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Outing the Imposter: A Study Exploring Imposter Phenomenon among Higher Education Faculty

Authors:

Abstract

Attention to faculty development, especially factors influencing faculty satisfaction and performance, has increased in the last decade. While a significant focus has been on contextual factors (i.e., tenure policies, mentoring, work-life integration), fewer studies have examined individual psychological factors especially in the field of human resource development. This descriptive study addresses a particular focus in faculty development by examining the prevalence of faculty experiences of imposter phenomenon, IP, (the experience of fraudulent thoughts and feelings and the inability to attribute and internalize personal achievement), how it affects their perceived emotional exhaustion (a dimension of job burnout) and their reported coping skills. Results of the study suggest that faculty (n=61) do experience moderate levels of IP with the highest reported by untenured faculty. Results also indicate that faculty emotional exhaustion is positively related to IP, and faculty reporting moderate-high levels of IP also reported greater use of adaptive coping skills to address imposter thoughts. Faculty also identified the important role of mentoring at tempering imposter tendencies.
Copyright © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., A Wiley Company
New Horizons in Adult Education
& Human Resource Development
27 (2), 3-12
Outing the Imposter: A Study
Exploring Imposter Phenome-
non among Higher Education
Faculty
Holly M. Hutchins1
1University of Houston
Corresponding Author:
Holly M Hutchins, University of Houston, HDCS Department,
110 Cameron Building, Houston, Texas 77498
Email: hmhutchins@uh.edu
In the recent release of the critically acclaimed book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg (2013) makes a startling confession to having felt
like an imposter as both a student at Harvard and an emerging corporate professional. She notes that (as a student) “every time I
was called on in class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself…And, every time I didn’t embarrass myself—or even ex-
celled—I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again (and) that one day the jig would be up”(p.28). Sandberg is not alone. Both
women and men who have achieved high levels of professional success report experiencing the burgeoning doubt that somehow
they lucked out to have experienced the success they did, and that they are waiting — and fearing—that someone will soon find out
that they really are not as good as other’s believe.
Clance and Imes (1978) were the first to describe the experience of fraudulent thoughts and the inability to internally attribute per-
sonal achievement as imposter phenomenon (IP) by studying a sample of highly successful professional women, many of who had
obtained advanced degrees and were in leadership positions. While a certain amount of self-doubt is normal, the researchers found
that individuals experiencing IP tended to have heightened emotional and cognitive anxiety concerning their ability to take credit
for their successes. That is, individuals reporting high IP often attributed failure to internal traits but associated success to external
Abstract
Attention to faculty development, especially factors influencing faculty satisfaction and performance, has increased in
the last decade. While a significant focus has been on contextual factors (i.e., tenure policies, mentoring, work-life inte-
gration), fewer studies have examined individual psychological factors especially in the field of human resource devel-
opment. This descriptive study addresses a particular focus in faculty development by examining the prevalence of fac-
ulty experiences of imposter phenomenon, IP, (the experience of fraudulent thoughts and feelings and the inability to
attribute and internalize personal achievement), how it affects their perceived emotional exhaustion (a dimension of job
burnout) and their reported coping skills. Results of the study suggest that faculty (n=61) do experience moderate lev-
els of IP with the highest reported by untenured faculty. Results also indicate that faculty emotional exhaustion is posi-
tively related to IP, and faculty reporting moderate-high levels of IP also reported greater use of adaptive coping skills
to address imposter thoughts. Faculty also identified the important role of mentoring at tempering imposter tendencies.
Keywords
Imposter phenomenon, HRD, faculty development
New Horizons in Adult Education & Human Resource Development, 27 (2)
4
circumstances (e.g. getting lucky, knowing someone, favorable circumstances). These individuals also tended to en-
gage in high levels of impression management and behavioral handicapping in their attempts to prevent others from
perceiving them as a fraud; however, such attempts did not typically reduce the fraudulent feelings even when success
was achieved (Cowman & Ferrari, 2002). Common effects of sustained IP thoughts are increased bouts of depression
and anxiety (Chrisman & Pieper, 1995; McGregor, Gee & Poset, 2008; Oriel, Plane & Mundt, 2004; Ross & Krukow-
ski, 2002), psychological distress (Henning, Ey & Shaw, 1998) and low self-confidence (Kumar & Jagacinski, 2006),
thus making the experience and persistence of IP adversely related to job well-being, satisfaction and performance.
Although IP has been mostly studied among students, especially those completing advanced degrees (i.e., medical resi-
dents, doctoral students), there have been fewer studies examining the prevalence of IP among higher education facul-
ty. Clance and Imes (1978) suggest that IP is common among individuals with particular personality traits (e.g. neurot-
icism, conscientiousness, achievement-orientation), have perfectionist expectations over work (Want & Kleitman,
2005), and who work in highly competitive, stressful occupations similar to that of the academic environment (Kets de
Vries, 2005). These traits may be further heightened within the “publish or perish” academic culture, where perfor-
mance targets are often vague, support can be inconsistent, and a highly competitive research and funding climate may
inadvertently create a setting conducive to feelings of self-doubt and fraudulence (McCormick & Barnes, 2008; Park-
man & Beard, 2008), especially in the areas of research and publication (Jöstl, Bergsmann, Lüftenegger, o & Spiel,
2012). That is, IP can serve as a psychological barrier that has the potential to negatively influence faculty work out-
comes as a new career academic (Bronstein & Farnsworth, 1998).
