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Published by

Dr Camila Devis-Rozental

25 April 2022, 2:18 UTC Share

How Imposter Syndrome can create barriers to academic-policy engagement

Dr Camila Devis-Rozental reflects on how imposter syndrome can create barriers for researchers wanting to engage in policy impact.

Is imposter syndrome getting in the way of sharing your knowledge and expertise?

Researchers may avoid engaging in policy influencing not because of their expertise or area of research, but because they suffer from imposter syndrome. It may hold them back, creating barriers and preventing them from sharing their work with parliamentarians. In this blog Camila explores the notion of imposter syndrome, its possible causes and shares some tips to help researchers overcome imposter syndrome and reach out to influence policy and enrich society.

Ever have you ever?

Have you ever doubted your abilities or knowledge? Felt unprepared for a challenge in a familiar area? Felt out of your depth or not worthy of your achievements or efforts? Or even felt worried about being ‘found out’? If you work in higher education, you would probably have felt them all; I know I have. If that’s the case, you may have been suffering from imposter syndrome. HEIs are environments where achievements are important as part of career progression or success, and it is therefore not unusual to hear colleagues feeling like that. This can have a detrimental effect on our wellbeing, and it can also hinder our ability to apply for grants, feel able to share our knowledge or even feel worthy of contributing to policy. So why do so many of us working in HE suffer from imposter syndrome?

Why do we suffer from imposter syndrome?

Well, there are many possible reasons. A continuous pressure to deliver outputs and a focus on external recognition with an emphasis on quantifiable measures to gauge our success doesn’t help. The constant feeling of pressure to achieve, perfectionist tendencies, our background and family can all impact on the way in which we see ourselves. It is one thing to step out of our comfort zone, the familiar, if you will, and to feel out of our depth. That is quite normal, necessary and a great way to learn and develop our skills. However, when those feelings come about from situations where we should feel confident about our knowledge and expertise and how to apply it, then imposter syndrome can be a real problem.

Is it imposter syndrome?

You may have been brought up in an environment where you didn’t see yourself represented in the media, leadership roles or important positions. If you are a woman, disabled, from an ethnic minority or belong to another marginalised group from a protected characteristic you may be more likely to think that you suffer from imposter syndrome. However, it may be that the way you view yourself has nothing to do with you but instead a systematic failure of toxic environments where diversity, equity and inclusion lack behind. This can only be challenged and changed through confronting these toxic cultures and proposing instead cultures where everyone’s strengths are celebrated and where people are not judged for who they are and therefore stereotyped.

So, what if it is?

Even those of us who work in places where we feel supported, valued and able to thrive and flourish can feel like we have imposter syndrome. If that’s the case, we should challenge ourselves. Perhaps we are self-sabotaging our opportunities, or we may lack the self-awareness and self-esteem to identify our strengths and how to use them for our benefit. Knowing the reason for these feelings is key so reflecting on our experiences and how we have responded may help us identify its root cause.

How can we combat imposter syndrome?

Apart from ensuring that we continuously challenge toxic working cultures and encourage them to embrace equity, diversity and inclusion in every single area, there are some things we can do from a personal development aspect. There is no immediate antidote and whatever we do will take time, discipline and consistency. Here are some ideas of things we can do to fight those feelings of inadequacy that may be holding us down.

• Be kind and compassionate to yourself
• Build confidence by taking calculated risks, reflecting on your strengths and weaknesses and how to improve them
• Put thoughts in perspective (does the thought help or hinder?)
• Reframe thoughts of failure and not knowing into opportunities to learn and develop
• Develop a growth mindset
• Focus on the positive (what you know, what you have achieved)
• Develop a healthy response to failing or making a mistake by seeing them as opportunities for growth
• Avoid comparing yourself with others
• Challenge yourself and separate feelings from facts
• Avoid perfectionism focusing on realism and achievable goals
• Change your narrative in your head for one of abundance and not deficit
• Reward yourself for small gains and own your successes with pride

Take those calculated risks

The important thing to remember is that we are not fonts of all knowledge. Life is a learning journey and whilst learning can be painful and uncomfortable at times, owning and embodying that new knowledge can also be uneasy to begin with. The trick is to be able to identify that there are some things that we actually know more about than others, and only once this thought really sits within us will we be more willing to taking those calculated risks, try new things and go for those things that felt unachievable, incomprehensible or even impossible such as sharing our research with parliamentarians to make a positive impact on society.

Remember, you are inimitable (own it), there is nobody else like you with your knowledge and expertise and that is worth sharing with others to make this world a better place.

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