On Imposter Syndrome

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As COVID-19 continues to disrupt our lives, I’ve frequently returned to Neil Gaiman’s post about imposter syndrome that originally began making the rounds in 2017.

Gaiman describes running into Neil Armstrong and having the following conversation:

I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name*. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”

And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”

The post ends with Gaiman explaining:

If Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did.

I appreciate this story for two reasons:

1) as a newly minted Ph.D. on the job hunt, it’s important to remember that very few accomplished, intellectually minded people rarely perceive themselves to be the contributors to a field that they actually are;

2) it’s easy to forget how disorienting college can be for most students—and that feelings of inadequacy often prevail over latent competency and proven mastery of material.

Student disorientation and feelings of inadequacy, however misplaced, are partly what make empathic pedagogy so challenging. Our students are people first, and that reality can often get obscured amid the chaos of semester deadlines and commitments.

It’s an important reminder, one that I’m keeping in mind as I redesign my FWIS class for spring 2021 instruction.

Students are people first.

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