A battle with my self-doubt

A student discusses their imposter syndrome as a woman in academia attending a research convention.


When I was first notified two of my research papers were accepted by the National Communication Association Convention in Baltimore, Maryland, I emailed the convention headquarters to make sure there wasn’t a mistake. 

I submitted both papers on a whim, one about neo-Nazi rhetoric and the other about neurodivergent representation in media, fully prepared to receive a rejection letter in response. 

A few weeks after sending the submissions in, I made the decision to spend my Fall 2019 semester in Tokyo at Temple University Japan. I didn’t take it into consideration because I assumed I would not be attending. 

Even after I was accepted and sent in my convention registration, received the necessary grant money to pay for my flight home and notified my TUJ professors I’d be missing class for a week, I kept waiting for some kind of rejection. 

It was one moment of many where I struggled with my imposter syndrome, which Psychology Today defines as a sense of self-doubt about one’s successes.

This pattern of behavior — succeeding at something and immediately doubting and devaluing that success — was all too common to me. I remember the process of applying to colleges and worrying that the acceptances I received weren’t actually real. I don’t know where this sense of self-doubt came from, but it’s one I have carried with me throughout my academic career. 

I arrived in Maryland jet-lagged, stumbling out of my Uber into a hotel lobby filled with fellow conference attendees. They all seemed to be much older than me, exuding an air of professional confidence I didn’t share. 

That night, I sat with my friend Grace, another Temple student who had been accepted, in our hotel room, talking about how nervous we were. We were both presenting on the second day of the conference, so we decided to spend our first day attending some of the other panels.

As women in academia, we took an interest in one particular panel dealing with imposter syndrome. That afternoon, we sat side by side in a circle of folding chairs with about 30 other women, all of whom were older than us and highly accomplished.

I thought about the irony of attending a panel on imposter syndrome and still feeling painfully out of place.

But that feeling didn’t last. As each woman spoke about her personal experiences confronting anxiety and self-doubt, I felt less like an outsider. Every one of the panelists was incredibly successful, yet the unapproachable confidence I observed on the night of my arrival seemed to slowly fade away, replaced by openness, vulnerability and humanity. 

Each woman emphasized the importance of having a strong group of friends and colleagues to rely on for support. 

Despite the fact I also struggle with imposter syndrome, I am fortunate to be surrounded by a network of people, both within my major and throughout my life in general. My relationships are a check and balance on my own self-doubt. 

Whenever I wonder if I’m worthy, I’ll remember I have a loving partner, close friends and encouraging professors to remind me I belong. 

I still struggle with imposter syndrome. I don’t think those feelings go away easily. But I feel as though, after attending this panel, I am better equipped to counter them. 

That day, I thought about raising my hand and sharing my own experiences, but I was too nervous. 

Next time, I won’t be. 

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