Imposter or Just Human: Reflecting on “Mistakes”

By Anonymous, Ph.D

Often in our educational training and personal development, we are presented with the ideal of success as being perfect. The competitive nature of education will sometimes leave no room for mistakes. When a student makes a mistake, they may feel like an imposter in a room full of exceptional minds. But in real-life situations, mistakes are common and a positive way to affect change. Problem-solving is a skill that can only truly be tested when faced with a real problem. When did learning from our mistakes no longer be an acceptable part of our educational training?

I personally have faced difficulties at several stages in my academic career, but that does not make me an imposter. I was recently invited to my graduate school to speak about my research and career. I felt very comfortable sharing my experiences with current graduate students and faculty. I am proud of the mistakes that I have made, because I learned how to adapt to the situation and overcome challenges. More importantly, I often made meaningful and long-lasting relationship with colleagues who offered to help. I never feel diminished by the fact that I did not pass all my courses with perfect marks or that I had to take an additional exam to complete my qualifying exams. When parts of my doctoral research were published in Nature, there was no extra note describing my grades in graduate school.

There is no shame in making a mistake. We all bring unique perspectives into our fields of research and knowing how to succeed in the face of adversity is a skill that should be celebrated. A recent Council of Graduate Schools noted a decline in new graduate student enrollment in 2010, the first time numbers have dropped since 2003 (1). Maybe one way to promote graduate education in the U.S. is to demystify the notion of academic elites. You do not need a exponential IQ to enter the hallowed hallways of academia. However, you do need resilience to know how to try an alternate way of getting in the building if the first door you try to open is locked. I think that being more honest about sharing our hardships and our accomplishments will provide inspiration to many students who are unsure about their future. Students entering an academic environment should not accept the “inevitability” of an imposter syndrome.

1. Bell, N. Graduate Enrollment and Degrees: 2000 to 2010. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools (2011)

Anonymous is a former postdoctoral fellow at a U.S. research university.

The citation for this article is:
Anonymous (2012) Imposter or Just Human: Reflecting on “Mistakes”.
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Published 24-Apr-2012