Human resource development (HRD) research has been rather lean in exploring the experiences of higher education
faculty, publishing but a few articles in the last decade across the four Academy of Human Resource Development
(AHRD) journals. The majority of these articles focused on graduate program development (Kuchinke, 2001, 2007),
and two special issues journals that explored organizational development in higher education (Torraco, 2005) and on
developing women academic leaders (Madsen, 2012). As a considerable part of the HRD discipline consists of faculty,
the paucity of scholarly attention to factors influencing faculty development is surprising. One reason may be that fac-
ulty development efforts typically reside in a university’s academic affairs department, which has varying levels of
learning and development initiatives to foster faculty development, but whose main focus is on faculty recruitment and
teaching. Unlike other organizations, only staff learning and development emerge from a university’s human resource
department, thus making targeted faculty learning and development interventions more episodic and perhaps less
aligned with overall strategic goals. As noted by Torraco (2005), organizational development efforts that can support
and direct faculty development initiatives are mostly lacking at institutions of higher education, thus stifling an aca-
demic culture supportive of individual development (Gibson, 2006).
Guiding Theory and Related Hypotheses
Given that individuals experiencing imposter thoughts have distinct attributions concerning how they explain positive
and negative events, the guiding theory grounding this study is Weiner’s (1985) attributional theory of motivation and
emotion. Extending the seminal work on causal attribution theory by Heider (1944) and Kelley (1973), Weiner focused
on linking attributional thinking with certain feelings (i.e., depression, anger, anxiety). His theory is based on Kelley’s
(1973) recognition that understanding how individuals attribute causes of their behavior greatly influences their deci-
sions to cope with the behavior (i.e., by continuing or stopping the behavior). In furthering Heider’s (1944) internal-
external dimension of the causal attribution theory, Weiner (1985) added two additional dimensions that explain attrib-
utions: controllability (controlled by self or other) and stability (constant or variable over time). For example, Weiner
and colleagues (1985) found that shame and guilt were experienced when the negative event was attributed to an inter-
nal cause, hopelessness when the cause was perceived as stable, but that anger was a common emotion felt when the
cause of a negative event was external and controllable by others (Brown & Weiner, 1984). As relevant to this study,
faculty who experience imposter thoughts are more likely to experience negative emotions (measured as emotional
exhaustion, later discussed) as a result of consistently attributing success to external sources (luck, colleagues) but
blaming themselves (internal attribution) for failures, and the experiencing the persistent and uncontrollable belief that
the imposter thoughts will occur again.
Using Weiner’s (1985) attribution theory is helpful in explaining the way in which faculty may experience imposter thoughts, its
potential effect on burnout, and the resulting coping skills that may be used to alleviate such thoughts. Although there is growing
mention of imposter phenomenon in faculty development conceptual and empirical articles, few have examined the extent to
which faculty actually experience IP. There is evidence that faculty experience greater levels of uncertainty about their expertise
New Horizons in Adult Education & Human Resource Development, 27 (2)
5
as they are developing their professional identity (cf. Reybold & Alamia, 2008), and with the majority of IP work literature focused
on early career academics, it is likely that imposter thoughts might be more pronounced for faculty during their formative years
(i.e., on the tenure-track) then in their mid or later career experiences.
H1: There will be differences in reported imposter tendencies based on faculty tenure, with tenure-track faculty
reporting higher levels of imposter tendencies than tenured faculty.
The second related hypotheses focuses more on a potential outcome of imposter thoughts, increased psychological dis-
tress (as measured by emotional exhaustion for the current study that has been documented in the imposter literature
(cf. Chrisman et al., 1995; Henning et al., 1998). As the most widely reported dimension of job burnout, emotional ex-
haustion is a function of work-related stress and refers to feeling overextended and depleted of one’s physical, mental
and emotional resources (Maslach & Jackson, 1981). Emotional exhaustion represents the stress dimension of burnout
and often manifests itself by increased fatigue, depression, emotional and cognitive distancing from work resulting in
adverse work outcomes such as satisfaction and performance (Maslach, Schaufeli & Leiter, 2001). In keeping with
Weiner’s (1984) theory of motivation and emotion, imposters will experience greater emotional exhaustion given their
internal attributions for setbacks or failures especially given their tendency to invest in even greater emotional re-
sources from fear of being “exposed” (Whitman & Shanine, 2012), than non-imposters. This effect is particularly sali-
ent for faculty given the challenges of work-life integration, an increasingly competitive market to publish research,
increased expectations for tenure and promotion, and budgetary shrinkages affecting research development (Trower,
2012). Such challenges may have an even greater adverse effect on faculty who experience imposter thoughts, making
them more susceptible to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt that accentuate exhaustion.
H2: Faculty who experience moderate-high imposter tendencies will also report higher levels of emotional ex-
haustion than those that report lower levels of imposter tendencies.
Finally, the third research hypothesis focuses on faculty use of adaptive and maladaptive coping skills to address im-
poster tendencies. Examples of adaptive coping skills include seeking out emotional or instrumental support, relying on
positive reinforcement, or using humor, whereas more harmful or maladaptive approaches include coping with alcohol
and other substances, disengagement (or giving up), and self-blame (Carver, Scheier & Weintraub, 1989). There is lit-
tle research on actual coping methods reported by individuals who struggle with imposter thoughts, with much of the
literature on imposter coping limited to clinical interventions and suggested techniques. However, there is evidence for
social support as an adaptive coping strategy in helping faculty address uncertainty in their identity development, espe-
cially in forming realistic attributions concerning doubts about their professional legitimacy. These include seeking out
social support resources to normalize imposter tendencies by having discussions with other colleagues either informally
(Coryell, Wagner, Clark, & Stuessy, 2011; Mark & Smith, 2012) or through formal mentoring relationships
(Huffstutler & Varnel, 2006; Watson & Betts, 2010), intentionally seeking consistent feedback on performance to rec-
ognize successes (Stocker, 1986), and by challenging imposter cognitive distortions through reflective journaling or in
discussions with counselors or peers (Clance & Imes, 1978; Henning, Ey & Shaw, 1998). In a study exploring coping
and individual outcome factors among university employees (of which university faculty made up 30% of the sample),
Mark and Smith (2012) found that negative coping skills were significantly and positively correlated with depression
and anxiety, and negatively correlated with work satisfaction. Understanding the use and type of coping techniques
used can illuminate opportunities for informal and formal faculty development interventions, as well as increasing
awareness of imposter phenomenon among faculty groups.
