• Sarah Tottle

So you feel like a fraud?



I remember when I first started my doctoral studies. I attended an open academy- an annual conference on a range of subjects relevant to PhD research. One of the academics teaching at the conference asked the group whether we felt like a fraud for being there. Imposter syndrome, or the fraud-like feeling many professional and successful women (and men) have, is prevalent within academia. We often think that it is a fluke that we got to where we are and that sooner or later we will be found out. It’s common. So common, that Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, even dedicated a small part to the subject in her book, Lean In.


Impostor Syndrome was coined by two American Clinical Psychologists in the 1970s as a definition for high achieving individuals that are unable to feel like they achieved their goals through their own capabilities, but rather fear being exposed as a phoney. It is common among high achieving women who often gravely underestimate their abilities.


If you constantly feel like a fraud at work or university, knowing that impostor syndrome exists can help. There is benefit in knowing that many other well respected individuals feel the same. For Clara, a 26 year old graduate student, the knowledge that she was not alone in feeling like a fraud helped. “I knew others felt the same. It was a relief knowing I wasn’t alone. I began to focus on my achievements and reflect on those. That helped.” Clara’s approach is key. By focusing on your talents and taking an objective stance, this will help offset any thoughts of not being good enough. If you are particularly prone to feeling like a fraud, carry around a list of achievements. These affirmations will be a useful reminder of what you have achieved so far. They will help you realise that you have not achieved the things you have by chance or fluke, but by hard work and talent. You can also ask a trusted friend, colleague or mentor for feedback on your skills.

©2019 by Sarah Tottle.