Unmasking the Impostor

[…] Feelings of inadequacy in one’s field sometimes plague even the most accomplished scientists, especially women.[…]

[…] Cherry Murray is principal associate director for science and technology at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California, and president of the American Physical Society. On 1 July she will become dean of Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. […] […] What Murray describes — an overwhelming sense of being a fraud, a phony, of not being good enough for her job, despite much evidence to the contrary — was first identified more than 30 years ago by two clinical psychologists who dubbed it the ‘impostor phenomenon’ (IP) (P. Clance and S. Imes Psychother. Theor. Res. 15, 241–247; 1978). […]

[…] Catherine Cardelús, an assistant professor in biology at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, first noticed the phenomenon as a graduate student working in the rainforests of Costa Rica. […] […] “I’m a high achiever and I’m successful, but I’ve had those moments of waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and tell me I don’t belong,” she says. “Or to tell me I was really lucky to get that paper in that journal.” […]

[…] Although Murray and Cardelús say it has not damaged their careers, both admit they haven’t published as many papers as some of their male counterparts — perhaps in part because neither can bear to have so much as a typo mar their work. […]

[…] New York University neuroscientist David Poeppel struggled for years with impostor feelings that emerged when he was a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and continued to plague him through his postdoc at the University of California, San Francisco. “I was working on research I thought was innovative, but was surrounded by overachievers,” he says. “You think, ‘I couldn’t have done that. How come I’m even here at all?’.’’ It still sometimes raises its unwelcome head. “Exogenous validation doesn’t do it,” Poeppel says. “Somehow, you can’t internalize. You cannot say, ‘All right, what I’m doing is serious and is taken seriously and I should be calm about it and just chill’.’’[…]

[…] Many of their clients who struggled with IP, they say, also had underlying depression or anxiety that responded to counselling and medication, which also relieved the impostor feelings.[…]

(NATURE, 21 May 2009, 459, 468-469)