Tips to Defeat Your Inner Imposter

Katherine Pratt, CSNE graduate student

Sarah BallardAt some point in your life you’ve probably experienced feelings of inadequacy. For example, you’re attending your first conference and are completely overwhelmed by all of the presentations and posters. The biggest thing on your mind is that you weren’t meant to be here, and the selection committee chose your research by mistake or because they were being nice. Instead of being proud of your accomplishments, you’re terrified that your “ruse” will be found out if you can’t answer questions the right way. For many individuals, especially females and minorities, the feelings of “Imposter Syndrome” are ever present in the back of their minds despite being incredibly successful in the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

Dr. Sarah Ballard (see photo), the former Carl Sagan Fellow in the Astronomy Department at the University of Washington, has made it a goal to help those who suffer from Imposter Syndrome in STEM be more mindful of their habits and how to overcome them. She gave an hour-long workshop during a brown-bag lunch meeting at the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering earlier this summer. Dr. Ballard aims to make everyone feel at ease about sharing some of their most personal stories through simple games: “Two Truths and a Lie” has the group guess which of a participant’s three anecdotes is made up, and in “Imposter Bingo” instead of numbers, you cross off squares as the moderator calls out an Imposter Syndrome thought you’ve had. During bingo, participants cheered each time someone completed a row: we were all acknowledging our imposter thoughts, five squares at a time.

Then it was time to learn how to overcome these feelings. Dr. Ballard reiterated that you can’t cure yourself of imposter syndrome overnight, but that recognizing when you get the feelings and what to do to overcome them is an incredibly important part of the process. She uses exercises from Dr. Valerie Young to help participants recognize triggers and responses. Finally, Dr. Ballard shared empowering techniques for dealing with impostor feeling: values affirmation [1] and power posing [2].

The workshop was highly successful, especially because undergraduate and rising college freshmen participating in CSNE summer research were in attendance. Instead of fighting imposter feelings through the beginning of their higher education, they can overcome these feeling sooner and recognize their full potential. Even the more senior graduate students learned valuable lessons about how to be confident in their dissertation and future work.

More information about Imposter Syndrome, including an outline of the workshop, can be found on Dr. Ballard’s website. The CSNE Women’s Career Mentoring Series is a new lunchtime program launched during Summer 2015. Each month, we invite a speaker to join CSNE members to speak about the issues facing women in science and engineering careers.

[1] A. Miyake, L. E. Kost-Smith, N. D. Finkelstein, S. J. Pollock, G. L. Cohen, and T. A. Ito, “Reducing the Gender Achievement Gap in College Science: A Classroom Study of Values Affirmation,” Science, vol. 330, no. 6008, pp. 1234–1237, Nov. 2010.

[2] A. J. C. Cuddy, C. A. Wilmuth, and D. R. Carney, “The Benefit of Power Posing Before a High-Stakes Social Evaluation,” Sep. 2012.