What To Do When You Feel Like An Imposter

The last few years have been tough for most of us. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our education, our workplaces, and our career plans. Many of us had to adjust to remote – or socially-distanced – work, while simultaneously handling greater family pressures and uncertainties. If you feel you’re barely scraping by while your peers are thriving…don’t worry, you aren’t alone.

Social media and emergent technologies do a lot to simplify the work of a STEM professional, but they also contribute to an increased sense of imposter syndrome: the persistent inability to believe that your success is deserved, or was legitimately achieved as a result of your own efforts or skills.

Imposter syndrome is made worse by social media: many STEM professionals post curated career highlights on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, or spin their failures into inspiring stories of success and resilience. The need to post regularly on social media sites to keep your profile visible also creates a steady stream of doubt-sowing content.

Many scientists pride themselves on their industriousness and technical expertise, and see success as a direct result of hard work, so to believe you aren’t the skilled expert becomes even more demoralizing. Imposter syndrome can make your work life anxious and miserable, and hold you back from opportunities you’re qualified for, or from sharing your knowledge and skills with others.

Controlling your sense of imposter syndrome is a life-long challenge, but there are several ways you can overcome those intrusive, demoralizing thoughts.

Managing Imposter Syndrome

● Social media consumption in moderation, with plenty of ‘breaks.’ We can’t get away from work-related social media entirely, but online activity yields diminishing returns. Set limits on how long you spend on these sites each day, and give yourself breaks. The less time on social media, the less time you are spending playing the comparison game.

● Regular self-affirmations to combat negative thought patterns. The only way to disrupt the cycle of negative thoughts is to introduce new, positive thoughts into your head. Remind yourself that you were chosen for this job or task for a reason, and that you have as much right to be there as everyone else. Affirm to yourself that the negative thoughts are lies and not an accurate representation of your abilities.

● Build a supportive network. While you might feel like an uncomfortable fraud, your peers know the truth. Find a group of work colleagues or mentors who speak up when they hear you criticising yourself, and who can remind you of your strengths when you feel low.

● Track your wins. Create a physical record of your professional triumphs, big and small. There’s something about a list on paper or a word document that makes those wins seem more real, and it helps put any minor failures into context.

Just remember, most people experience imposter syndrome at some point during their training and career. In 2018 a systemic review of 62 papers and over 14,000 participants found up to 82% of survey respondents had imposter syndrome.

Feeling like an imposter on the job market? The friendly and knowledgeable recruiters at Sci.bio can help you uncover your strengths and make your biotech job application shine. Reach out to us to start the conversation today.

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