Feeling like a Fraud: Imposter Syndrome in Graduate School

by Sarah Joose - Wellbeing Promotion Strategist

For many students, graduate school comes with high expectations to achieve success.  In a new and unfamiliar environment, many graduate students experience feelings of imposter syndrome as they question whether or not they really belong in graduate school and if they’re actually prepared for the challenges ahead.

Imposter syndrome can be described as feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt that prevail despite obvious accomplishments and successes.  Graduate students who have overpowering feelings of deception are unable to internalize praise from their Supervisor or peers, recognize their academic achievements and feel proud of their successes.

Newly admitted graduate students may feel that it was just a fluke they were accepted and soon their Supervisor will find out they are not smart enough to be in the program.  Feelings may continue throughout a graduate student’s trajectory, as they compare themselves to others in their field who have published more articles, received more funding or awards, or progressed further in their research.  When they do receive an award or other recognition for their hard work, graduate students with imposter syndrome may just feel that it was luck or that they don’t truly deserve it.

Graduate students who experience imposter syndrome may:

  • experience feelings of phoniness, self-doubt and inability to take credit for their accomplishments (1)
  • seek validation from others, be sensitive to criticism, ruminate about a less than perfect performance, be concerned about mistakes (2)
  • feel self-doubt, stressed, fearful and uncomfortable with their achievements (3)

These feelings can impact graduate student wellbeing, as it can influence their sense of self, mood and relationships with others.  It can continue to affect students as they graduate and move into the working world, where they may feel lower levels of job satisfaction.

There are opportunities for faculty and staff to support graduate students who suffer from imposter syndrome.  Here are a few tips for your consideration:

  • Create a safe space for graduate students to talk about imposter syndrome, the high expectations they face and their feelings of inadequacy
  • Share your own experiences of when you’ve felt like an imposter and how you managed it
  • Encourage students to cultivate a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset, focusing on the learning opportunities in each situation   
  • Remind students to reflect on why they are pursuing this degree and what their goals are
  • Support students to find a healthy balance in their busy lives with a recognition that at times, their graduate program will be more demanding than others
  • Support students to break large tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks where they can see their progress along the way
  • Direct students to helpful graduate student workshops to support their ongoing career, professional and personal development (For example: Overcoming Perfectionism, Live Well to Learn Well, Time Management, Breaking Patterns of Procrastination, etc.)
  • Refer students to UBC Health & Wellness to learn more about services and supports available to help them live and feel well



(1) Brems, C., Davis, J. L. L., & Baldwin, X. M. R. (1994). The Imposter Syndrome as Related to Teaching Evaluations and Advising Relationships of University Faculty Members. Author, 65(2), 183–193.

(2) Dudău, D. P. (2014). The Relation between Perfectionism and Impostor Phenomenon. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 127, 129–133. Retrieved from http://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.03.226.

(3) Sakulku, J., & Alexander, J. (2011). The Impostor Phenomenon. International Journal of Behavioural Science, 6(1), 73–92.