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Peer Health hosts workshop to help combat imposter syndrome

October 29, 2021

Janet Briggs
FIRST OF MANY: Professor Vyjayanthi Selinger addresses students in a small group setting. Peer health hopes to hold similar events in the future.

On Wednesday, October 27, Peer Health hosted an Imposter Syndrome panel and workshop to encourage discussion among students and provide insight into how to find help regarding the issue.

An isolating feeling—but not an isolated event—“imposter syndrome” describes the feeling of not belonging in a group of peers, whether socially or academically.

Imposter syndrome, while not an official diagnosis, is a prevalent experience. Co-Coordinator of Group and Wellness Outreach Services Michael Brightwell, one of the panelists, said during the workshop that recent studies suggest that almost 80 percent of people report having some or all of the symptoms of imposter syndrome; however, it is rarely named or talked about in explicit terms.

Peer Health hopes to combat this with events like this workshop, which was hosted in Baxter house and was planned by several students, including Evan Bay ’23, Alissa Chen ’22, Kate Ishida ’24 and Izzy Grimaldi ’23.

Attendance was limited to approximately 20 students, ensuring a safe and intimate environment for the event. It began with a panel, which consisted of two students, Bay and Ella Jaman ’22, Stanley F. Druckenmiller Associate Professor of Asian Studies Vyjayanthi Selinger and Brightwell.

Including multiple perspectives from the Bowdoin community, Peer Health hoped to highlight that different people, from students to faculty, are or have been affected by imposter syndrome.

“Having a professor’s perspective is a little more unique because I feel like there is almost this authority figure that you can look up to, a role model, that also deals with or has dealt with imposter syndrome,” Chen said.

Bay and Jaman began the event sharing their experiences as students with imposter syndrome.

“When I came here, I felt like a fish out of the water. I was in an environment where I didn’t quite fit in. I wasn’t quite sure who I was,” Chen said.

Perfectionism and the temptation to hold oneself to an impossible standard were common themes in each story. Bay shared his experience with the transition to Bowdoin as a first-year. In particular, he focused on the complexities of navigating the academic and social environment as the only Bowdoin student coming from his high school. Jaman spoke specifically about feeling isolated in Japanese classes, despite having taken the language for 8 years.

Both students found solace in connecting with others and sharing these insecurities.

These student perspectives were followed by Brightwell, who brought a unique perspective to the workshop as a new counselor in Bowdoin’s counseling and wellness office. He shared his own experience with imposter syndrome, while offering specific ways to address the problem in the greater community.

He also talked about how students are often hesitant to express intimidation or insecurity for the sake of maintaining composure around their peers. He suggested sharing experiences with others as a way of helping to mitigate imposter syndrome’s effects.

Selinger shared her own story of dealing with imposter syndrome during her time in graduate school and while working at Bowdoin. She emphasized the impact imposter syndrome has on women and BIPOC in particular, as these groups are even less likely to see themselves represented in higher education.

She found support in what she called her “board of three cheerleaders” who were the people she could always rely on to lift her up no matter the circumstances. As a professor, she was eager to share her story with students.

“I think it is really important for students to hear that professors are also going through it,” Selinger said.

Peer Health hopes this will be the first of many events like this and that future workshops will invite students to discuss other mental health issues. Like imposter syndrome, many of these issues go relatively undiscussed in the regular course of Bowdoin life.

“I feel like it’s something that is not talked about much, if at all, at Bowdoin,” Bay said. “That’s something that needs to change, because a lot of college students experience imposter syndrome symptoms to various extents.”


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