Crossing the Bridge from "I don't belong here" to "Meant to be here": Addressing Impostor Phenomenon in Higher Education

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

Are you an impostor? Full of doubt, inadequacy? Do you think your success is just luck? These feelings lead to a destructive mindset of stress, hesitancy, and disengagement.  Join us for an honest, vulnerable, and heartfelt conversation about impostor phenomenon and how to can recognize it, manage it, and rewrite our own “impostor” dialogue.


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 has an Ed.D. in Student Affairs Administration from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Tina has completed an Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Online 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, the success of women of color in online learning spaces, women in higher education leadership and governance, digital equity, and community college approaches to teaching and learning. Tina's hashtags? #Mom #Partner #CommunityCollegeProud #OnWisconsin #A11yAdvocate #OnlineTeaching #Includer #Kindness #Connector #OnlineLearning #TechNerd #Resilience #StrongGirlsStrongWomen #Hockey #Fishing #AnythingSummer #JamMaker #Perseverance #SayYesToNewAdventures #ComeAsYouAre #StartWhereYouAre #ImpostorPhenomemon #Access

Extended Abstract

While attending OLC Innovate 2018, 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).  

As online leaders, designers, faculty, students, and support professionals, the impostor phenomenon can be a destructive force, one that can stymie our thinking in ways that shortchange any accomplishments, knowledge, or experiences that got us to the point we are at today.  Addressing our personal impostor phenomenon feelings are critical to our professional performance (Cozarelli & Major, 1990).

The purpose of this session is to start a conversation about the impostor phenomenon feelings that online teaching and learning professionals may experience and discuss strategies to address those feelings.  In this honest, personal, informative, and engaged conversation session, participants will explore the impostor phenomenon as it applies to their professional observations and perceptions about themselves and how they might recover a sense of confidence in the work they do.

Join us as we explore impostor phenomenon through the following guiding questions:

  • How does imposter phenomenon manifest for you? Where are the anxiety points?
  • What are common situations where you face impostor phenomenon experiences?
  • What strategies have worked for recognizing and managing “impostor feelings”?
  • What are some examples of instances (such as connecting to a group of colleagues) has helped diminish impostor phenomenon?  How has this been beneficial to your professional network, career, and future opportunities?
  • Conferences like OLC can sometimes unintentionally encourage and support impostor phenomenon feelings, especially for new attendees or those new to careers related to online learning.  How do we overcome that perception and those possible experiences?


By participating in this session, you will...

  1. Identify at least one strategy they can use to build confidence in their professional lives
  2. Identify at least one person they will actively build a network with to further support and mentor one another within the structure and format that best supports their professional and academic goals.
  3. Identify strategies for rewriting your own “impostor” dialogue.


Cozzarelli, C., & Major, B. (1990). Exploring the validity of the impostor phenomenon. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 9(4), 401-417.

Gravois, John. (2007). You're Not Fooling Anyone. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 54(11), A1 A32-A32.

Harvey, J.C. & Katz, C. (1984). If I’m So Successful, Why do I Feel Like A Fake? Random House: New York.

Tabaka, M. (2018). Here's What Famous High Achievers Are Doing to Conquer Symptoms of the Imposter Syndrome. Retrieved from