Impostor Syndrome | What is it?

Have you ever been in a situation before where you have doubted your abilities or felt inadequate despite evidence that indicates you are more than capable? 

My experiences as a first year trainee

I am a first year trainee Clinical Bioinformatician, just about to start my second year of training, and for me impostor syndrome is something that both I and other trainees that I know have experienced upon starting their roles. I think this is an important subject to address, as people often feel reluctant to talk about it, and it is a lot more common than you might think; it is estimated that almost 70% of individuals will experience symptoms of impostor syndrome at least once in their life. On the occasions where I have mentioned the subject to fellow trainees, they have also admitted to feeling some kind of impostor syndrome at some point during their training.

While I was applying for the Scientist Training Programme I was aware that applicants come from all kinds of backgrounds, from both academia and industry. I didn’t really expect to get in the first time around, but when I did, having applied with an undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences and minimal experience in a professional workplace environment, it was difficult not to feel daunted and overwhelmed being surrounded by people who were vastly more qualified than me. I found it hard not to compare myself to those around me and let this affect my confidence. Although it is not healthy or productive to compare ourselves to those around us it is something that a lot of us find ourselves doing regularly and often without even realising we are doing it.

What is impostor syndrome? 

Impostor syndrome can be defined as a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. You might be wondering how this subject is relevant to you, either as a current trainee, clinical scientist or a future applicant. But I suspect a lot of you will be reading this definition and thinking that it sounds all too familiar.

The idea of impostor syndrome was first introduced in the 1978 article “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” by Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes; researchers investigated the prevalence of impostor syndrome amongst a sample of 150 high achieving women who had all been formally recognised for their professional excellence.1 They found that despite this, the women lacked internal acknowledgement of their accomplishments, explaining away their success as down to luck or overestimation by others of their intelligence and abilities. Impostor syndrome has been recognised in both men and women, but has been found to be more prevalent in certain groups, including women, ethnic minorities, and first-generation university students.2,3 On the flip side to this is the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is the inability of a person to recognise that they are not performing to the standards that they think they are. This all stems back to the idea that “The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know.” (Aristotle). 

What you can do 

From my experiences in my first year of training, I have realised that there are a few things you can do to combat impostor syndrome:

  1. Have realistic expectations of yourself. If you have been offered a position you will have met the entry requirements therefore are definitely qualified for the position. The STP is a three year long training position, where you will be taught everything you need to know during this period, so nobody expects you to know everything right from the start!
  2. Be honest when you don’t know something. This elaborates on the first point, in that you aren’t expected to know everything from the start, and it is okay to admit when you don’t know something. It is definitely harder to ask questions about something if you have previously said you already know the answers.  
  3. Ask as many questions as possible. Being surrounded by more experienced people from a variety of backgrounds can provide an amazing opportunity to learn, and being a trainee, you can ask as many questions as you like. Your first year especially is an ideal period to learn as much as possible while you have fewer responsibilities. ďżź
  4. Remember it is okay to make mistakes. You’re only human, and this is a big part of learning. I found at the start of my training I had a tendency to hold back a bit out of fear of making a mistake, however mistakes are often the best way to learn, and as a trainee you are not expected to know everything so this is okay. 
  5. Get involved. Signing up to extra events e.g. departmental events, seminars, extracurricular activities, going for lunch or drinks with your colleagues, is a great way to feel more involved. I did activities such as signing up as a mentor for an online course, going to conferences, and speaking at my old university, and found that going to social events with other trainees helped me realise that other trainees have the same experiences as you too! I understand that some of these are quite difficult to do now when most people are working from home and events aren’t running, but if your team runs any online seminars or coffee clubs, or if you can keep in touch with other trainees via teams calls, I would really recommend this. 

Thanks for reading, and I hope that some of these ideas/tips have struck a chord with some of you and might help some of you when you come to apply or start a new role. I will leave you with this image, as a final reminder that what you assume to be true isn’t necessarily correct!

References

  1. Clance PR, Imes SA. The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice. 1978;15(3):241.
  2. Canning EA, LaCosse J, Kroeper KM, Murphy MC. Feeling like an imposter: The effect of perceived classroom competition on the daily psychological experiences of first-generation college students. Social Psychological and Personality Science. 2020 Jul;11(5):647-57.
  3. Bravata DM, Watts SA, Keefer AL, Madhusudhan DK, Taylor KT, Clark DM, Nelson RS, Cokley KO, Hagg HK. Prevalence, predictors, and treatment of impostor syndrome: A systematic review. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2019 Dec 17:1-24.

Open letter to NSHCS

To sign the letter please visit: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1mNf2XD9Gctu362M11d-BL6abMamIJQUACAMNDP8tBeo/edit 

Dear Professor Berne Ferry and Professor Dame Sue Hill,

The recent tragic events in the United States and the strength of the Black Lives Matter movement globally and in the UK, have sparked a shared momentum of reflection within ourselves and our society. As many individuals look introspectively during this time, doing the difficult work of acknowledging and unlearning their personal biases and prejudices, we must also take a critical look at the institutional systems we operate within.