H3: Faculty reporting moderate-high levels of imposter tendencies will engage in some form of coping skills
(adaptive or maladaptive).
Research Design and Method
I used survey research to examine the research questions, and recruited the sample (n=61) from the Academy of Hu-
man Resource Development membership, the largest human resource development (HRD) professional association in
the United States. A recruitment message was posted on the AHRD listserv, and participants were also recruited
through snowball sampling where HRD and adult learning faculty at other institutions were asked to share the survey
with their colleagues via email. The majority of participants were women (61 percent) faculty at four-year institutions
who affiliated with a social sciences discipline (88 percent) with 22 percent reporting an affiliation with a STEM
(Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) discipline. Most participants (46 percent) identified as associate
New Horizons in Adult Education & Human Resource Development, 27 (2)
7
ing that their mentors actually intensified their imposter thoughts. Specifically, the few participants noting an adverse
influence of their mentors described their mentor’s “exceptional” competence and assuredness as actually adding to
their feelings of inadequacy. Major themes that emerged around how mentors helped assuage imposter tendencies in-
cluded: encouraged them to own their accomplishments and successes, reassured them about the normalcy of imposter
feelings (and that they had similar experiences), and offered them emotional (seeking comfort and support) and instru-
mental (advice, suggestions, and ideas) support on their work. One participant shared the pivotal role a mentor played in
challenging her imposter thoughts and offering support:in challenging her imposter thoughts and offering support:
My mentor was a great source of honest feedback, especially when I was having little success publishing and debat-
ed whether I was suited for academe. My mentor reassured me of my abilities and expressed confidence in me. If
my mentor had not shared that feedback, I most likely would have left academe.
Another participant noted the importance of her mentor making her aware of imposter thoughts early in her career and
how this influenced her coping skills throughout her career:
When I was completing my Master's Degree and preparing to enter my doctoral program, my then-mentor
New Horizons in Adult Education & Human Resource Development, 27 (2)
8
warned me about Imposter Phenomenon because I was already dealing with it. It helped, because I knew
it existed, but that didn't stop it from affecting me throughout my doctoral education (during which I was
fairly sure I wasn't smart enough to be in the then-#1-ranked program and during which I was afraid
"they" would find out I wasn't smart enough and kick me out) despite the fact that I received both teach-
ing and research awards from the institution and from our regional and national associations. Fortunate-
ly, because I had been informed about IP, I persevered rather than giving up.
For faculty that did not discuss their imposter thoughts with their mentor (67 percent), several discussed how their mentor(s) indi-
rectly influenced their fraudulent thoughts by offering support, acknowledging their successes, and modeling positive behavior
(i.e., owning successes, avoiding unrealistic comparisons with others). Interestingly, all of the participants described
mentors in their doctoral program (student-teacher) rather than colleagues in their role as faculty. Taken together, the
direct and indirect influence of mentors on curbing imposter thoughts emerged as an important factor at influencing
emerging academic identity.
Discussion, Limitations and Future Research
Despite the modest sample, the results provide preliminary evidence that academic faculty do experience imposter
thoughts and that such experiences are more prevalent for untenured faculty. Research exploring tenure-track faculty
stressors and challenges has increased over the last decade highlighting the importance of clarifying tenure and promo-
tion guidelines, developing and supporting work-life integration policies, offering various mentoring options, and en-
couraging interdisciplinary research (Trower, 2012). Much of this attention has been the result of the comprehensive
survey research conducted by the Harvard’s Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) that
includes over 800 consortium members who regularly survey their faculty on satisfaction around areas noted in the
research to influence faculty satisfaction. However, research exploring factors influencing non-tenure track faculty
(clinical, adjunct, instructional faculty) is less known, yet this faculty group represents a growing body within higher
education institutions that may not have access to the same recognition or resources as tenured (or tenure-track) faculty
(Wilson, 2013). Future research exploring the prevalence of imposter tendencies, as related to faculty tenure status and
related developmental experiences, would expand our understanding of the distinct experiences and needs across facul-
ty groups.
For the second hypothesis, faculty imposter tendencies were positively and significantly related to emotional exhaus-
tion (the more common dimension of job burnout). As previously discussed, this finding is not surprising, given that
imposters—given their internal and stable attribution of negative events—will expend greater cognitive and emotional
resources toward performance, resulting in a higher likelihood of emotional exhaustion. The results do establish that
faculty who struggle with imposter tendencies experience a cumulative emotional toll that places them at a much high-
er risk of emotional exhaustion, and thus job burnout. Future researchers could also explore the effect of faculty im-
poster tendencies on the other two dimensions of job burnout (cynicism, and detachment), and to established work out-
comes such as faculty intent to leave (Barnes, Agago & Coombs, 1998).
