The term “imposter syndrome” was coined by a couple of clinical psychologists in the late 1970s.
This is when high-achieving people have freak-out moments, and think that they’re going to be called out as frauds. I think PhDs coming out of academia often suffer from imposter syndrome.
Think about it. These folks are often extremely competent and very smart. (Admittedly we all know one or two PhDs where we can’t help but wonder how they got their degrees, but for the most part, PhDs are a smart bunch). And yet these folks undervalue the skills they have constantly. And it’s been my experience that women suffer from imposter syndrome more than men, and that’s backed by a few studies.
Here’s my advice: Get over it! When an amazing opportunity lands at your feet, TAKE IT and RUN WITH IT! And do it with confidence!
For my first real job, I was hired as a Director. Yes, a Director. I met with the CEO and Founder of the company at a local coffee shop a few times. We chatted about my experience, which amounted to graduate school, a very short post-doc, and I was about six months in to a 2-year science and technology policy fellowship.
And they decided to hire me. As a Director.
I looked at both of them and said, “I just want to clarify – You know I have no experience, right?” And the response was the best compliment I’ve ever received in my professional career, “Judy, we hire talent over experience any day.” I decided right there that I could do it. That I could build a Science & Technology division from scratch, and that with their help, I could learn how to win government contracts. It was a great job.
Now that I’ve mentioned my fellowship, let me expand a bit. I showed up at the government agency that was hosting me, and within a few months, I was tasked with taking the lead in developing a 10-year, $100M program in an area of Warfighter health. I had no idea where to start. But my boss at the time, who was really more of a mentor, gave me enough slack to hang myself without ever letting me fail. And in the end, we delivered a program that ended up getting funded.
My most current position is interesting. I almost didn’t apply for it. The position description described three different skill sets – science, legal, and business development. But I thought, what the heck!? I have very little experience in intellectual property or commercialization, but I was very upfront about that in my interviews. My current boss offered me the job under that understanding that I would bring my expertise to the institution and he would make sure I had the tools to learn the other pieces.
fI’ve been thinking about why I’ve never really suffered from imposter syndrome. I do tend to have a certain level of confidence. But I don’t think that’s it. No job is too big if you break it down into its components. Each of these challenges has really been a group of challenges. The hardest part is figuring out where to start. But once you start, the rest is a lot easier.
So, yes, you can do it. No, you are not an imposter – someone sees your talent and knows you can do the job. You have transferrable skills in data management, project management, scientific communication, and perhaps personnel management. And you have a PhD, which means you can learn anything.