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The Impostor Syndrome: Running Rampant in STEM

As a female engineer, no rx no rx I have confronted low self-confidence, self-doubt, and even the feeling that I didn’t truly belong or deserve my success because I was different from most of the people around me.


Ruth Charney, online president-elect of the Association of Women in Mathematics and professor at Brandeis University, refers to what I was going through as “impostor syndrome.” And apparently, it is an all-too-common phenomenon among successful women, including those in STEM fields.


Psychology Today referenced a chapter in Susan Pinker’s book buy Women and the Real Gender Gap” href=”″ target=”_blank”>The Sexual Paradox: Troubled Boys, Gifted Girls and the Real Difference Between the Sexes that describes impostor syndrome as something that many successful women suffer from. It is a feeling that they are impostors and they don’t belong or deserve their success, even though their accomplishments are a result of their own talent and work. The author illustrates her point by sharing examples from accomplished women who chalk up their successes to luck and feel as though they are going to be found out and exposed as frauds at anytime.


Says Charney, “Everyone, including those big shots in your field who seem to know everything, has had a crisis of confidence. As graduate students, we all wondered if we could really do this stuff—and if so, would we be any good at it? Even after we got jobs, we were convinced that we were not really as good as people thought we were. And the better the job, the more convinced we were that we didn’t belong there. The impostor syndrome is rampant!”


This accomplished professional reminds young women in STEM careers that if they have doubts about themselves, to “remember you are in good company—very good company. With luck, the feeling will subside as you get older, but it never really goes away.”


Does any of this sound all too familiar? Perhaps you should take the impostor syndrome quiz put together by Dr. Valerie Young. She released a book in 2011 called The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women that deals with this very issue and aims to help women overcome it and thrive in their chosen profession.


What are your experiences with feeling like you don’t deserve the success you achieved? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Karen Purcell

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