Finally, faculty do address imposter thoughts with more adaptive (than maladaptive) coping skills (H3) that included
using both self-directed (humor, positive reinforcement, distracting thoughts or activities) and social support (seeking
emotional support from others) approaches. This is encouraging, as it suggests that faculty in this sample did pursue
healthy measures to alleviate the frustration associated with imposter tendencies, and are consistent with those noted in
the literature. While helpful, the effect of such approaches may be limited, given that these may temporarily relieve
imposter thoughts rather than directly address the distorted attributions imposters make concerning success. In addi-
tion, the questions of why certain coping skills are used and the degree to which these are successful are left unan-
swered but will serve as fertile ground for future inquiry for identifying targeted interventions.
Cognitive-behavioral approaches that challenge distorted attributions, sometimes called attributional framing (Lyden,
Chaney, Danehower & Houston, 2002) may provide a more impactful coping intervention than those tested in the cur-
rent study. Although numerous approaches that focus on attributional change are mentioned in the imposter litera-
ture—such as individual counseling interventions (Gibson-Beverly & Schwartz, 2008), engaging in peer groups that
openly share concerns and help reframe their perspectives on success, recording performance and linking these to ac-
complishments (Stocker, 1986), and using positive metaphors to counter the imposter archetype (Heinrich, 1997; Park-
man & Beard, 2008)—none have been empirically tested in response to imposter tendencies. Although Weiner’s
(1985) attributional model of motivation and emotion was not empirically tested in the present study, the results sug-
New Horizons in Adult Education & Human Resource Development, 27 (2)
9
gest that attributions play an important role in explaining the effect of imposter tendencies on specific individual
outcomes. That is, prior researchers have suggested imposters have distinct attributional processes than non-
imposters. For example, Lyden and her colleagues (2002) found that using a carefully structured feedback tech-
nique influenced the attributions individuals made concerning their performance, in so far as participants attributed
successful performance to ability (internal), and unsuccessful performance to lack of effort or other external attrib-
utes. The structured feedback served to anchor attributions of performance, resulting in significantly higher self-
efficacy for participants who linked success with ability, and explained failure or errors with a lack of effort or task
difficulty. Given that imposters reverse the attributional process (i.e., attributing success to external reasons and
failure to internal reasons), targeted interventions that focus on attributional reframing may have a deeper and pro-
longed effect on minimizing imposter tendencies than coping strategies that merely relieve the symptoms. posters
reverse the attributional process (i.e., attributing success to external reasons and failure to internal reasons), target-
ed interventions that focus on attributional reframing may have a deeper and prolonged effect on minimizing im-
poster tendencies than coping strategies that merely relieve the symptoms.
Finally, the main themes emerging from the mentoring qualitative data highlighted the importance of mentors in-
fluence on how faculty attribute their performance. The role of mentors is multi-dimensional, as they can serve
both as a supportposters reverse the attributional process (i.e., attributing success to external reasons and failure to
internal reasons), targeted interventions that focus on attributional reframing may have a deeper and prolonged ef-
fect on minimizing imposter tendencies than coping strategies that merely relieve the symptoms.er, but also as a
challenger who helps shape the faculty member’s identity development through influencing their attributional pro-
cess. Future research could delve further into the specific role of mentoring and other forms of social support to
moderate the effect of faculty imposter tendencies, and help imposters to take a more balanced approach to criti-
cism and setbacks.
Taken together, the coping findings extend Kelley (1973) and others formative work on attribution theory by focus-
ing on how to assist faculty in developing realistic and appropriate attributions of work performance. Mark and
Smith’s (2012) study on the relationship between attributions, coping and outcomes illustrates this well. In their
study, participants’ reporting stable attributions for negative performance and use of negative coping (self-blame
and avoidance) also reported higher levels of anxiety and depression whereas engaging in more positive coping and
having more global attributions for positive events was negatively related to these same outcomes. In sum, an im-
portant future research question is whether individuals can learn how to change performance attributions and which
coping skills are most effective in doing so.
Practical Implications for HRD
Although studies on imposter tendencies have focused mostly on graduate students, an important scholarly contri-
bution of this work is elucidating faculty differences in reporting imposter tendencies, the relationship between im-
poster tendencies and job burnout, faculty use of coping attempts, and the specific role of mentoring. Results of this
study are particularly relevant for advancing the discussion of HRD’s role and interventions in faculty develop-
ment, both at the university level and among academic professional organizations.
Given the importance of others recognizing imposter tendencies and the subsequent effect of burnout, faculty can
be alerted to the concept of imposter phenomenon and adaptive coping approaches, as a part of new faculty orienta-
tion and continued faculty development programs. Making departmental and program administrators and faculty
mentors aware of imposter tendencies is also important, as studies have shown that social support from faculty col-
leagues can buffer the effects of work strain on psychological well-being (Moeller & Chung-Yan, 2013). Interest-
ingly, the majority of mentoring experience described in this study occurred during the faculty’s graduate educa-
tion (e.g. advisor, major professor, faculty mentor) with no mention of mentors once they assumed a faculty role.
Researchers have noted the uneven use of mentoring in the academy for many years, calling for not only more, but
different (e.g. peer, internal and external, virtual) mentoring formats to address the faculty needs at different career
stages (Parkman & Beard, 2008; Sorcinelli & Yun, 2007). For example, Syracuse University (through their Nation-
al Science Foundation ADVANCE grant) developed a mentoring model consisting of four distinct roles: navigator,
sponsor, coach, and confidant (Garland & Alestalo, 2014). Each mentoring role is part of a larger dvelopmental
network to faciliate the faculty member’s overall career success with the goal of developing a “mentoring constel-
lation” (Van Emmerik, 2004), rather than having one mentor serve in all capacities. Using attributional framing
New Horizons in Adult Education & Human Resource Development, 27 (2)
10
would also be a helpful approach that faculty mentors can use with mentees who they suspect struggle with imposter
tendencies.
