The student experience of imposter syndrome

By Marine Saint, Deputy Editor and Features Columnist

Epigram recently conducted a survey asking students if they have experienced imposter syndrome while attending university. Of those who responded, 91 per cent answered that they have faced this during their time at the University of Bristol. This is part of a national phenomenon, as the University of Law’s research last year exposed how UK Google searches relating to ‘imposter syndrome’ reached an all-time high.

Imposter syndrome has been defined by Imperial College London as ‘the fear of being “found out” or a belief that you don’t deserve the achievements you have accomplished’, a feeling which is unsurprisingly common amongst students. Moving to university means students are often displaced from their socioeconomic background, the familiarity of their home and school structures, and anxiety around new people and the often daunting world of academia.

The University of Bristol outlines the support they offer for students experiencing imposter syndrome as part of their health and wellbeing student support, which includes the likes of the Student Union Networks or the Global Lounge to help with inclusion and the culture shock of arriving in a new city or even country. Additionally, the Student Wellbeing Service offers mental health and wellbeing workshops for students to book into, and have created a Being Well, Living Well toolkit available via Blackboard.

‘[C]ulturally I felt like university or Bristol had a weird clique to it that I just don’t fit into’

While it is clear that there are measures and resources in place to support students from the University and beyond, imposter syndrome remains a topic which is not often discussed amongst students. Epigram therefore asked respondents to our recent survey to share their experiences anonymously and in more detail, including how they felt the University could tackle this problem.

One student explained how his background was a determining factor in influencing his time at University: ‘I’m not white and I’m not middle class, but I never truly realised that until I came to Bristol and realised how much of an outlier I was’.

‘Academically I was OK, but culturally I felt like university or Bristol had a weird clique to it that I just don’t fit into. I’m not sure how the university could fix this, but perhaps finding a reasonable and fair way to address the disparity between their admission of private school students and state school students would be a good start’.

Writing for the The University of Bristol Bar Society’s magazine The Wig, Law student Nafisa El-Turke described a sense of self-doubt associated with imposter syndrome and how this interacted with her background. El-Turke detailed how state-school educated students, in particular BAME students at Russell Group universities, feel that they ‘have only achieved their aspirations not as a result of their own intellect, but instead out of sheer luck’. El-Turke remained hopeful to battle this preconception, stating: ‘I believe the key to quash imposter syndrome is not to think of how others perceive us, but how we want to see ourselves’.

Other students, however, find discomfort predominantly within their studies relating to the post-university implications of their degree and the current pressures of their course. A psychology student explained her fears about entering the workplace with an accredited degree, where ‘people will expect me to be well versed on my subject because of that and trust me to help them. I think my tutor massively reassured me on this, saying he still feels like he’s got imposter syndrome in his situation’.

‘Bristol historically attracts white, cis-gendered, privately educated students, so anyone who falls outside of this demographic…

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