It whispers, “You don’t belong here” in your ear as you’re sitting in class. It taunts, “You’re not good enough” as you’re trying to complete your next assignment. It murmurs, “You’re a fraud” repeatedly as you toss and turn desperate for a good night’s sleep.
Apparently, imposter syndrome hits minorities the worst. This is no surprise. Whenever you are different from most of your peers, it’s easier to fall into a sense of not belonging. And that’s where the self-doubt comes in. Interestingly, the APA cited a study conducted in 2013 at the University of Texas at Austin and found Asian-Americans were more likely than African-Americans or Latino-Americans to experience imposter syndrome and women are more likely than men to experience it. Embarking on a huge endeavor such as a PhD program is definitely something that can trigger it.
So how do we deal with this? I mean, before it becomes a serious mental health issue? I certainly don’t want to continue to spiral downward into the pit of depression and I’m sure you don’t want to either. This is where I depend on my strengths as a teacher and give myself the same pep talk I give my students.
Second, I’m going to continue to work on reframing how I view myself in the academic world. My background is in communication, but I decided to enter the strange and wondrous world of linguistics. I am a complete novice here. But, as my PhD supervisor told me just yesterday, the advantage of coming from a communication background is it gives me the ability to take a step back and look at everything from afar so that I can answer the question “so what” about my study. In this case, being different is a complete advantage.
Third, I’m going to remember to keep a sense of humor and not take myself so seriously. (Enter Twizzlers commercial here). Honestly, I can do this. I served in the U.S. Marine Corps for goodness sakes. I am a cancer survivor. I did a TEDx Talk. Now that was scary. I mean, really, how many people will be able to say they are a former Marine cancer survivor TEDx Talker with a PhD in English Language & Applied Linguistics? I just may put that on a business card.
Lastly, I’m not going to let this PhD define me. It’s an absolute bitch of an undertaking. I spend a lot of time reading and writing and staring at data. But there is still much more to life than what I’m looking at on the computer screen. It’s important to acknowledge the other parts of me that are equally as awesome as, but even more important than the nerd part. I’m a mom and a wife and a friend (note to self: my people will not love me any more or any less whether I have the title “Dr” in front of my name). I have found getting up from the desk and spending time with them does more for the soul than anything else.
In the end, my goal for writing this is twofold: 1) to remind myself that imposter syndrome is not uncommon and that I’m likely going to struggle with it for a while longer and 2) to remind you that imposter syndrome is not uncommon and that you can get through it too. We can do this.