Similar approaches could be also used in faculty development programs offered by HRD-related professional organiza-
tions such as the Academy of Human Resource Development, University Council for Workforce and Human Resource
Education, and the University Forum for Human Resources Development. To date, faculty development programs
across these professional bodies have included noteworthy experiences to refine faculty technical expertise (i.e., re-
search approaches, exchanging research and teaching ideas), exchanging data and ideas on faculty composition and pro-
gram development, and engaging in advocacy and research initiatives (for a full review of each professional organiza-
tion, see New Horizons in Adult Education and Human Resource Development, 25:4, Perspectives in HRD, 2013). Giv-
en HRD’s focus on developing human capital through learning and development, a greater focus on developing faculty
identity development, and how this relates to overall satisfaction and performance is a missing area of discussion and
inquiry in the HRD field. Targeted conference seminars, experiential learning, and leveraging developmental networks
that extend outside of the conference experience are additional ways that discourse around faculty identity issues may
occur. For academic leaders, a discussion of how to recognize imposter signs, and to cultivate a supportive departmental
climate would also be helpful in addressing contextual issues that influence faculty satisfaction and performance.
Summary
Imposter tendencies are alive and well among higher education faculty and associate with reports of work stress, their
use of coping skills, and the perceived impact of mentors. While this study used a modest sample of HRD faculty, the
initial findings can be used to explore imposter tendencies among faculty to identify individual, group and organization-
al approaches that may temper distorted faculty attributes to success and failure implicit in feeling like an imposter. Fur-
ther inquiry into this area has specific implications to onboarding and acclimating early career faculty, organizational
developmental efforts focused on improving departmental climate, faculty performance issues, and addressing issues of
non-tenure track faculty in university settings.
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... Surveys from 61 faculty members further showed that impostor phenomenon is related to lower research output, poor ability to secure extramural funding, poor performance of teaching and administrative duties, emotional exhaustion, and fears related to one's tenure status (Hutchins, 2015). Interviews with 16 faculty members in STEM and non-STEM fields revealed specific antecedents of impostor phenomenon, including being questioned about one's expertise, experiencing success, concerns about scholarly productivity, unfavorable comparisons with colleagues, receiving negative feedback on scholarship (e.g., academic writing and submitting research proposals), experiencing rejections, and difficulty with internalizing success (Hutchins and Rainbolt, 2017). ...
... Overall, multiple survey studies have demonstrated faculty experiencing moderate, high, or intense impostor phenomenon in self-selected samples (Hutchins, 2015;Sims and Cassidy, 2019;Vaughn et al., 2019). While one study using 285 surveys reported higher impostor phenomenon among male university faculty (Topping, 1983), gender-based findings from other studies are inconclusive. ...
... The current study aims to address gaps in the understanding of impostor phenomenon at the faculty level, such as the lack of focus in STEM disciplines. While quantitative studies have found associations between impostor phenomenon and factors such as faculty rank, self-esteem, anxiety, teaching and advising, emotional exhaustion, and burnout, among others (Topping, 1983;Brems et al., 1994;Hutchins, 2015;Sims and Cassidy, 2019;Deshmukh et al., 2022), critical events or activities related to impostor phenomenon are underexplored. The research question that guided this inquiry was: "What kind of academic events or activities could contribute to faculty experiences of impostor phenomenon in STEM?" ...
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Successful people experiencing impostor phenomenon consider themselves less competent and less worthy of their positions or achievements. They attribute their success to luck, deceit, fraudulence, and others being kind to them instead of their own competence. Prior research has focused primarily on students in higher education; faculty experiences of impostor phenomenon in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are not well understood. The research question guiding this inquiry was: "What kind of academic events or activities could contribute to faculty experiences of impostor phenomenon in STEM?" Using a qualitative analysis of 56 interviews, this U.S.-based study examined occurrences and experiences among faculty who self-identified as experiencing impostor phenomenon. A prior survey from the same participants revealed that they were predominantly White and female, experiencing moderate, high, or intense impostor phenomenon. Thematic interview analysis revealed that impostor phenomenon could be related to the following: 1) peer comparison, 2) faculty evaluation, 3) public recognition, 4) the anticipatory fear of not knowing, and 5) a perceived lack of competency. A comparison with findings from the larger study revealed that there are commonalities among faculty, PhD student, and postdoctorate experiences of impostor phenomenon in STEM. This necessitates professional development opportunities that could address self-limiting beliefs across the academic pipeline.
... A meta-analysis on the comparative efficacy of CBT and other therapeutic approaches showed that CBT is widely applied to a variety of psychiatric disorders and is at least as effective, if not more effective, than behavioral or pharmacotherapy approaches (Butler et al., 2006). In addition, the cognitive model has been utilized to examine work-related stress and anxiety in a variety of professions including those in the military (Cracsner & Mogosan, 2015), educators that teach students with emotional disorders (George & George, 1995), pre-service educators (Yavuzer, 2015), and higher education faculty (Hutchins, 2015). ...
... Moreover, there is some research to show that CBT is effective for ameliorating cognitive errors to reduce teacher attrition (Anderson, 2000;Cooley & Yovanoff, 1996;Ebert et al., 2014;Flook, Goldberg, Pinger, Bonus, & Davidson, 2013). Even though studies involving educators and CBT are not specifically focused on reducing the number of math and science teachers who quit, it corroborates the overall efficacy of CBT, which has also been successfully applied as an intervention in professions other than teaching (Cracsner & Mogosan, 2015;George & George, 1995;Hutchins, 2015;Yavuzer, 2015). ...
