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I’m sure I speak for a lot of students when I say that last month’s conference was truly great! However, while being at the annual conference is of course exciting and intellectually stimulating, for some of us, it can also bring up feelings of inadequacy and doubt. My sense of being inadequate peaked shortly before, and even during, my conference paper presentation. “What was I doing here?” “What do I know?” “This is going to be embarrassing…” These were the thoughts that were running through my head; not only were they unhelpful, but they made my anxiety worse!

These feelings have been coined the term imposter syndrome. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, imposter syndrome is a name for the general feeling on being inadequate, that you “don’t belong,” or that you somehow fooled someone into thinking you did belong. It is common and understandable for students to feel like imposters, especially when attending or presenting at national conferences that draw some of the most accomplished clinicians and researchers in the field. However, when students begin to feel like imposters all the time, it often results in increased anxiety and diminished confidence.

I do believe, however, there are ways to overcome feeling like an imposter. Below I’ve listed some ways I think might be helpful in getting over our imposter syndrome.

  1. Seek support when you are feeling down. This may go without saying, but in those low moments when you are feeling particularly doubtful in your abilities, reach out to someone! I can almost guarantee to you that if the person you turn to is a grad student (or even your advisor or mentor), he or she has felt the same way at some point.
  2. Asking for constructive feedback. I believe there is a difference between feeling you have areas to improve upon and feeling like you don’t belong. Think about concrete ways you can improve and seek feedback in how to make those improvements.
  3. Keep attending conferences or other professional meetings. Attending conferences provides an opportunity to further develop your professional identity and to receive feedback about your own research.
  4. Review articles for peer-reviewed journal. Although this might seem like extra work, I think this is an excellent way to build your knowledge about your particular area of interest and research in general. Recently, I was invited to review an article and was pleased to see that many of my critiques of the article were almost exact to some of the other reviewers’ critiques. This was reassuring and ultimately showed me that I did have the skills and knowledge to contribute as a researcher.
  5. Remind yourself of all of your accomplishments. This may sound silly, but think about all the reasons why you do belong in graduate school! Next time you are updating your CV, just take a second to recognize your own accomplishments.
  6. Mentor another student. Mentoring an undergraduate students or a newer graduate student may lead you to realize you are more qualified than you initially thought.

I hope you can take some of these ideas and apply them to your own life! Just remember, student ≠ imposter.
Best of luck in the new year!