Impostor Syndrome

This afternoon, one of my best students came in to discuss her fieldwork. After we talked about her progress, she opened up about her feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, admitting that she had impostor syndrome.

“I’m on track to get a distinction, but I’m never happy with my writing. I get an essay back with a high mark and think ‘I don’t deserve that’. I feel like a fake.”

This is why she’s one of my best students: she really is excellent and doesn’t realise it. She compares herself to others, not acknowledging that her abilities are actually better than theirs. She works hard–she was narrowing down her dissertation topic and asking for reading recommendations months before her peers had even started thinking about it. Most brilliant people I’ve known don’t actually try that hard–they’re just brilliant. They often get distinctions and joke about how they wrote that essay in a few hours. It’s annoying. She doesn’t do that. Yet they don’t have impostor syndrome…

While it’s wonderful to see someone work hard and do well, it was hard for me to hear that even she doubts herself. It made me realise how universal imposter syndrome is–even somebody who clearly works hard to be successful doesn’t think they deserve their success.

And while I won’t use her name or identifying details, I will use ‘she’/’her’ pronouns, because gender is key to understanding and discussing this issue. The term “imposter phenomenon” (sic) was introduced by Clance and Imes in their 1978 study to describe the difficulties that high-achieving women have in internalising their success.

In recent years, impostor syndrome has become a widely acknowledged phenomenon, with scholars, activists and writers offering ways to fight it:

 

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy did a TED talk on body language that included another confidence-building trick: the power pose. Holding a confident pose was shown to actually boost testosterone and lower cortisol.

 

Before my next job interview, I’ll be hiding in the ladies’ room, posing like Wonder Woman for a few minutes…

Early Career Academics and the Game

A recent study looked at managerialism in academia, and staff resistance & compliance to “the game”–the competitive regime that pits academics against each other in a race to gain publications, funding and positive performance reviews. The authors used an Australian university as a case study, where the structure had recently changed and the rules of the game had become a bit more intense–many staff left after its introduction, to be replaced with Early Career Academics (ECAs) on fixed-term contracts. The authors found little resistance to the managerialism; most staff quietly complied or left the University. ECAs, they found, were committed to playing the game and focused on accruing capital (publications, grants, etc.) to help themselves perform well in the game.

I read the article and blog post about it on LSE’s Impact Blog, and come away from it wondering what the alternative is. We ECAs are being accused of being complicit in this system, but what choice do we have? I’ve been struggling to play the game, because at the moment I lack the capital (publications) to compete with my colleagues, but I don’t know what else I can do. An academic CV doesn’t look right for jobs outside of the academy, with my extra years spent in higher education leaving me essentially inexperienced and fresh out of university when I was 28.

Why do ECAs play the game?

1) Because we feel that we have to–there’s no alternative available to us at the moment.

2) Because even though academia is changing, it’s still a really desirable lifestyle. It’s worth it.

3) Because we love what we do, and society’s always telling us to do what we love. Again, on balance, it’s judged to be worth it.

Reason #1 for not writing: News

I should be writing, but there’s too much crazy political news happening and I feel compelled to follow it all…

Here in the UK, the cabinet is being reshuffled after the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson and I’m curious to know why they left (not just why they said they did, but why they really did…) and to see what’s going to happen next. Is Theresa May going to face a vote of no confidence? (Apparently she warned her fellow Tories that not supporting her could mean Jeremy Corbyn could become Prime Minister, as if that’s a scary enough threat to keep the shaky status quo). Is the economy going to tank? (Even more than it already did after the Brexit vote?)

And in the US, Trump’s announced his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. He’s as conservative as we’d expect, pro-gun, anti-choice, etc. but with the added little twist that he believes presidents are above the law (“Mr Kavanaugh argued in 2009 article that presidents should be shielded from criminal investigations and civil lawsuits while in office.”) –the perfect nominee for a president currently under investigation.

And America’s putting the interests of formula companies above public health (but backing down when Russia supports it…), and thousands of children are still separated from their parents and being detained in cages/”summer camps” (estimates vary from 1,425 to “under 3,000” which isn’t very reassuring)

And Trump’s visiting the UK on Thursday, so I can’t even get away from him over here…

news

How am I supposed to focus and get any work done under these conditions? How is anybody getting anything done? I need to become a hermit until I get a few publications finished…