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Every year school districts must fill tens of thousands of teacher vacancies in mathematics and science. Reasons for the high rate of attrition are described in general terms, such as lack of administrative support and dissatisfaction. Analysis of direct quotes from qualitative research, however, suggests the presence of cognitive errors within the decision-making process of those teachers who quit. Cognitive errors include all or nothing thinking and fortune telling, among others. Results of this study are interpreted in comparison to the attrition literature. Suggestions for future research, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy training for preservice teachers, are presented.
... To date, there is growing evidence suggesting that moderate to intense impostor feelings are very prevalent phenomena in individuals of both genders [8,[12][13][14][15][16], with their ratio among personnel and students varying from 9% to 82%, and on average exceeding 40%. According to Bravata and colleagues [8], the prevalence of the impostor phenomenon varies widely depending on several factors, especially the study participants (or populationbased evaluation), the screening tool employed, and cut-off points used to assess symptoms. ...
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Introduction: Recent systematic reviews about the impostor phenomenon unveil a severe shortage of research data on adolescents. The present study aimed at reducing this gap in the literature by investigating the association between maternal and paternal authoritarian parenting and impostor feelings among adolescents, while testing the mediating role played by parental psychological control and the moderating role of the child's gender in this context. Methods: Three hundred and eight adolescents took part in an online survey, in which they reported anonymously on their impostor feelings and their parents' parenting styles via several valid psychological questionnaires. The sample consisted of 143 boys and 165 girls, whose age ranged from 12 to 17 (M = 14.67, SD = 1.64). Results: Of the sample's participants, over 35% reported frequent to intense impostor feelings, with girls scoring significantly higher than boys on this scale. In general, the maternal and paternal parenting variables explained 15.2% and 13.3% (respectively) of the variance in the adolescents' impostor scores. Parental psychological control fully mediated (for fathers) and partially mediated (for mothers) the association between parental authoritarian parenting and the adolescents' impostor feelings. The child's gender moderated solely the maternal direct effect of authoritarian parenting on impostor feelings (this association was significant for boys alone), but not the mediating effect via psychological control. Conclusions: The current study introduces a specific explanation for the possible mechanism describing the early emergence of impostor feelings in adolescents based on parenting styles and behaviors.
... The University can be considered a work environment prone to imposter syndrome, particularly because of continuous evaluations, competitive climate and performance pressure (Hutchins, 2015;Nori & Vanttaja, 2022). Although PhD candidates showed they can meet competitive access criteria and prove their ability to complete high university degrees (Cardoso et al., 2022;Stubb et al., 2010), they are at particularly high risk of developing imposter thoughts. ...
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PhD candidates are at particularly high risk of developing imposter thoughts. Imposter syndrome can be supposed to contribute to the high prevalence of mental health problems among PhD candidates, such as stress, burnout, depression, or intense negative emotions. In addition, emotion regulation is also considered an important factor in determining individuals' well being and adaptation to stressful situations. However, little is known about the strategies used by PhD candidates when they try to regulate negative emotions, especially by those experiencing imposter thoughts. An online questionnaire was distributed to a convenience sample of 241 PhD candidates. Imposter syndrome appeared to be associated with a tendency to use more maladaptive emotion regulation strategies (associated with poorer long-term mental and physical health outcomes) in the work context. A contrario, imposter thoughts did not appear to be associated with a tendency to underuse adaptive strategies (associated with greater long-term health outcomes). Taken together, the results of the present study indicate that a prevalent self-focused belief among PhD candidates, namely the belief to be an imposter, is related to the overuse of emotion regulation strategies that are known to cause poor wellbeing and mental health problems. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.
... People who experience this phenomenon are more likely to doubt their abilities and accomplishments, seeing their own abilities as being incompetent and inferior compared with their peers despite evidence to suggest the contrary (Harvey, 1981;Kolligian & Sternberg, 1991;Langford & Clance, 1993). Impostor phenomenon has been identified across both men and women (Bussotti, 1990;Langford, 1990;Topping, 1983), across a variety of different cultures (Chae et al., 1995;Clance et al., 1995), and in a wide range of populations including students (Bussotti, 1990;Harvey, 1981;Langford, 1990;Topping, 1983), academic faculty (Hutchins, 2015;Hutchins & Rainbolt, 2017;Topping & Kimmel, 1985), business marketing firms (Fried-Buchalter, 1997;Rohrmann et al., 2016), psychiatrists and doctors (Seritan & Mehta, 2016), and veterans (Stein et al., 2019). This diversity of research has also suggested that nearly 70% of people will experience feelings of being an impostor throughout their life (Gravois, 2007). ...
Article
Despite growing attention surrounding impostor phenomenon (also known as “imposter syndrome”), recent reviews have suggested that current measures may be inadequate in capturing the complex and multifaceted nature of this construct. The objective of the current studies was to clarify the theoretical conceptualization of impostor phenomenon based on experiences in an achievement-oriented setting. We conducted a review of the literature and developed an item pool for a novel impostor phenomenon assessment (IPA) (Study 1). Exploratory factor analyses (Study 1) and confirmatory factor analyses (Study 2) assessed this initial item pool to determine the factor structure and initial psychometric properties of the preliminary IPA (Studies 2 and 3). Our findings offer preliminary evidence for the reliability and validity of the IPA as a novel measure of impostor phenomenon.
... Texas Psychologist | Summer 2020 | 11 A s we look ahead to start forming our professional identity and articulating our voice as an independently licensed clinical psychologist, there are of course unique challenges in this exciting endeavor. Some of the more apparent challenges might include no longer having the "safety net" of a supervisor, "imposter phenomenon, " or increased workload (Benedetto & Swadling, 2013;Hutchins, 2015;Parkman, 2016). Additionally, there are new responsibilities for the early career psychologist such as supervising trainees and understanding the business side of how a clinic runs administratively. ...
