Dealing with Imposter Syndrome

By: Sam Saxena – Behavioral Sciences and Health Education

I remember my first week at Rollins, “syllabus week”, as many people call the first week of a new semester. It wasn’t just the first week of a new semester for me though, it was the first time I had been in a classroom in three and a half years. Now don’t get me wrong, I was excited to be back in school. I love to learn. After all, I applied to grad school and chose to come to Rollins for a reason. But, that first week, doubts started creeping into my head.

“Do I really deserve to be here?”

“What if I fail all of my classes?”

“How am I going to find a job AND an internship!?”

At the time of writing this, I’m a few weeks away from graduating. I’ve done fine in all of my classes, I found a job on-campus where I worked both years, and found an internship which I completed on time. I contributed to the Rollins community in several different ways by serving as an ambassador, student government representative, and orientation coordinator. Did I deserve to be at Rollins? Absolutely. Did I still have doubts along the way? You bet.

Unfortunately, imposter syndrome is a byproduct of being in higher education. Almost everyone struggles with it at some point, and by “everyone” I don’t just mean students – I’ve talked to faculty, even Deans that have had to battle imposter syndrome throughout their career. At an elite institution like Emory, it’s really easy to feel like everybody is so much smarter than you, or in some way, more qualified to be here than you are. But, that’s simply not true.

So how does someone deal with this phenomenon? I have a few tips:

  1. Be aware when you’re comparing yourself to others

I would say “stop comparing yourself to others” but that’s pretty much impossible. We all compare ourselves to our peers, and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it often ends up making us feel worse. Next time you find yourself going down that rabbit hole, remind yourself that there is no right way to do grad school, or life for that matter. Everyone has their own journey in public health and comparing yourself to someone without knowing their context is unfair to you.

  1. Talk about it

If imposter syndrome was a monster, it would be Pennywise, the clown from IT. They are both scary on their own, but really do their damage by capitalizing on the things you’re already scared about. And just like Pennywise, you can’t defeat it by yourself. Talking to your peers about imposter syndrome is cathartic; nine times out of ten, they will also identify with those feelings. Talk to professors and other professionals that you trust, and ask how they dealt with feelings of imposter syndrome. Rollins also has at least one event every semester that gets at this concept, so take advantage of them! There is definitely strength in numbers, just ask Pennywise.

  1. Give yourself some grace

Imposter syndrome is absolutely normal, but often, we are guilty of being too hard on ourselves. Extend the same grace to yourself that you would extend to your friends. Remember that it’s okay if you feel like you made a mistake or didn’t do your best on a school assignment or work project. You are not expected to do everything perfectly, you are here to learn!

So, if you’ve been admitted to Rollins or are even thinking about applying, I want to tell you this: You DO belong here. You ARE good enough to succeed. You WILL do something great. When you hear the imposter syndrome talking, remind yourself of these things. Now, maybe more than ever, public health is taking center stage around the world, and we are in prime position to make a real impact. So the next time you hear the imposter syndrome telling you to doubt yourself, tell it to be quiet, because we’ve got work to do.