Feeling Like You Don’t Belong? You’re Not Alone!

When I began my program at Walden, I remember thinking “I don’t belong here” because my peers all had more experience than I did or had already completed additional academic programs. I felt very out of place. That is, until I met another student in the same situation who shared an article with me about imposter syndrome and suddenly, I had a name for my feelings!

So right now, you might be wondering what the imposter syndrome is. Well, it’s described as a feeling of intellectual phoniness in successful individuals who fear they will be discovered as a fraud (or imposters). Imposters may struggle with accepting praise and owning their success. Instead, they believe their success is due to some mistake or luck. They also experience high levels of anxiety and self-doubt, often stuck in a cycle characterized by overworking and perfectionism.

Many students, in any kind of academic program, can experience imposter syndrome when faced with a task that includes evaluation, such as an assignment or presentation. When faced with something new that we haven’t done before, the feelings of being an imposter can spike. If you have never had this experience before, you may notice the feelings when beginning a new degree program, starting a new phase of your current program, or taking on a new role at work.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, first – you’re not alone. I experienced this throughout my entire academic journey. And even today, I still struggle with these feelings from time to time, especially when it comes to new tasks I’m assigned. The good news is that there are strategies you can use to manage these feelings. Here are a couple of things I’ve learned along the way when it comes to keeping imposter feelings in-check.

  • Acknowledge it and Discuss it

The first step in dealing with those imposter feelings is to acknowledge it. Hopefully, this blog will help you to put a name to those feelings. Beyond that, talk about how you’re feeling. Connect with a peer or colleague – anyone who will listen and understand. Maybe even consider joining a Facebook group to build connections with peers! I connected with peers with similar feelings during my residency. It helped to have someone to chat with who understood the experience, and sometimes it helped to just know I wasn’t alone.

  • Look at the Big Picture

While doing your best on your assignments is important, you are far more than a single assignment or even a single course. For myself, I would spend hours (and I do mean, hours) on every single discussion post and even responses, because I doubted they were good enough.

Somewhere along the way, I changed my focus. Instead of focusing on those individual posts and grades, I started to look at my growth as a writer and scholar-practitioner. As you move through your own program – focus on how you are growing in different skills and your knowledge. Look back at work you’ve done earlier in your program to see how far you’ve come!

  • Take Chances

As imposters, we have a habit of not taking chances. For example, we might not submit a proposal to present at a conference, or we might not apply for a higher-level job. After all, we don’t want to fail or be found out as an imposter, so we simply avoid situations when we can. But those experiences are crucial to our growth professionally and academically. Make a big goal, such as doing a conference presentation, but go ahead and break that down into smaller steps. For example, attend a conference first and then at the next one do a poster presentation. You’ll build confidence as you move through those smaller steps to your ultimate goal of doing a presentation.

I know it can feel isolating and overwhelming when experiencing imposter syndrome, but so many of us have these feelings. You are not alone – connect with others, talk about it, and remember that you do belong here.

For additional information and tips about the imposter syndrome, check out this webinar recording: Feeling Like you Don’t Belong? Tips to Overcome the Imposter Syndrome.

Dr. Christy Fraenza is the Coordinator for the Doctoral Peer Mentor Program. Dr. Fraenza regularly hosts the Tips to Overcome the Imposter Syndrome webinar in the Academic Skills Center (ASC). She is also contributing faculty for the Center for Academic Excellence (CAEX).


3 thoughts on “Feeling Like You Don’t Belong? You’re Not Alone!

  1. This post was written for me. Thank you. I have had the same feeling in my undergraduate and graduate studies. At every new stage in my academic career, I am thinking it would go away; but it comes back stronger than ever. I am glad to see it is an actual thing and not just in my head.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Imposter syndrome has always left me feeling inadequate and like I am a fraud. I want to be more confident in myself and my abilities as a professional. Pursuing a graduate degree is something that seemed so daunting and outside of my reach, but I am here and ready to prove to myself that I am capable of both achieving my degree and not feeling like I got it out of pure luck!


  3. In reading about Imposter syndrome, I feel a little better to know that I am not alone. I can finally put a name to my thoughts and feelings. I started this education journey with a GED even in accomplishing it, I can recall those feelings and thoughts of self-doubt, anxiety even when I was the keynote speaker for my Graduation class. In furthering my education Assoicates, Bachelors now on the master’s level. Finally able to put a name to those feelings and thoughts about learning and achieving my desires of getting an education. I know all my achievements was not out of luck, I just didn’t and couldn’t celebrate myself, I just kept moving forward with working and school. So, with that being said I will acknowledge, and celebrate all my goals whether small, or large.


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