... The impostor phenomenon is more widely encountered in fields where intellect is highly regarded, such as in academia [20], and people who are drawn to such areas of work are likely to have perfectionist traits and operate in an achievement-oriented manner [21]. Given the elevated personal expectations and rates of perfectionism found in medicine [22], it is not surprising that the literature indicates a particularly high prevalence of phenomenon amongst those in the medical profession [23,24]. ...
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People who experience the impostor phenomenon have intense thoughts of fraudulence regarding their intellect or professional activities. This perception of illegitimacy leads sufferers to believe that success in their lives is attributable to some form of error. Despite the phenomenon having been thoroughly researched in a plethora of professional and educational environments, there remains a relative lack of insight into the impostor phenomenon amongst medical students. This research aimed to better understand the relationship between medical students and the impostor phenomenon, and subsequently to investigate whether their coexistence is precipitated and perpetuated by the educational environment. A cross-sectional study of medical students was conducted using a pragmatist approach, integrating quantitative and qualitative data, via a questionnaire, focus groups and interviews. The main quantitative measure used was the validated Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale (CIPS), where higher scores indicate more marked impostor experiences. A total of 191 questionnaire responses were received, and 19 students attended a focus group or interview. The average CIPS score for the cohort was 65.81 ± 13.72, indicating that the average student had “frequent” impostor experiences. Of note, 65.4% of students were classed as having “clinically significant” impostor experiences and females scored 9.15 points higher than males on average ( p < 0.0001). Examination rankings were frequently cited as a major contributing factor to students’ impostor feelings, and data revealed an increase of 1.12 points per decile that a student drops down the rankings ( p < 0.05). Students’ quotes were used extensively to underpin the quantitative data presented and offer an authentic insight into their experiences. This study provides new insights and contributes to our understanding of the impostor phenomenon amongst medical students, and eight recommendations for practice are presented, which are intended to provide medical schools with opportunities for pedagogical innovation.
... In literature, there are IP researches that focus on overcoming it via internalizing one's accomplishments, has been documented in both graduate and undergraduate student populations in the field of higher education (Gardner & Holley, 2011;Hoang, 2013;Hutchins, 2015;Parkman, 2016;Zambrana et al., 2015). Specifically, researchers have identified a positive correlation between IP and perfectionism, perfectionistic cognitions and perfectionistic self-presentation (Cokley et al., 2018;Cowie et al., 2018;Sakulku & Alexander, 2011), depressive mood and anxiety (Wang et al., 2019), state anxiety (Badawy et al., 2018), stress (Parkman, 2016), depression (McGregor et al., 2008, and selfhandicapping (McElwee & Yurak, 2007). ...
Article
Full-text available
Keywords Abstract Impostor phenomenon Factor analysis Scale adaptation Validity Reliability Impostor phenomenon (IP) is the intense feeling of high achieving individuals who cannot internalize their success and attribute it to interpersonal skills, luck, timing, and contacts. The Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale (CIPS) assesses the fear of failing and being evaluated negatively, not being able to repeat success, fear of the inability to satisfy the expectations of others, and being less capable of others. This study aims to adapt the CIPS into Turkish. Four hundred seven university students enrolled in the study whose average age is 21.12± 1.72 years. Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was conducted. The results of the CFA indicated that the first-order one-factor model was a good fit for the data. Criterion validity analysis results showed a strong negative correlation between CIPS and self-esteem and a strong positive correlation between CIPS and trait anxiety. Test-retest reliability was also strong. The Turkish version of the CIPS has good psychometric properties. The scale can be used to assess the IP levels of young adults.
... Environmental conditions contribute to impostor fears (Kumar et al., 2021). The university can be considered a work environment prone to IS, especially because of its continuous evaluation, competitive spirit, and focus on performance (Hutchins, 2015). In the twentyfirst century, competition has intensified further, as the number of jobs available to doctors has not grown at the same pace as the number of doctoral degrees (Haila et al., 2016). ...
Article
Full-text available
Impostor syndrome (IS) refers to the inner speech of self-doubt and the belief that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. The university can be considered a work environment prone to IS, especially because of the requirements of present higher education and science policy, which emphasizes continuous evaluation, a competitive spirit, and a focus on performance and excellence. It is therefore understandable that many doctoral students have begun to experience inadequacy and uncertainty during their postgraduate studies. This study focuses on the prevalence of IS among Finnish PhD students (n = 1694). In particular, attention is paid to the background factors in which experiences of uncertainty and attitudes related to IS are linked. Theoretically, we interpret IS as a phenomenon related to the habitus formed through an individual’s life experiences and the inner speech associated with it. Based on the results of the linear regression analysis, the lack of encouragement in childhood and a low level of planning when applying for doctoral studies explain the emergence of IS in a statistically significant manner.
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This study investigates usability of social media in promotion activities among Higher Learning Institutions (HLIs) in Tanzania. Guided by Diffusion of Innovation Perspective, a multi-case study was conducted with four HLIs ranging from public to private offering institutions. Analysis was done using content analysis in line with each research question and the theory of diffusion applied. Findings revealed that social media are perceived the second to traditional media in relative advantage despite being considered easy to use and try. With respect to compatibility, analysis shows the dominance of traditional media whereby social media platforms are not still considered formal and not matching HLIs image. It was also showed that HLIs social media effects are observable through posting college life, upcoming and past events, and publishing new programs. The social media effectiveness included wider reach, receiving questions, feedback, increasing visibility, turnout of people during events and responses to different posts made. The study urges HLIs to actively incorporate social media platforms in the traditional marketing platforms so as to improve their promotions’ effectiveness. Provision of financial and managerial resources is important to make sure their units are active.
