The Impostor Phenomenon

As many other friends, I went back home to enjoy the holidays with my family. This should be a time to rest and enjoy the parties, but if you have been out of home for a while and especially out of the country, all kind of questions start coming from everywhere. “Hey! How is Canada?”, “Is it really that cold?” or “How many more years are you going to be away?” Are the preferred ones. However, the more complicated questions usually are “What are you doing in your Ph.D.?” and, “What do you do with a Ph.D.?” Then you can feel proud for a minute explaining the importance of your research and how we contribute to save the world (well, maybe).


Photo by @christinekts #GradLifeMcGill #HappyHolidays #DaysOff #NewbieAtMcGill #christmasisalreadyhere #christmasmodeon #lastdayofexams #cantwait


Photo by @christinekts

Some of us could experience a sense of guilt or even fear at some point. Are we really working in something THAT important? Moreover, if it is, am I really qualified to work on it or am I riding an unstoppable bus to doom? Then you start to feel anxious thinking about all the work piling up in the laboratory. This is by far worse than the disconnection problem I mentioned in my previous article (The vacation boundaries and the “Workshop Blindness”) because this time we are dealing with a self-confidence problem. Naijean S. Bernard et al. [1] defines the Impostor Phenomenon as “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness in high achievers who are unable to internalize their successful experiences”. In other words, it means that some capable people are sometimes unable to realize how good they really are, feeling that others will point out them as frauds or cheaters. This seems to be a very common problem in McGill graduate students. I discussed this subject during the Grad Connect Cafes (hosted by Campus Life and Engagement and Career Planning Service) some time ago, and I was just amazed how many students were feeling this way. We talked how we are too hard on ourselves, thinking that only our luck or other advantages brought us all the way long.

If you have this problem, I can tell you only one thing we defined there. Many people achieve great things not only because of their natural talent but mostly because they defied their fear of facing bigger challenges. During this struggle, we could feel overpowered by the task ahead, but it does not mean that we are not good enough to deal with it. The only thing to do is to give your best and be confident about your abilities, as not even all the luck in the world would be enough without the sacrifice and the effort you put in your everyday work. So the next time you feel like this in the middle of your turkey sandwich, try to recognize how really good you are and the achievement that being a graduate student represent. Happy Holidays!

[1]          N. S. Bernard, S. J. Dollinger, and N. V. Ramaniah, “Applying the big five personality factors to the impostor phenomenon,” Journal of personality Assessment, vol. 78, pp. 321-333, 2002.

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