Sandy Chang ’88, the associate dean for science and quantitative reasoning education, struggled with imposter syndrome as a low-income, minority student at Yale. Prompted by his experiences, Chang organized an event to promote awareness of this phenomenon.

Over 50 students gathered in Davies Auditorium on Wednesday night to hear talks by Yale professors Luis Anez and Meg Urry on imposter syndrome. Their presentations were followed by a panel discussion on the issue, which featured both professors and several graduate students.

Imposter syndrome refers to the anxiety that an accomplished person may feel when they deem themselves different from others around them, often developing within an academic or professional context.

Those suffering from imposter syndrome often see themselves as inadequate, struggling to accept their own accomplishments. And if this thought pattern continues for an extended period of time, the resulting anxiety can cause physical health consequences and a significantly diminished quality of life.

“A person may feel that they don’t fit in and that they are a fraud despite being very accomplished,” said Anez, a professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine.

Chang hoped Wednesday’s event would draw more attention to imposter syndrome and that it would offer support for students struggling with the phenomenon.

“When I was a Yalie, in those days, there was no support,” he said. “The term imposter syndrome wasn’t even invented 30 years ago. The feeling is the same, this feeling of worthlessness, the feeling that you don’t belong, and that Yale has basically made a mistake.”

When the crowd of students from the Science, Technology and Research Scholars I program were asked if they thought Yale made a mistake by admitting them, over half of the first years raised their hands.

Though anyone can develop imposter syndrome, according to Anez, people of color or those from low-income families may be more likely to feel outcasted and therefore are more vulnerable to develop thought patterns consistent with imposter syndrome.

“It’s not about who [you are], it’s about seeing yourself as fitting in or not,” Urry, a professor of physics and astronomy, said during her talk.

During the panel discussion, students had an opportunity to ask for advice regarding their own experiences with imposter syndrome, which ranged from their class performances to their perceptions of how other students may view them.

Jannet Rivera ’19, a STARS I peer mentor who attended the event, lauded the Office of Science and Quantitative Reasoning’s efforts to start an engaging conversation on the issue.

“When I was a first year, you didn’t get a panel like this, and you didn’t get people openly speaking about these issues,” she said. “I feel that it’s moving toward a more open discussion and that people feel more comfortable.”

Kiko Wong ’22, also a STARS I student, said that he appreciated knowing that Yale offers resources and support for students who may be struggling with imposter syndrome.

A record-setting 20 percent of the class of 2022 identify as a low-income or as a first-generation college student.

Marisa Peryer | marisa.peryer@yale.edu