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No imposters here: Stanford grad students reassured as they begin school

It may be hard to believe, but even some of the most accomplished graduate students struggle at times with feelings of inadequacy. In an Inside Stanford Medicine story about the first day of classes for Stanford students in the biosciences, I talk more about this phenomenon.

In my piece, I explain how professors talked with their incoming students in a new online summer-orientation program about so-called “imposter syndrome." They also provided them with a link to a 2008 Science article that focused on the issue:

"Impostor syndrome" is the name given to the feelings that... many other young scientists describe: Their accomplishments are just luck or deceit, and they're in over their heads. The key to getting past it, experts say, is making accurate, realistic assessments of your performance. Perhaps equally important: knowing you're not alone. Abigail [a PhD student in cell biology] thinks that sharing her feelings with other people is how she will eventually come to grips with her sense of feeling like an impostor. "It's fantastic to hear other people say, 'I've felt that way, too.' 

When my experiments don’t work, I think that it’s me — not my machine or anything else — and that I’m an imposter.

The school’s online postings helped assure at least one incoming grad student, Gergana Andreeva Vandova, 26, who has a master's degree from the University of Groningen and is now a PhD student in biochemistry. From the article:

"When my experiments don’t work, I think that it’s me — not my machine or anything else — and that I’m an imposter," she said, owning up to potential fears that she might not deserve to be a first-year graduate student in biochemistry at Stanford.

But through [this program], Vandova learned that she is not alone in her feelings. "The professors were talking about this 'imposter syndrome,'" she said. "They explained that it exists, that it’s not only you that has it, and that you are not the most stupid person in your group."

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