Feelings of impostor and fields of “brilliance”

The more an area is perceived to value raw talent, or “brilliance,” the more women – especially those from under-represented groups – struggle with impostor syndrome. It is the unfounded feeling that his professional place is not deserved. The same goes for academics at the start of their careers. Both results come from the largest impostor syndrome study to date, published today in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

The study also found that feelings of impostor were correlated with a lower sense of belonging in a field and lower self-efficacy. While the findings are correlational and not causal, the authors say their work has implications for climate diversity and efforts across arenas. Indeed, academics who think they do not belong to a field are unlikely to stay there. Moreover, say the authors, impostor syndrome should not be viewed as an individual problem but as a professional problem.

“We should be having serious conversations about how fields and workplaces can be more welcoming,” said lead author Melis Muradoglu, PhD. candidate in psychology at New York University. “Rather than assigning responsibility to the individual, the focus should be on: ‘What can be changed in the field or in the workplace so that people do not question their capabilities and their success? “”

The study does not focus on the areas that value shine, but rather on the relationship between perceptions of the importance of shine, impostor syndrome and the gender, race and career stage of academics. . But Muradoglu said his work and that of his colleagues, as well as previous research, shows that these fields include philosophy, mathematics and economics.

What the researchers did

For their study, Muradoglu and his colleagues sampled 4,870 academics at different career stages in more than 80 fields, from humanities to natural and social sciences to medicine. Academics at nine anonymous research-intensive universities, both public and private, received an email invitation to complete an anonymous online survey in exchange for a $ 5 Amazon gift card. About half of the participants were men and half were women. Some 11 percent were under-represented minorities.

The survey included questions on feelings of impostor, belonging and self-efficacy, all related to the respondents’ current domains. Respondents answered additional questions about their perceptions of the bright direction of their fields, or to what extent they perceived their fields to associate success with raw, unframed talent. The questions on impostor syndrome were adapted from a previously validated scale and asked respondents to rank their identification with feelings such as: “I’m afraid people important to me will find out that I don’t. am not as capable as they think I am. Higher scores on this part of the survey indicated stronger feelings of impostor. The researchers assessed respondents’ sense of belonging in their fields and self-efficacy in a similar way; a question on the self-efficacy questionnaire asked respondents to rate their agreement with the idea that they could be successful in any professional endeavor they proposed themselves to, for example.

For the gloss question, respondents completed an eight-item domain-specific ability beliefs questionnaire. Some items asked to what extent genius and gifts were necessary to be successful in respondents’ respective disciplines. Other items asked how hard work and effort counted towards success. The questions asked respondents to state their own beliefs and, separately, those of others in their field. Higher scores in this part of the survey meant a higher belief that shine matters.

What the study found

Next, the researchers looked at the relationship between participants’ scores on different parts of the survey and their gender, ethnicity, and career stage. Echoing other studies linking gender to impostor syndrome, the authors here found that women report stronger feelings of impostor than men. Under-represented minority academics did not report significantly stronger feelings of impostor than White or Asian academics, but graduate students and postdoctoral fellows reported significantly stronger feelings of impostor than faculty members. .

By incorporating the issue of brilliance into their model and completing an intersectional analysis, the researchers found a clear link between areas perceived to value the untrained intellect and women and early-career researchers with L syndrome. ‘impostor. Women from backgrounds under-represented in these fields were the most likely to experience feelings of sham.

All of this highlights “the extent to which the impostor phenomenon is a function of the contexts in which academics must navigate rather than being a symptom of inherent psychological vulnerabilities,” according to the study. “This is a crucial step in our understanding of this phenomenon. “

Interestingly, men from backgrounds under-represented in shine-focused fields didn’t report a higher sense of being an impostor. Instead, according to the study, women underrepresented in these fields “appear to experience a distinct and heightened form of oppression that emerges at the confluence of their identities.”

Muradoglu said it’s important to remember that talking about areas focused on shine means talking about belief systems. Beliefs are the philosophy of an area, she said, but not necessarily what is actually required to be successful.

What is impostor syndrome, technically, since it’s often used casually to describe feeling like a proverbial little fish in the big pond of academia? Muradoglu said the core belief is that professional success is undeserved, despite objective evidence to the contrary. People can then “see themselves as less capable; they may think that people in their professional world could eventually unmask them in quotes and find out that they are not very capable, ”she added.

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