same after all these years. I am left to conclude that age (or rather, accompanying maturity and personal life experiences), relative independence at work, and some tangible rewards have finally made me lose my fear of failure and gain a realistic perspective of my role in an ever-expanding world of research possibilities limited only by the imagination. (The finiteness of research funding and publishing space in journals are blissfully and temporarily forgotten on purpose).

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