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Caitlin Wake, Insight Project: My Transition Through Education: Imposter Syndrome

Insight Project will be publishing a series of blogs over the coming weeks. The second week's blogs focus on the experiences of its team transitioning through education.

This blog is written by Caitlin Wake, Insight Project Team Member

Abstract: This blog post offers a brief insight into my life before starting university before delving deeper into my experiences of university life – with a particular emphasis on first year university life and the difficulties I encountered that year.

My Transition Through Education: Imposter Syndrome

‘Imposter syndrome’ is defined by the dictionary as “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.” This is something that I struggled with for a long time, as a lot of students have, but it can feel like an incredibly isolating experience. For me, these feelings developed whilst studying my A-levels as my sixth form was incredibly small and I felt as though the other students were a lot smarter than me, and I did not deserve to be studying alongside them even though I had met the entry requirements.

These feelings were suddenly amplified when I started university as I was surrounded by students that all seemed to be very intelligent and had much more experience than I did. As no one else in my family had gone to university prior, I was not able to receive any advice beforehand. As soon as welcome week was over and classes lectures, seminars and labs begun I felt as though most other students seemed to be much more put together than I was as I struggled to keep up with my note taking and listening to the lecturers.

Unfortunately, this was something I struggled in silence with for the first semester as I was worried if I asked for help that my lecturers may not view me as capable as other students. But by the time second semester rolled out, I really felt as though I just needed to confide in someone about how I was feeling. So, one day I sent an email to my personal tutor regarding my feelings and struggles, and she gave me a helpful and detailed response in which she referred me to different services and websites that she thought would be of use in addition to some of her personal tips.

I initially read through some of the linked websites which included student blog posts detailing their experiences of imposter syndrome which helped me feel less lonely as I had never heard any other student talk in depth about the same feelings I felt. I was also advised to create a success table which involved writing down all the things I had achieved so far and although I initially found it difficult to think and write about my accomplishments, it helped reduce the feelings of inadequacy as whenever I felt like that. I was able to look back at this sheet and could remind myself of what I had been able to achieve before when feeling inadequate for example during my A-level studies. I also spoke to some other students in relation to my feelings which really helped me view things from a different perspective. For example, in my first semester seminar group there was this one girl who whenever asked a question always gave what I thought to be very intelligent and concise answers whereas whenever I was asked a question, I felt like I gave very long-winded answers and in a group activity I once commented to her about this, and she said she thought I gave better more detailed answers and she only gave short answers as she didn’t feel confident going into more depth and this made me realise that we are all probably our own worst critic as I had never thought that about her before.

As the years progressed although these feelings still come up occasionally especially around deadlines and exam season, they have significantly decreased compared to when I first started university and now, I am in my final year and am preparing to make my next transition to graduate employment whilst in the middle of a global pandemic and not feeling undeserving of a graduate job.

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