The Chemist: Imposter Syndrome

Hey everyone. I hope you all are having a good week so far. We decided for our Hot Topic for October that we'd talk about Imposter Syndrome. This has, and probably will always be, an ongoing conversation in various fields because literally everyone has more than likely experienced this. We're going to focus on how we feel like in our respective STEM fields, but just know that regardless of what you do, you can suffer from this and your experiences are also valid.

Let's start with the definition. This psychological phenomenon reflects a belief that you’re an inadequate and incompetent failure, despite evidence that indicates you’re skilled and quite successful. Now this is something that I'm sure everyone has felt at one point or another and I'm here to tell you that you are NOT alone.

Being in graduate school, it is extremely easy to feel inadequate. You can sit in a seminar, a classroom, a group meeting, listening to people talk about their work and think "Whoa. I literally have no idea what they're talking about. Am I even qualified to be in the same room with them?!" I know I have that feeling a lot. We live in a world where it's human nature to compare yourself to other people. You see your peers on social media living the life you thought you'd be living and feel bad about yourself. Again, this is very normal and you are not alone.

Now Impostor Syndrome can show up in a few different ways and I'm going to tell you how it shows up in my life and then some ways I'm trying to beat it.

Problem: I don't like asking for help.

This is the most common way this shows up in my life. In my head I feel like I HAVE to do things on my own or else I feel like I'm not doing a good job at handling my life. I really only ask for help if and only if I've exhausted every option to get it done on my own. Now I know this isn't a good way to live my life and that it's okay to ask for help, but I still rarely do it. I have no problem helping others when they need it, but I rarely turn the tables for fear of being like a burden to them.

Solution: I'm starting small and asking people for little favors.

This is an extremely hard habit to break, let me tell you. So I'm making a conscious effort to start small. Asking people for rides and other small favors is my way of branching out to ask people for help. So I'm getting better, promise! It's just going to take a while for me to not hesitate to let others help me accomplish something.

Problem: I'm somewhat of a perfectionist.

I set insanely high standards for myself which causes me to take on a million and three things and if I fail, I'm really hard on myself. This is also extremely problematic in grad school. There's already a lot of things on my plate here, but in my head I have to do well. I have to succeed. My projects have to work. I have to have the grades. Everything needs to go smoothly. Even though I KNOW that's not how life works, that's how I've always lived my life. I like being good at thing. I like excelling.

Solution: I have to be better at accepting my failures as lessons.

Anyone that has ever done anything knows that sometimes things don't work. For me, I've been trying to talk about my failures in a different light. For example, instead of blaming myself and my inadequacies as the reason an experiment didn't work, I take a break, revisit it, and try to see what I did wrong/what I could learn from it. Most times, you learn a lot more from failures than you do successes. It just starts with a mindset change. So I'm working on that too.

Problem: I feel guilty when I'm not working.

The last way I suffer from this syndrome stems from me feeling guilty for not working. In grad school, there's more than likely something you could be doing. Whether it's grading, reading papers, writing, analyzing data, the work never stops. On breaks or even the weekend, there's always a nagging feeling that I SHOULD be doing something school-related. I can never relax because my mind is on school 24/7 - which is super unhealthy. This goes hand in hand with the adage, "We have to work twice as hard to get half of what they want." I've internalized that, both as a woman and being black, and have formed some sort of guilty conscious about not working, or even going into the office. I have this need to always be around because at any point my advisor could need me for something.

Solution: I'm learning that my mental health is more important.

I have been on a mental health kick in 2018. I realized that a lot of my anxiety comes from this issue alone. I'm learning to say no to things and also realizing that while yes this degree is about my work, but also that I want to be mentally healthy getting it. Currently, I'm on an aromatherapy kick and my oil diffuser is my best friend. I've also started using scheduled "Do Not Disturb" on my phone to help me unplug before I go to sleep, both of which have helped tremendously.

Like all of these, it isn't solved overnight. Don't think you'll be fixed in a day or two. This takes time. You have to be real with yourself and figure out what the root(s) of the issue(s) is/are and go from there. What works for me may not work for you, but at least it can give you a starting point.

What are some ways you're working on fixing your Impostor Syndrome? Let us know.

-The Chemist

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