Home → Magazine Archive → June 2021 (Vol. 64, No. 6) → Depth and Persistence: What Researchers Need to Know... → Abstract

Depth and Persistence: What Researchers Need to Know About Impostor Syndrome

By Danfeng (Daphne) Yao

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 64 No. 6, Pages 39-42

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Impostor syndrome is the unfortunate psychological state where one—who could be rather successful careerwise—feels like a fraud and feels that he or she does not fit in. The phenomenon was first reported by Clance and Imes in 1978 after studying more than 150 high-achieving women.4 Some suggest that a more accurate name should be self-underappreciation phenomenon or self-depreciation.7 Unlike devastating physical states such as cancer, impostor syndrome is much more benign. It cannot kill anyone. What it can kill, however, is one's career. Impostor syndrome sabotages it, silently and internally, appearing innocuous and almost trivial. For researchers, impostor syndrome can be deadly. It can sap the energy out of sufferers and erode their scientific pursuits and career dreams. Victims may not even realize they have been suffering from this career-ending cancer, before they lose their zest for work, their passion for research, and stop trying.

I feel extremely compelled to share my deeply intimate research story. It is my obligation as an educator, as a senior female researcher of the community—but most importantly—as someone who now sees the other side and realizes how badly impostor syndrome was holding me back. I am left with no choice.


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