The Impostor Syndrome:
Helping Students to Face their Fears
and Finish Strong
Christy A. Walker
Assistant Director
University Career Services
“I feel like an impostor here with all these really bright people.”
“I feel like a fraud”
“If I'm so successful, why do I feel like a fake?”
“I am not as good as other people think I am, and I have them fooled now but I may
be ‘found out’ later.”
"Obviously I'm in this position because my abilities have been overestimated."
“I did not want people to think I thought I was something I was not.”
“My family expects me to make some massive impact upon this world and I live in
constant fear of disappointing them.”
Assistant Director - UNC University Career Services
Former UNC Academic Advisor
STEM Graduate
Doctoral Student
Session Goals
Define Imposter Syndrome
Detail characteristics of Imposter Syndrome
Identify student issues
– How to support and empower student
– Support services
– Implications
– Best Practices
What is the Impostor Syndrome?
… an intense feeling of intellectual
inauthenticity that is frequently
experienced by high-achieving
--- Clance and Imes, 1978
What is the Impostor Syndrome (IP)?
• Researchers Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes
• “Fear of Failure”
• Sometimes known as “impostor phenomenon”
• Origin – graduate students
• Common in graduate students, transfers,
underrepresented populations, adult learners
Clance IP Scale & Harvey’s IP Scale
Both scales contain items that identify :
Fear of failure
Attribution of success to luck, error, or charm
The desire to stand out
The feeling of having given others a false impression
Clance’s scale includes measures that identify:
• Fear of evaluation
• Fear that successes cannot be repeated
• The feeling that one is less capable than peers
Characteristics of Impostor Syndrome
“The cycle”
Fear of Evaluation
Fear of Failure
Guilt about success
Difficulty in accepting
positive feedback
• Anxiety
• Overestimating others while
underestimating oneself
• Skewed definition of
• False family messages
Impostor Syndrome Shows Up As…
Lack of self-confidence
Low self-esteem
Suicidal thoughts
Increased drop out rates
Impact of Impostor Syndrome on…
Graduate students
Minorities/Underrepresented students
STEM students
Transfer students
Adult students
• Women may be more likely than men to experience
impostor behaviors
• Family messages
• Societal messages
• Gender socialization
• Some women choose to hide their own opinions
Graduate Students
• Seen as “higher achievers” in literature
• More likely to self-sabotage their efforts
• Greatest fear is failure
• Cultural Suicide brings to mind cultural conflicts (i.e., "acting White,"
"putting on airs") experienced by people of color.
– Cultural suicide happens to learners "who are in the critical process and who
are seen by those around them to be reinventing themselves" and are at risk
of being ostracized (Brookfield, 2005).
• Tinto’s (1993) framework emphasizes the importance of social integration
(i.e., participation in campus activities, interaction with peers).
• Carpenter (1991) contends that international students often face a
particular set of transfer problems in the transfer process that are caused
by cultural differences.
STEM & Underrepresented Students
Four sets of factors necessary to enhance
minority students’ success in STEM
• Academic and social integration
• Knowledge and skill development
• Support and motivation
• Monitoring and advising
-- Maton, Hrabowski, & Schmitt, 2000
Transfer Students
Barbara Townsend - perceptions among transfer students that
relate to IP:
• Students commonly reported a "self-reliant" role in transfer
• Self- reliant because they perceived that institutions failed to
communicate with them
• “Survival of the fittest“ attitude toward community college
Adult Learners
Four emotional states within adult learners:
Cultural Suicide
Loss of innocence
Peer support- students feel a need to belong to
an emotionally sustaining learning community of
-- Brookfield , 2005
Mentoring programs
Transfer services
Alumni network
Leadership development programs
Civic engagement
Academic advising
Career services
Counseling services – a key referral!
How to address the Impostor Syndrome
Break the silence
Right the rules
Separate feelings from fact
Develop a new script
Recognize when you should feel
Visualize success
Reward yourself
Accentuate the positive
10. Fake it ‘til you make it
Develop a new response to
failure and mistake making
--- Dr. Valerie Young
Closing Thoughts
Christy A. Walker
Assistant Director
University Career Services
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
[email protected]
Brookfield, S. D. (2005), Overcoming impostorship, cultural suicide, and lost
innocence: Implications for teaching critical thinking in the community college.
New Directions for Community Colleges, 2005: 49–57.
Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). The impostor phenomenon in high-achieving
women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research,
and Practice, 15, 241-247.
Clance, P.R. & O'Toole, M.A. (1987). Impostor phenomenon: An internal barrier to
empowerment and Achievement. Women and Therapy, 6, 51-64.
King, J. E., & Cooley, E. L. (1995). Achievement orientation and the impostor
phenomenon among college students. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 20,
Kolligan, J. Jr. (1991). Perceived fraudulence in young adults: Is there an "impostor
syndrome"? Journal of Personality Assessment, 56, 308-326.
Maton, K.I., Hrabowski, F.A. III, & Schmitt, C.L. (2000). African-American college
students excelling in the sciences: College and post-college outcomes in the
Meyerhoff Scholars Program. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37, 629-654
Web References
• Dr. Valerie Young – The Secret Thoughts of Successful
Women –
• Pauline Rose Clance –
– Impostor Phenomenon Reference List