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Reaction to Graduate Workshops

08/20/2009

This morning, my colleagues and I attended a workshop entitled, “The Impostor Syndrome: Do I Really Belong Here?” There was an emphasis on discussion, so there were opportunities to share our feelings and solutions to being effectively crippled by those feelings. This, of course, can never be truly satisfying – the whole problem is that the impostor syndrome prevents you from being reassured, i.e., “You SAY I’m capable, but you don’t really KNOW.”

Luckily, the focus wasn’t reassurance, but dissection of why we have poor confidence and what to do about it. Interestingly, the room was packed – and many of the attendees were male. I don’t mean to suggest that men don’t suffer from impostor syndrome, but in my experience, they keep a facade much, much longer than women.

My toolkit for dealing with poor confidence has been entirely made up of discussions with other students (or past students, for example at the graduate retreat I and two other authors attended). It has been therapeutic to not only feel relieved of feelings of inadequacy through knowledge that other VERY capable people feel the same things – it also has been beneficial to me to know that by listening to others’ fears, I have helped them in the same way.

Anyway, in my experience, the male graduate students don’t have the same drive to share their feelings (surprising? Perhaps not). In fact, some of them seem to go to great pains to ensure that we all still think they’re as awesome as they seem to think they are.

I have no enlightened analysis to provide as to why the session was so evenly split, but I can’t help but find it encouraging; some men are analyzing their emotional states and are even coming forward looking for support. Amazing!

Another interesting note was that, at a later session entitled “Nonacademic Career Planning and Resume Writing,” which I would naively expect to be roughly 50/50, the attendees were predominantly female (perhaps 90%). As before, with any small group, it’s hard to state whether the trend is statistically significant – and, even more shaky, what the possible cause of such an observation could be.

That said, let me daringly propose that women find it more plausible or more appealing to search for work outside of academia. Even if, as the morning session may suggest, men are coming to terms with feelings of inadequacy and anxiety, they may be less willing to admit that their chosen path is not the path toward their greatest happiness.

Are they more determined or single-minded? Are they less pressured to choose a family-friendly career? Was the high male attendance at the impostor syndrome a fluke? Did they have some insight that it would be a mostly useless session (which it was)? With such shoddy observational data, I clearly can’t say, but it’s an interesting topic nonetheless.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 08/21/2009 9:52 am

    You can take an online Impostor Syndrome test at http://www.ImpostorQuiz.com

  2. Julia permalink*
    08/20/2009 6:42 pm

    I wonder what fields most of the men were in, or the women for that matter… I know she asked at the beginning, but I didn’t really take much notice to who was raising their hands when. I remember there were plenty of humanities and social science students there, and I don’t have any first hand experience of graduate culture in those fields, other than what I know from friends.

    I’m still surprised at how many new, first year students were there. Shouldn’t it take a few weeks before you feel crushingly inadequate?

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