I Don't Belong Here: Impostor Phenomenon and Students

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session HBCU

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Brief Abstract

When students have feelings of impostor phenomenon (IP), or feelings that their accomplishments are based on fraud and that other people will find this out, the thoughts can manifest themselves into academic and social struggles, as well as post-graduation career-related anxiety. Join us to learn more about what impostor phenomenon is, how it manifests itself in students, and considerations for addressing it in the online learning space. 



Tina Rettler-Pagel is a Faculty member and Chief Online Learning Officer at Madison College, in Madison, Wisconsin. Tina holds a B.S in Education with an emphasis on Emotional Disabilities from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an M.S. in Administrative Leadership from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is currently working on a Student Affairs Administration Doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Tina has completed an Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Teaching Certificate, as well as participated in OLC’s Institute for Engaged Leadership in Online Learning (IELOL) in 2017. Her research interests include retention and persistence in the online classroom, women in higher education leadership and governance, digital equity, and community college approaches to teaching and learning. When consulting with faculty, and in her own practice, Tina shares three important lessons: start small, engage at all costs, and never underestimate the power of kindness and inclusion in the classroom. Tina's hashtags? #Mom #Partner #CommunityCollegeProud #OnWisconsin #OnceABadgerAlwaysABadger #A11yAdvocate #OnlineTeaching #DoctoralStudent #Includer #Kindness #Connector #OnlineLearning #TechNerd #Resilience #StrongGirlsStrongWomen #Hockey #Fishing #AnythingSummer #JamMaker #Perseverance #SayYesToNewAdventures #ComeAsYouAre #CrossFit #FarmRaised #StartWhereYouAre #OldSchoolCookingAndBaking #ImpostorPhenomemon #Access #DoctoralCandidate

Extended Abstract

While attending a past OLC Innovate conference, a graduate student standing at the back of the room noted that she did not belong at the conference. It was not because of the conference topics or structure. It was because she felt like she was somehow not as knowledgeable as or not as experienced as other attendees.  This student, working on her doctorate in online learning belonged at the conference, and yet she felt her experiences and accomplishments in the online learning landscape were somehow not adequate to be in the same room with other attendees.

Philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”  This doubt that Russell speaks of can sometimes be positive, offering an opportunity to learn, grow, and develop.  But sometimes this doubt can be destructive, suggesting to our innermost selves that we aren’t good enough, smart enough, or able to accomplish what is in front of us. This is likely what the graduate student was feeling.

This type of “self-doubt” is sometimes referred to as the Impostor Phenomenon, which some research estimates almost 70% of successful people have experienced (Gravoy, 2007).  Impostor phenomenon (IP) is a “psychological pattern. It is based on intense, secret feelings of fraudulence in the face of success and achievement. If you suffer from the impostor phenomenon, you believe that you don’t deserve your success; you’re a phony who has somehow ‘gotten away with it.” (Harvey & Katz, 1984, p. 3).  Similarly, Tabaka (2018) described impostor phenomenon as, “…you may feel that you're the only person in your circle (or in the whole world) who suffers from this level of self-doubt. In those moments, you're certain that every label you've assigned to yourself, including inadequate, incompetent, undeserving, unqualified, fake, and unequivocal failure is absolutely accurate” (p. 1).  

Impostor phenomenon affects certain college student populations more frequently and more intensely, than others.  Students of color, first generation students, STEM students, graduate students, and female students in male-dominated fields tend to experience impostor phenomenon feelings at higher rates than other students.  Yet, supporting students through impostor phenomenon feelings and challenges can be difficult in the online learning space, where identifying impostor phenomenon experiences and feelings in our students can be difficult.  This session will include suggestions and practices for the online classroom that instructors can use to support students struggling with impostor phenomenon, as well as online course design considerations, facilitation and feedback strategies, and group strategies.

Participants will be engaged through:

  • Parntered discussions
  • Contributions to a shared, collaborative document
  • Audience polling

By participating in this session, attendees will...

  1. Identify key contributors to impostor phenomenon causes or influencers for students
  2. Identify at least one pedagogical approach to address feelings of impostor phenomenon
  3. Identify at least one strategy to support students struggling with impostor phenomenon