Colgate Alumni and Staff Lead Students in Combating Imposter Syndrome

Sarah Speegle, Contributing Writer

If you have ever felt like an imposter, you are not alone. Imposter syndrome impacts many people and can happen at any point during a person’s life, especially during their time at college.  Last Wednesday, April 14, the Counseling Center, First@Colgate, Office of OUS Scholars and Career Services hosted the first of a two-part series on combating imposter syndrome. The event also notably featured an alumni panel, welcoming Jennifer Dias ’15, Enrique Nunez ’19, Morgan Beatty ’20 and Humberto Ochoa ’17 to discuss the topic. Before the alumni shared personal anecdotes about their experiences with imposter syndrome and offered advice to current students, Associate Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Niki Keating offered a brief overview of imposter syndrome, and what it means to experience the psychological phenomenon. 

“Imposter syndrome is the experience of being unable to internalize successes, achievements or qualifications to be in a certain role, and as a result feeling like a fraud or fearing being found out as inadequate or under-qualified,” Keating began. 

Those experiencing imposter syndrome often attribute successes in their life to external factors such as luck, timing or networking instead of their skills, achievements or potential contributions. Furthermore, individuals who feel like imposters may hyperfixate on perfection and the prevention of mistakes, which comes with lots of pressure. All of these things can contribute to higher levels of stress, anxiety, emotional distress, social withdrawal and isolation.” 

Keating also acknowledged that imposter syndrome frequently arises when different oppressive forces overlap. 

“For example, first-generation college students are a population that often experience the imposter phenomenon as the first in their family to pursue a college degree as they often have little evidence or have trouble seeing the evidence from their life experience, that they are fully qualified to be in college,” Keating said.  

Following Keating’s introduction, Program Coordinator Office of Undergraduate Studies Jessica Pearce introduced the alumni and facilitated a panel discussion. Beginning the conversation by sharing stories of their experiences with imposter syndrome at Colgate and at their jobs post-graduation, panelists then pivoted the topic of conversation to share advice about resources and tools that can help current students navigate feelings of imposter syndrome. Their advice included going to professors’ office hours, reaching out for help and taking advantage of the resources Colgate offers. They also stressed to students the importance of owning their accomplishments and reminding themselves to take pride in their successes. Keating offered further advice. 

“Talking about it to trusted friends, family or mentors can be incredibly helpful,” Keating said. “It is important to be honest with yourself about owning your strengths — you have awesome qualities, and if someone hired you, invited you to work in a lab or elected you as an e-board member, it wasn’t by accident.”

Keating underscored that the Shaw Wellness Institute, Career Services and the Center for Learning, Teaching and Research have programs to support those whose mental health is suffering due to imposter syndrome.

“Further, services at the counseling center are available for students who feel like their day-to-day functioning is impacted by this issue. This is a topic that comes up frequently in therapy groups run at the counseling center, such as the Understanding Self and Others group, and I have seen many students benefit from having a safe place to process their experiences and receive validation from peers,” Keating continued.

As the event closed, the alumni panelists were hopeful that students left with a better understanding of imposter syndrome and the tools that can be used to navigate the feelings that surround it, and welcomed students to reach out to them in the future for support and continued discussion about this topic.