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3 years into non-TT position here.

impostor syndrome is real and in my specific case, its all the more real because I am first generation college who went to all public schools and I am surrounded by colleagues who went to Ivys.

I am constantly having to tell myself that its a big effing deal that I managed to actually land a decent job, even if not TT and I also have managed to tell myself that the TT position *cannot* be measured as the standard of success in academia anymore--its simply unreasonable for it to be when there is that statistic floating around that 70% of faculty in higher ed are contingent!!!!


One aspect of my particular impostor syndrome comes out in conference settings and similar circumstances: I find that other advanced grad students seem to have a much quicker command of the literature. Even when I've read (and understood) the relevant literature at some point, I often just can't remember what argument for X is given by Y and how Z rejects that argument. I know where to look it up, but I certainly can't rehearse these things off the top of my head. Yet, others seem to effortlessly be able to do so -- so maybe it's my lack of memory/intellect?

I've found it helpful to realize that impostor syndrome can send you in a vicious circle here: I feel like an impostor because I haven't memorized the literature well enough, but if I were to strategically memorize the most important arguments from the relevant areas (and maybe my hot take on it) just to keep up with conference chat better, I would feel even more like an impostor -- because someone who's genuinely competent wouldn't need to do that! But once I realized that, I felt a bit better: understanding what's going on with your mind can sometimes be a way of combating things like impostor syndrome. (Plus, after I heard a few people repeat the same talking point in various settings, I felt less like what they are doing would be unachievable for me.)

Madeleine Ransom

I think all of the suggestions above are great, and would just add that you (and anyone else suffering from impostor syndrome) may find it helpful to:

1) work on redeveloping your spirit of curiosity
2) see your writerly output as a chance to contribute to the discipline, or maybe even an obligation.

I will break these down in turn:

Cultivating curiosity

I think getting back in touch with our curiosity is helpful against imposter syndrome in the following way: when you realize you don't know or understand some argument or position that you think you should (you have undergone years of training after all!), this can feel shameful. But when you started philosophy, you were curious about the issue and just wanted to understand it better, and probably had little to no sense that you were 'falling short'. So getting back in touch with the value of being curious and trying to work things through, to understand, can be helpful because it converts the moment of realization that you don't know something from a moment of shame and self-deprecation to a moment where you realize there is an opportunity to learn something and investigate.

As an aside, it has been my experience that when something doesn't make sense to me, this often indicates that there is a problem with the view, and so you may come up with a good objection to it.

Cultivating a spirit of curiosity is also helpful in another way: it makes the whole enterprise way more enjoyable. There is value in the contemplation of philosophical questions (or else what the heck are we doing with our lives), and doing so in the spirit of investigation rather than the spirit of 'I need to fill this hole in my knowledge or else people will know I'm a fraud' is way more fun.

Finally, I think cultivating our curiosity is a helpful remedy to the (thankfully declining) climate of philosophy as a competitive sport. This isn't a zero sum game, the academy is (at its best) a community of inquiry. Everyone is building on what came before them, and is in conversation with other scholars, living and dead.

This leads me to my second point, which is that you might have an obligation to the academic community to share the products of your investigations.

Giving back/Obligation to contribute

You have spent years in grad school, and before that in undergrad, learning from others. Much of that learning has involved reading and critiquing written texts. Without those texts, your education would have been much impoverished. So now is your chance to give back. Here one might even argue that grad students have an obligation to publish (if only via a finished dissertation) given the intellectual resources they availed themselves to during their own education.

Maybe you have been working on some obscure topic that only a few people in the world currently care about. No matter. It was or is of interest to you, and you have read the literature that has come before you. You have made sense of it in a way that is unique to you, and if you publish it then you will further inquiry in this field. Perhaps everyone will disagree with you. That helps progress in the field. Perhaps people will point out that you didn't think about x objection. That furthers progress in the field.

Again what I am suggesting is a shift in perspective: go from 'If I publish this, or show my work to others I might look stupid or ignorant' to 'If I publish this or show my work to others I am helping to further the discussion on x, and contributing to a community of inquiry'. The perspective shift takes the focus off of you and your worthiness, and shifts it onto building up something larger than you, something that has interested and sustained you for years.

I hope that is helpful to you or someone else reading!


This may be entirely idiosyncratic, but just in case it helps someone: I've felt like an imposter at every stage of my career, through all ups and (especially) downs of it. I couldn't shake it and haven't yet. However, in realizing that I'll never be a worthy philosopher/professor/peer/whatever, it did occur to me that I'm a wildly successful imposter. It might not be as glamorous as being a successful philosopher, but the daily life is precisely the same and my sense of accomplishment is just as real. And while others look down on me for not being a real philosopher, they're just missing how impressive it is that an imposter has been able to accomplish everything they have.

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