“Why am I doing this? I’m not fit for this.”
“They probably had no other choice, that’s why they picked me”
“I feel like such a fraud. Others do really good work, while I’m just faking it to get through.”
We’ve all had these thoughts at some point in our careers. Imposter syndrome is a commonly experienced feeling, where a person feels like they don’t belong to a particular profession or work space because they aren’t worthy enough to be there.
A new U.S. study, by researchers from New York University, shows that imposter syndrome is more likely to affect women and early-career academics, who work in fields that have intellectual brilliance as a prerequisite, such as STEM and academia. The study, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, surveyed nearly 5,000 academics from nine American universities, all of which were ranked in the top 100 institutions that were research-intensive and had a medical school.
Researchers asked all academics to first answer a questionnaire to measure their imposter feelings, which asked them how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements such as, “I am afraid people important to me may find out that I am not as capable as they think I am.” They then wrote down how accepted they felt in their field and how confident they felt in their own abilities to perform. Lastly, the academics were given a set of statements, such as, “Being a top scholar in my field requires a special aptitude that just can’t be taught,” in order to measure the extent they thought intelligence was required to succeed in their field.
The study also provides evidence for the urgent need for more inclusive academic and STEM spaces.
The study found that women had a higher rate of experiencing imposter syndrome than men, especially when they believed their field of work required natural intelligence as a prerequisite to succeed. Those who were in the early stages of their career also reported higher levels of imposter syndrome as compared to their more experienced counterparts.
Researchers also noted that the gender gap significantly widened when they considered the ethnic and racial backgrounds of the participants. For instance, women from minority groups showed higher levels of imposter syndrome than white or Asian women. In fields where natural intelligence or genius was seen as more important, the more likely that women and minorities felt like they didn’t belong.
The study highlights one of the many dark sides of academia and its exclusionary nature. It is known to be sexist, racist, and elitist. This discrimination plays a major role in causing imposter syndrome in women, women of colour and minorities. This study also provides evidence for the urgent need for more inclusive academic and STEM spaces. It’s not just about the mental health impact or the widening of disparity in gender and race, but also about the stunting of our overall scientific development as a society due to this exclusion.