Impostor syndrome affects everyone in some way, and it’s important to remember that it’s common but not an indication of reality.

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How do we know if we belong somewhere?

I know that I belong to my family because I look like my parents and share common beliefs and mannerisms with my siblings.

I know that I belong to my group of friends because we share common interests.

I know that I’m a fellow NY Knicks fan because I share the same disappointment every time we lose a game. 

When it comes to academia, sometimes I’m not so sure.

It’s hard not to feel that way.

On a daily basis we’re evaluated in some form. Whether it’s a grant application, a presentation, paper rejection (or even revision).

In fact, it seems like everything we produce is evaluated harshly. How often are we told “this is great work!” or “Nice job!”? Not often.

It’s difficult to feel like we’re good at what we do when we’re constantly being told what we’re doing wrong instead of what we actually did well.

It’s also difficult not to feel like you’re the only one when we’ve been socialized not to share any of failures, but only our successes. 

Lucky for us in 2019 in the age of Twitter and Instagram, many academics are being more open about their rejections and their feelings related to impostor syndrome.

Now that we know these feelings are common, is it a good idea to just say “Great! We’re all awful! Let’s just do something else!”. Probably not.

A few weeks ago, I was feeling a heavy dose of imposter syndrome myself. I was feeling like “maybe academia isn’t for me”.

I shared my feelings with a friend of mine and while she affirmed that these feelings are common and understandable, she also mentioned that we can’t always trust them.

She was kind enough to remind me that I do good work, which is always nice to hear when you need it.

In that moment I remembered that I have a “When You Need a Boost” folder, or “Praise File”.

It’s a folder on my computer of all the kind things other researchers and colleagues have said about my work or my potential as a researcher.

I rarely remember I have this folder, but I remembered at the right time.

I encourage everyone to have a folder like this.

I keep things like “You’re going to make a fantastic researcher and faculty member” and “I appreciate you contributing to this conversation. I look forward to your future work on this topic”.

I think my friend was right; it’s worth understanding that we can’t always trust these feelings of self-doubt. And why should we?

For every negative thought we feel about ourselves or our work, we can certainly think of kind words someone has shared with us.

Impostor syndrome affects everyone in some way, and it’s important to remember that it’s common but not an indication of reality. In fact, some research suggests that high achievers feel this more intensely than others.

What sorts of things will you put in your Praise File?

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Dana Miller Cotto contributing author at Stylish Academic

Dr. Dana Miller-Cotto is a postdoctoral researcher at the Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh, USA. Her research interests focus on the intersection of psychology and education, applying cognitive psychology theories to learning math and science.
Dana enjoys exploring styles that reflect her Northeastern style in the winter, as a native New Yorker of West Indian descent. This includes trench coats and heavy scarves. She also loves to wear bright colored sundresses in the summer.
Dana completed her Ph.D. at Temple University in May 2017 in Educational Psychology. 
In her free time, you can catch Dana training for a Spartan challenge, testing out new recipes, or spoiling her pet beagle, Brooklyn.