As a graduate student, have you ever felt like you don’t belong? That you’re not actually that smart? That you got into your program by a fluke, and soon everyone will find out? That is called “imposter syndrome,” and many graduate students experience it. Imposter syndrome is particularly acute for students who are members of underrepresented groups (i.e. those who identify as racial or ethnic minorities, women, differently-abled, non-gender-conforming, and first-generation students).
Application components such as personal and diversity statements require students to demonstrate how their personal experiences have shaped their research and professional trajectories. For those dealing with imposter syndrome, the personal can be difficult to discuss. Over time, they may have conditioned themselves to avoid talking about difference, or may have attempted to “blend in” in an effort to traverse a society that privileges those who are white, male, able-bodied, and/or subscribe to traditional notions of gender identity. However, one of the best ways to overcome this challenge when crafting your applications, is to use your difference as an asset.
Think about the various ways in which your identity and individual life experiences have influenced your perspective on your research, teaching, and professional goals. For example, if you are a first generation student, how has this shaped your pedagogical approaches in the classroom? Or, what perspective can you bring to the STEM fields as a woman?
Dealing with imposter syndrome can make one feel isolated or embarrassed, but it is helpful to build trusting relationships with professors in your department or mentors who you can speak with about your concerns without fear of judgement. The important thing to remember is that imposter syndrome is common, and one way to cope with it is to realize that your identity and experiences are not things that should be hidden, but rather, have formed a perspective that is unique to you.