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Imposter syndrome is a real problem, so why aren’t unis taking it more seriously?

We need to be talking about it more

As a student at a leading Russell Group university, one of the most pressing issues affecting me and my friends today is imposter syndrome.

The Oxford Dictionary defines imposter syndrome as: "The persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills."

It is a symptom of the economic, social and educational environment brought about by current government policy and mounting pressure to achieve more and more success in order to gain employment. Imposter syndrome particularly affects high achieving young women and BAME communities – both of which are labels that fit me.

As a BAME student, all the way throughout school and now in university I have struggled with debilitating imposter syndrome. I know there's no factual base to my worries, but I regularly have the feeling that I'm not good enough to study my degree subject and have somehow tricked people into thinking I am competent at what I'm doing.

There are two main reasons that people like me are disproportionately affected. Firstly, as we push towards a more equal study environment minority voices are striving to find their place in a system designed for straight white men. I study countless research papers and books – all written from one perspective – and honestly, it makes me feel pretty marginalised and isolated in my subject.

As well as this, sure, positive discrimination does its job in balancing out representation, but can leave BAME and female students feeling as though we don't belong and aren't as deserving of our places. My friends and I are very much familiar with the stare of a room full of people wondering whether we are only there to fulfil a diversity quota.


Beyond that, the constant barrage of statistics telling us that finding employment is becoming harder, the non-stop name calling of "snowflake" by the older generation and the lack of mental health infrastructure and funding at universities today all contribute heavily to the problem.

And that's without mentioning the general environment of university. I'm not saying it's mine or my peers' fault, but the competitive environment in which we subtly encourage each other’s fears and stress sadly adds to the problem.

I'm definitely not the only one who feels disillusioned with the university experience, with friends of mine feeling discouraged from asking questions and making mistakes by staff and peers on their degree courses. This feeds into the idea that one mistake proves they don't deserve a seat in the lecture hall and one question means they are not as intelligent as their peers.

Imposter syndrome has only been recognised as a serious problem relatively recently and as such there aren't stats on exactly how many BAME people are affected – but we do know that two thirds of women are likely to suffer from imposter syndrome at some point in their career. That is 18% more than their male counterparts.

To fix the problem, we should press for radical upheaval of how we structure our education system and what we place value on in the curriculum.

And don't get me started on the serious need for support and funding for accessible student and mental health services, with shorter waiting times to receive support for problems like imposter syndrome.

There's a long way for universities to go if they truly want to be open and inclusive spaces for all students – but they need to start somewhere. It is time for the people in charge of our universities to see this problem and implement change.

Featured image credit: Sneha Bansal