17 July 2020

"ARE WE EVEN QUALIFIED TO WRITE ABOUT IMPOSTER SYNDROME?": A GUIDE ON HOW TO REASSURE YOURSELF THAT YOU'RE DOING JUST FINE

The Grad School Guide | Megan Sue-Chue-Lam, Denise Tenio, Dominica Tang, Chloé Houde

Made by Megan Sue-Chue-Lam

Hello incoming graduate students! We — Megan, Chloe, Denise, and Dominica — are the current Museum Professionals of Colour (MPOC) executive team. MPOC aims to support students who identify as BIPOC and works toward making the MMSt program more diverse, inclusive, equitable, and accessible. We are three Asian cisgender women and one white cisgender woman. Our group is limited by our own lack of diversity and we do not speak on behalf of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Colour. We strive to make our program, and by extension the museum field, a safer space for us all.

When we met each other and our incredibly accomplished colleagues, we felt our imposter syndrome skyrocket. Generally, imposter syndrome is the feeling that you are where you are by chance rather than by merit, and that you don’t deserve to be in that position. It comes with an unhealthy fear of being outed as an imposter at every achievement and opportunity you earn. Dr. Suzanne Imes and Dr. Pauline Rose Clance first identified the psychological and sociological phenomenon in 1978. While many people can experience imposter syndrome, it disproportionately affects those who’ve been marginalized, including women and people of colour.


As much as imposter syndrome is an internal condition that distances us from our peers, systemic external factors amplify the symptoms. Too often, students feel unable to take advantage of the resources available to them because these resources are inaccessible. Lack of appropriate resources, too-long waiting lists to see counsellors, and numerous other barriers all add up to create a dangerous culture of isolation and unattainable self-sufficiency [CW: link discusses mental illness, sexual violence, suicide].

Feelings of inadequacy can be magnified by the fact that faculties routinely validate those who have more “traditional” academic and professional backgrounds, to the detriment of others. When schools affirm the experiences of those who’ve had the privilege of focusing on their academics and not on other needs, this further alienates already marginalized people. For example, only select students are able to take on unpaid internships in order to make crucial professional connections and build up targeted work experience.

On top of all this, there’s the harsh truth of tokenism. Tokenism is an unfortunate reality that is made all the more apparent by the lack of equity-focused resources, and can lead you to question your self-worth. Being aware that there are likely only a few openings for people like you can lead to a damaging sense of competition within oppressed groups, when really, we deserve to feel solidarity amongst those we identify with. Perhaps most importantly, we must remember that it is not our fault. It’s up to the institutions that benefit from our work and our identities to change, in order to create a culture of sustained action and justice.

Made by Denise Tenio | Source

With all that being said, how can we monitor our imposter syndrome and mitigate its effects on our mental health?

First off, find your support system!

Identify the people in your life who you can trust, or who share similar life experiences as you, to talk openly with about your imposter syndrome. Whether that’s your family, friends, or peers, having a strong support system is extremely important, so you don’t end up carrying the weight of your anxieties all by yourself. We can wholeheartedly vouch for how uplifting it is to find your people in this program. Make friends with others in your cohort who will encourage you as fellow emerging museum professionals.

You may be wondering, “how do I find my people?” One surefire way to develop closer bonds with others is by participating in student life! In our MMSt program, we have three associations you can get involved with: The Master of Museum Studies Students Association, Musings, and Museum Professionals of Colour (that’s us!). Reach out to your student representatives on these organizations and feel free to chat with the second years in each group for advice. There’s also an Incoming 2020 iSchool Students Facebook group that you can join to meet other first year students. However, while extracurriculars are a great way to meet new people, we acknowledge that they aren’t for everyone. Our program requires a lot of group work, so even that can be an easy way to connect!

Second, realize that your worth isn’t tied to academia.

For many of us who’ve chosen to pursue academia, it can be difficult to separate our sense of self from the work we produce as students. This dangerous mentality is what often leads to imposter syndrome. If we fall into a rut of convincing ourselves we’re not capable enough, this ultimately diminishes our mental health. When you feel your imposter syndrome being triggered, try to remember that you are so much more than your academic abilities. One way to remind yourself of this is by practicing self-affirmations daily. Repeating phrases like “I have endless talents which I will utilize today” is a great way to start or end the day and, over time, could positively influence your self-esteem.

Lastly, reach out to academic support services within the University of Toronto or the iSchool.

The iSchool has a number of staff members whom you can meet with to talk about your worries. However, if you find yourself too nervous to contact them yourself, consider reaching out to peer groups or intermediaries such as iStudents for Mental Health who can get you started on finding the help you need.

Made by ErinWhite1 | Source

Now, in terms of what can be done to change the institutional culture that breeds imposter syndrome, here’s what people in positions of authority or leadership can do to make a significant difference.

First, be proactive in letting your students know how they can get help and how the school is there to support them.

It’s not always obvious who to go to for questions or problems, especially if a student’s concerns have to do with matters outside of course content. Invite Student Services staff to your classes so that everyone is familiar with them, what they do, and how to reach them. Similarly, be proactive in seeking out professional development opportunities that specifically focus on inclusion, equity, and accessibility for your students. Make them feel supported in every sense.

Second, familiarize yourself with your unconscious biases.

Understand that imposter syndrome affects different groups of people disproportionately, based on different factors, such as race, sexuality, gender, mental health, and many more. Make your official and unofficial class policies more accessible, and make your course content more diverse. Practice active listening in order to ensure that you are interpreting your students correctly and to show that you respect their contributions.

Finally, don’t take for granted what people know.

Especially in a program like MMSt, where students come from such various academic and professional backgrounds. A concept you assume to be common knowledge might not be widely known by others — this can be alienating and trigger students' imposter syndrome. Understand that your students come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, that they all bring something enriching to the table, and that this diversity is a strength that should be fostered.

But what do we know! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Here are some inter-faculty peer-support groups and mental health resources:
  • Sherry Dang is the Associate Registrar and oversees Student Services. She’s amazingly supportive!
  • MUSSA hosts amazing events and opportunities for you to meet your peers.
  • As for us at MPOC, we have openings on our team reserved for first years (to be announced!) and there are always opportunities to get involved in events. You can email us or find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Sincerely,
The MPOC team ❤︎

Made by Chloé Houde | Source

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