“I don’t belong here, and it’s a matter of time before someone figures it out.”
– Rachel Walther, Society for Research in Child Development, describing the feeling of imposter syndrome
My first job in scholarly publishing was performing proof QC for a prominent online journal. By all accounts, I was good at it. I got my work done quickly and efficiently, and I was soon promoted to a senior role.
Why did I feel like a fraud? Why do I still get nervous putting this role on my résumé?
A big part of it could be that I never asked what “QC” stood for, and at a certain point, it felt too late. Now, I’m pretty sure it stands for “quality control”—or maybe its “quality check.” Whatever the case, I still feel fortunate that no one’s asked me. (It can be our little secret.)
In a recent December Regional Online MeetUp, hosted by SSP Washington DC, moderators Rachel Walther, Jennifer Regala, and Ryan Farrell discussed how to tackle imposter syndrome, proving that I’m far from alone in these feelings.
Imposter syndrome is defined as a psychological pattern in which individuals doubt their skills, talents, and worth despite external evidence that they are doing their jobs well. It’s particularly common in early-career individuals, and there is good reason for its prevalence in scholarly publishing.
For all the glitz and glamor of scholarly publishing, it quite frequently isn’t the first career goal or path any of us had. Consequently, when entering this realm, we find ourselves in a new environment, surrounded by people with advanced degrees who seemingly know far more than us and keep using a bewildering number of mysterious acronyms.
How on earth could we belong? How long until someone figures out we don’t belong?
Challenging that line of thinking is the first step in conquering imposter syndrome. As it turns out, scholarly publishing is not a cut-throat industry. No one expects us to know everything immediately, and there are many resources to teach us what we need to know.
Together, we need to convey the message that it’s OK to ask questions. Heck, that it’s expected we ask questions. That we’re not judged when we don’t know the answer to a question, and that simply taking the time to find the answers is beyond appreciated.
One very specific suggestion that came out of the roundtable is to maintain a folder of positive feedback to refer to when we are doubting ourselves. As one participant said, “We tend to internalize our failures and not our victories.” Let us instead celebrate our victories and treat our mistakes as learning experiences.
Another means of tackling imposter syndrome is just that—talking about our mistakes. As another participant put it, what college course taught us not to show weakness? It does no good to label our mistakes as failures and hide them away. Early-, mid-, late-career—we all make mistakes, and if we talk about them together, we can learn they don’t define us.
Remember: No one made a mistake when they hired you. You’re in your job because you’re qualified, and you always have something to offer.
And when you start to feel imposter syndrome creeping up on you, talk about it. As we all learned in this roundtable, we’re not alone.
News contribution by event attendee, Matt Ferguson. Matt is a Publications Specialist with the American Urological Association.