Fake It 'Til You Make It: The Imposter Syndrome--the Dilemma of (Women) Academic

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The Imposter Syndrome, also know as the Impostor Phenomenon or Fraud Syndrome, is a term used to describe baseless feelings of inadequacy. Even with evidence to the contrary, those who exhibit syndrome traits are convinced that they are fakes; that they will be found out; that they are truly undeserving of the success they have had. Early research (Clance & Imes, 1978) claimed that the Imposter Syndrome was more prevalent in high achieving women. Generally, that notion has been debunked (Young, 2011); however, some anecdotal evidence still illustrates women’s proclivity for the syndrome. Despite their academic and professional achievements, many women attribute their success to luck, timing, or deception of others. In fact, of the 66 dissertations on the Imposter Syndrome, 90% are authored by women (Young, 2011).

Academia is the breeding ground for imposter feelings (Young, 2011). In the field of second language writing, in order to respond to the rapidly changing demands for professional activities related to second language writing, it might be quite common to feel overwhelmed, unworthy of the task, and unsure of what to do. Because of the dynamic and unstable nature of what it means to be an L2 writing specialist, those who suffer under the burden of the Imposter Syndrome might see themselves as unequal to the task of contributing to the field in any real way or taking on the mantle of professionalizing second language writing.

In this presentation, I will discuss the results of a survey that asked academics at several institutions about the Imposter Syndrome; I will then delineate factors furthering the preservation of impostor feelings. I will also examine my own battle with the Imposter Syndrome. Coming to the field of second language writing relatively late, and exacerbated by other variables such as age, gender, upbringing, expectations of colleagues, and relational issues, I struggled to believe that I could acquire the skills I needed to develop professionally and to think of myself as a specialist. I will disclose ways in which I was plagued by self-perceived shortcomings and how those beliefs might have impacted my career but for the remarkable fact that I sought mentorship.


Plenary presented at the Symposium on Second Language Writing, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ. November 15, 2014.