Imposter Syndrome at UC Berkeley: What is it and what can you do?

April 18, 2022

Group of people in a line holding each other upAs a former L&S Mentor, Eliotte Garling engaged with many undergrads about their experiences at Cal, both the good parts and the tough parts. Many experience feelings or thoughts related to a common phenomenon called "imposter syndrome," so having conversations on this topic has become a significant part of Eliotte's mentorship. 

Knowing that many students struggle with this, Eliotte has offered her responses to common questions about imposter syndrome. 

I feel like I don’t deserve to be at UC Berkeley and it’s making me feel like I don’t belong here. Why do I feel this way? 

First off, I want to assure you that you’re not alone in this feeling and that you do deserve to be at Berkeley. This feeling is called "imposter syndrome" and is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud or like you don’t belong in specific spaces or situations. On an individual level, it can also lead to feelings that you don’t deserve accolades or positions and that anything you earn is due to luck or external factors. Overall, imposter syndrome can cause anxiety, lack of motivation, depression, and self-hating thoughts or behaviors. 

The current definition of imposter syndrome under-emphasizes the role of white supremacy, misogyny, ableism, and other -isms that have traditionally been accepted in higher education institutions. Feeling this way is not your fault. 

OK, but what can I do to combat these feelings?

Since imposter syndrome feeds off of isolation, it’s important to take the time to focus on building community and finding safe spaces where you feel supported. This can look like joining or attending clubs, workshops, study groups, film screenings, meal sharing, dance parties, and poetry readings to name a few. If you're not sure sure where to start in finding community or safe spaces at Cal, check out our Connect through Community page. 

Learning to see imposter syndrome as thoughts that are not our own but a product of external messaging can help us to stop giving attention to them! Additionally, since academia is a place where we’re continually receiving positive and negative feedback, learning new strategies to handle forms of criticism or feedback can help combat feelings of imposter syndrome. If you are looking for support in addressing wellness and mental health and building a tool-kit to address intrusive and negative thoughts, the following are great resources to explore: 

What can I do right now to feel better? 

It takes time to build community and can be a process of trial and error. Meeting with someone or joining a counseling group at CAPS are great ways to start and get support throughout the process! You can also meet with an L&S Adviser to talk through your concerns from an academic point of view. They can often provide perspective on concerns related to major exploration, academic progress, or academic difficulty.

First and foremost, know that there are people at Berkeley who want you here and want you to succeed. Take the pressure off and do an activity that you enjoy. You are so much more than just a student at Berkeley and connecting with your other interests is an excellent way to feel more connected and establish a sense of belonging. 

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