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General, Psychology Colloquium, Session 1, 2013

The Impostor Phenomenon

“You never saw so many phonies in all your life, everybody smoking their ears off and talking about the play so that everybody could hear and know how sharp they were.”

-J.D Salinger, Catcher In the Rye.

What does Holden Caulfield ranting about phonies have to do with the psychological colloquium? If anyone was smoking on Friday, it is almost certain that their ears remained attached to their head… and there definitely were no phonies there… or were there…

Friday the 1st of March heralded the beginning of SCU psychological colloquium 2013, with the first guest speakers, directors of research, Dr Jenny Barr and Dr Susan Nancarrow from the school of Health and Human Sciences. Both ladies did a marvelous job of presenting “The research Journey- higher degrees and publication”. However the focus of this article is the presentation of Dr Nancarrow: self-confessed “phony” (Nancarrow, 2013).

Dr Nancarrow spoke eloquently regarding her twenty years of academia and provided all manner of helpful insights to a room (mostly consisting) of budding researchers and clinicians. She gave us great tips about word processing, grants and publication. She spoke of audacious proposals, the impact factor and broke down the peer review process (Nancarrow, 2013). And yet, I found myself stuck. One thing Dr Nancarrow said caught my attention and I haven’t been able to shake it since. 

Dr Nancarrow spoke of a talk she once attended, at which a senior lecturer claimed she was “waiting for someone to catch her out” because she couldn’t lose the sense she was an “imposter”. Dr Susan Nancarrow, PhD, director of research for the school of Health and Human Resources told us this story because she says she feels it too! What’s more, so does her husband (who happens to be physicist)!

As I said, I haven’t been able to disregard those words, because… me too! I feel like a total phony! Confession time: When I have occasion to ‘play the heavy’ with my son, he actually listens, and I am gob smacked! I think to myself “Ha! He totally takes me seriously!” When I get an assignment back and its good news, there is a part of me that can’t help wondering how I managed to “dupe ‘em again”.

So I did some research, and guess what? It’s “a thing”. It isn’t just me, or the Nancarrow’s, or the anonymous senior lecturer. The term Impostor Phenomenon (IP) coined by Clance and Ament in 1978 (the year after I was born- maybe I bought it from when’st I came?) is a label assigned to the internal experience of “intellectual phoniness” (Clance & Ament, 1978:1). It describes the sort of person who, despite academic or professional accomplishments, grapples with the belief that they must have everybody hoodwinked.

IP has even been operationalized as a research construct through the Harvey IP Scale (Harvey, 1981) and the Clance IP Scale (Clance, 1985). Both scales explore dimensions such as the fear of failure; attributing success to luck or error; fear that successes cannot be repeated; and discounting recognition from others (Langford and Clance, 1993).

Anyway, my word count’s heading over (again!) so I have to knock off, but for any “IP”ers – we are not alone… and it’s “a thing”. Truly.

References

Clance, P. And Ament, S (1978) The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice 15:3

Harvey, J (1981). The impostor phenomenon and achievement: A failure to internalize success. Dissertation Abstracts International, 42, 4969B.

Langford, J. and Clance, P (1993) The Impostor Phenomenon: Recent Research Findings Regarding Dynamics, Personality and Family Patterns and Their Implications for Treatment Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice 30: 3

Nancarrow, S and Barr, J (2013) “The research Journey- higher degrees and publication” Psychology Colloquia 2013: Symposium conducted at the meeting of Southern Cross University, Coffs Harbour, NSW.

Discussion

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