Fireside Chat: Imposter Syndrome

As a first-generation college graduate, to earn a graduate degree was a major milestone. A first for my family.  Women did not attend college let alone seek an advanced degree. I was the lucky one – encouraged to seek an education. Education was a gift – a key that opened doors to opportunities

There was no one in my family to advise me about graduate school or how to navigate the path forward. I was on my own trying to figure things out. I realized early on that if I was going to be successful that I couldn’t do it alone.  That is when I became brave enough to ask a few questions of my fellow grad student colleagues; I discovered what today we call peer mentoring.

When I began my graduate education, I remember feeling the excitement of the journey ahead of me.  Today, I can still feel what it was like that first day. I remember the beautiful crisp sunny fall day – stepping onto the campus as a first-time grad student. I can see the beautiful trees, awesome huge buildings – the pathways across the quads. Most of all, I can feel the joy of taking that first step to achieve my goal

My memories flash to my enthusiasm and passion for learning and the degree I was going to earn – that would create opportunities to become a university professor. My enthusiasm and passion were a way to stay focused on achieving my goal when I encountered hurdles along the way. And there were hurdles – small one, large ones, multiple ones.

Self-doubt liked to loom close by.  Early on, I would say to myself, “oh my … They let me in. It must be a mistake. Everyone else here is so much smarter and they know what they are doing.”  What scared me most was that someone would find out that I got in by mistake – then what?

I wasn’t the only student having self-doubt. I heard several of my friends say some of the same things I was thinking.

Today we call self-doubt the “imposter syndrome”.  Letting self-doubt and the “mind gremlins” take over and squash your dreams.  Guess what – they didn’t just let me in. It wasn’t a mistake.

The faculty admission committee knew what they were doing. They saw promise and potential in me. I realized early on not to let the “mind gremlins” get in the way of achieving my goal – earning that degree.

I had a belief that grad school was going to be an extension of what I experiences as an undergraduate – wrong. With no one to share insight, I was clueless especially as a first-generation student.

Much more is expected of you in grad school, much, much more.  I did find my path through trial and error. Asking graduate students ahead of me a mix of questions about the process, about professors, about anything I needed answered. We call that peer mentoring.  Peer mentoring is essential in graduate school. One has to be willing to ask and seek out others who can serve as peer mentors.

The most crucial lesson I learned was the importance of peer mentoring. The experience of those ahead of me helped to demystify graduate education. It was the experience of benefiting from peer mentoring that even as Dean, I served as a mentor to demystify the process of grad education for students and assisted anyway I could to share experience.

Here are a few of my takeaways for you that I learned that assisted me and I have seen it work for many other grad students. The last one especially worked for me at difficult times in my PhD program.

  • When you’re “stuck” or experience a little wobble, remember that first day of excitement, passion, and thrill, of being new – feel it – and remember your goal!
  • Many – especially women, experience the imposter syndrome. Spot it for what it is and move beyond it.
  • Find peer mentors who can assist and answer questions; be a peer mentor to someone else
  • Finally know there will be bumps and hurdles on your journey. Your task is to get around them, through them, over them, under them and Go for your Goal!

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drmgrasso

My experience as the chief academic officer and administrator charged with providing vision and leadership in planning, guiding, and coordinating all aspects of graduate education from admission through graduation at two major research universities provides the foundation for our fireside chats.

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