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Returning to University | Top Tips

What’s it like returning to university for the STP?

The STP is a blended program of academic study towards an MSc Clinical Sciences and hands on work, designed to teach you the theory behind your job and how to do it at the same time, as well as developing you into a well rounded clinical scientist. 

One of my favourite things about the STP is the huge range of backgrounds people have. With regards to university some STPs will come from undergraduate study, others will come from PhDs and some will come after being away from formal education for a long time. As individuals, some come with families, others with long term health problems, others move cross country to study on the STP, but what everyone brings is their unique experience and knowledge.  This creates quite a mix of people with different skills, commitments and fears about undertaking postgraduate study at university. 

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Critical reflection | Top tips

The ‘independent assessment of clinical competence’ is a critical reflection of our training experience and how it has prepared us to practice as clinical scientists. Since earlier this week I shared my thought piece on the IACC, I thought it might be more useful to share some tips I’ve gathered from various resources on critical reflection. I am going to tailor this post to applying critical reflection to the IACC, but please note: I don’t have any more information about it than what has been shared by NSHCS! So, when I offer my opinion on what the examiner might be looking for, please don’t take this as gospel; it is just my opinion.

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STP Completion | A trainee reflection

Acronyms. The STP is full of ’em: DOPS, OCES, CBD, NSHCS, OSFA.

IACC.

If you haven’t heard of the IACC by now, have you been living under a rock?! (I wouldn’t blame you to be fair- it’s probably better than everything going on in the world right now). But for those of you who haven’t, the IACC is the ‘independent assessment of clinical competence’ and the official replacement of the 2020 OSFAs. Yes, an essay- but not just an essay- a critical reflection. If you’d have told me 6 months ago that I would be writing an essay instead of facing the OSFAs in July 2020, I would’ve laughed in your face and said something like ‘Yeah, I wish’. But now that I’m really not sitting the OSFAs next month I feel a bit like I’ve had something taken away from me. I’ve got a lot of thoughts about the cancellation, our replacement assessment and the altered STP completion requirements, so bear with me while I apparently work my way through them on a public blog post.

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Dealing with stress and mental health during a global pandemic  

Whether you’re in the final year of the STP trying to complete competencies, the IACC all while applying for clinical scientist jobs after training, or even if you’re just about to go through the STP interview process, mental health is something that can affect everyone. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that mental health affects one in four people worldwide. If trying to battle through a demanding training programme wasn’t enough, we now have to deal with a global pandemic, which is not only affecting how we work but also everyday aspects of our professional and personal lives. Although lockdown restrictions are starting to lift, we’ve been told to adjust to the “new normal” whatever that is supposed to mean. So, considering we need to adjust the way we work in the future, such as working from home more or working a different shift pattern. We all need to take a bit of time to prepare ourselves for this change and make sure we’re looking after our mental wellbeing.

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Organ Donation | Science & Law

On the 20th of May, a big change in the law regarding organ donation in England was implemented. You might not be aware of this change as the majority of the media coverage at the moment is either about the COVID-19 pandemic, protests or politics. As of the 20th of May 2020, all adults within the UK are presumed to be organ donors unless they have opted out under ‘Max and Kiera’s Law’. This ‘opt-out’ system was firstly introduced successfully by Wales in 2015 and they have seen an 18% increase in deceased organ donation.

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Working from home | Top tips

I never in my life thought I would be writing a post about working from home because we’re in a national lockdown. But life takes some funny twists and turns and here we are. Before I begin I just want to preface this post by saying that I am incredibly grateful to be in a position where I can still do my job from home, and I know this isn’t the same for everyone, and even those who can may be in very different circumstances, so I’m just trying to lighten the mood a little and share some advice that you might find useful.

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6 months in radiation safety

Disclaimer: in the ensuing rant all opinions expressed are mine and mine alone.  I don’t confess to having the answers, only many, many questions. My STP experiences should not be taken as general.  

The last 6 months have been tough for me.  After the highs of MR and radiotherapy, I found myself in a work culture that at times didn’t seem to value independence or innovation.  I don’t wish to dwell, especially given that, in the end, I did get signed off on all my rotational competencies and assessments.  

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Climate change | What’s it got to do with healthcare science?

It sometimes seems like the only two things people were talking about in 2019 was Brexit and climate change. And since I can’t do anything about Brexit, and quite frankly, am sick of discussing it, I felt that we could start the year by talking about the other hot (literally) topic: the climate change crisis- and the role healthcare scientists have played in it. Whether your New Year’s resolution is to reduce your carbon footprint, live more sustainably or neither of those things I hope you give this post a chance to find out a little more about the impact of healthcare on the environment! So, what do healthcare scientists have to do with climate change? And even if we are contributing- surely at least the work we do is helping people so it’s worth the small environmental impact?! 

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