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Landing a tenure-track position is no easy task. Achieving tenure is even more difficult. Under what policies and practices do faculty find greater clarity about tenure and experience higher levels of job satisfaction? And what makes an institution a great place to work? In 2005-2006, the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education surveyed more than 15,000 tenure-track faculty at 200 participating institutions to assess their job satisfaction. The survey was designed around five key themes for faculty satisfaction: tenure clarity, work-life balance, support for research, collegiality, and leadership. Success on the Tenure Track positions the survey data in the context of actual colleges and universities and real faculty and administrators who talk about what works and why. Best practices at the highest-rated institutions in the survey-Auburn, Ohio State, North Carolina State, Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Iowa, Kansas, and North Carolina at Pembroke-give administrators practical, proven advice on how to increase their employee satisfaction. Additional chapters discuss faculty demographics, trends in employment practices, what leaders can do to create and sustain a great workplace for faculty, and what the future might hold for tenure. An actively engaged faculty is crucial for American higher education to retain its global competitiveness. Cathy Ann Trower's analysis provides colleges and universities a considerable inside advantage to get on the right track toward a happy, productive workforce. © 2012 The Johns Hopkins University Press. All rights reserved.
Chapter
The recent economic recession has led many organizations to downsize, or eliminate positions, in an effort to cut labor costs and improve profitability. Survivors may suddenly find themselves over-rewarded, or prematurely promoted, into one or more vacant positions. One negative consequence of over-reward in particular, impostor phenomenon, may present significant challenges at both the individual and organizational level. Thus, the purpose of this chapter is to examine the consequences and coping strategies of survivors who perceive themselves as over-rewarded and under-qualified for a job. Hobfoll's Conservation of Resources Theory (COR) serves as this study's framework to explicate the outcomes associated with impostor feelings and how impostors cope with their perceived inadequacy. Specifically, we propose that impostor feelings will be positively related to emotional exhaustion. To deal with the exhaustion, impostors may rely on coping strategies in order to master the additional internal and external demands created by feelings of impostorism. The type of strategy used by impostors to cope with the exhaustion is influenced by the level of perceived social support. That is, impostors who perceive higher levels of support will resort to active coping while those who perceive lower levels of support will resort to avoidant coping.Managerial implications and directions for future research are offered.
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This qualitative research study is about two women doctoral students who are experiencing ―The Imposter Syndrome‖ (Clance & Imes, 1978), a phenomenon characterized by an inability to internalize academic success. The purpose of this study is to connect the theoretical frameworks around this phenomenon to our experiences as women graduate students in a doctoral program. The research question for this study is: Do our email conversations provide us with clues to explain our imposter feelings? The methodology for this study is autoethnography (Ellis, 1997). Emails collected over an eight month period provide the data for this study. To analyze the data we used thematic analysis. The data reveal three predominant themes; fear, family and fellowship. The findings of this study provoke an extension into the experiences of other doctoral students as they meet the challenges of self concepts in their course of study.
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Purpose The purpose of this paper is to examine how various types of workplace social support from different support sources interact with occupational stressors to predict the psychological well‐being of university professors. Design/method/approach A total of 99 full‐time professors participated via an online or paper questionnaire. Findings Using moderated hierarchical multiple regressions, the results support the hypotheses that the effects of occupational stressors on professors’ psychological well‐being vary depending on the level of perceived workplace social support. However, although workplace social support buffered the effects of some occupational stressors (i.e. work overload), social support exacerbated the adverse effects of others (i.e. decision‐making ambiguity). Research limitations/implications The dichotomous effects of social support suggest that the impact of social support may be moderated by another variable, such as perceived control over the stressor at hand. The present findings echo calls for further refinements to models of social support to examine how individuals’ situational appraisals shape the variable interactive effects of stressors and social support on individuals’ health and well‐being. Originality/value This study provides new insight into academic work stress by systematically examining the effects of workplace social support on professors’ work stress experience. This study also extends our current understanding of the relationships among stressors, strains, and social support by providing empirical evidence that workplace social support is neither consistently beneficial nor a unidimensional construct.
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The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between job-related stress and faculty intent to leave academia. The stress variables studied were reward satisfaction, institutional/departmental reputation, time commitment, departmental/institutional influence, and student interaction. We hypothesized that the relationship between these variables and faculty intent to leave academia would be moderated by interest in one's discipline and sense of community — an institutional fit variable. We also investigated the effects of academic discipline, tenure status, and gender on these relationships. Based on data from a national faculty survey of 3,070 full-time tenure-track faculty, results indicated that of the variables studied, the two major correlates of intent to leave academia were time commitment and sense of community; however, time commitment did not moderate the stressor-intent relationship. Though showing significant zero-order correlations with intent, when gender and tenure status were added to the hierarchical regression analyses containing the stressors and moderators, neither variable contributed meaningfully to the prediction of intent. Academic discipline classification (Biglan, 1973) contributed only 2% to explained variance. A prediction model that contained all stressors, both moderators, and the background variables of gender and academic discipline accounted for 25% of the variance in intent to leave academia.
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This study investigated the inner experiences of adults learning to become educational researchers. Through narrative analysis of doctoral students’ tales of memorable early encounters in conducting research, insight was gained into the self-questioning tension, conflict, and drama often experienced. A discussion about how to utilize students’ reflective writings to provide appropriate developmental support in doctoral programmes is provided.