PGR women in academia: navigating the imposter phenomenon

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If you’ve ever had that feeling that you’re not ‘good enough’, or are going to get ‘found out’, you are in great company. Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, Lady Gaga, Emma Watson, Tom Hanks and Serena Williams are amongst the many public figures who have expressed feelings of what is often termed imposter syndrome or imposter phenomenon. Psychologists Clance and Imes coined the term ‘imposter phenomenon’ in 1978, in a paper they published on ‘high achieving’ college women who they found often doubted their own abilities. Men experience this phenomenon too but in fewer numbers. The context of today’s neoliberal and competitive university system, where the ‘messaging’ is that anyone can achieve anything if only they work hard enough, tends to imply any barriers to achievement lie with the individual rather than shining a spotlight on the structural problems of academia and expectations placed on PGRs. Dependent on discipline, the goal posts for PGRs are incessantly shifting, with ever-more conference papers, published articles, teaching experience and maybe a monograph contract in the bag required – oh, and the ‘original contribution to research’ embodied by the PhD thesis on the side! The gendered messaging we all absorb from the wider world of media, social media and representations around us contribute to a culture which makes it harder for women than men (generally) to speak out and have a voice, which is exactly what is required in academic writing – to articulate a reasoned, evidence-based argument. These challenges are multiplied when we consider the impact of intersectionality too. This session comprises a talk outlining some of the challenges PGR women face in academia and embeds interactive, participatory activities to help us share strategies and experiences to support one another.

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