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Dr. Melanie Niese

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Imposter Syndrome

Impostor Syndrome diagnostic self-assessment
Articles & Publications
Useful weblinks
Books (leisurely reads)

Self-Management – Imposter Syndrome

Information about and access to a self-assessment questionnaire and a selection of relevant publications and web-links about observations regarding the imposter syndrome in academia


The term ‘impostor syndrome’ was first coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes (

Their research identified three elements:
1. A feeling that others have a mistakenly high view of your abilities
2. A fear of being exposed or found out
3. A tendency to downplay success, attributing it to luck or disproportionate effort

The condition is characterized by feelings of self-doubt, incompetence and a lack of belonging combined with low self-esteem, unworthiness and a desire to downplay achievements. If the description of any of the elements listed above sounds familiar to you, or if you ever feel that your peers have earned their position or reputation through merit, but that you somehow got where you are by mistake, chances are high that you may be experiencing impostor syndrome.



Impostor Syndrome diagnostic self-assessment

If you would like to find out whether or not you might be suffering from imposter syndrome you may want to try the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale and scoring instruction (CIPS), a diagnostic test conceived by Dr. Pauline R. Clance. A CIPS score of under 40 indicates few characteristics of the condition, while a score of 40–60 is classed as ‘moderate’, 61–80 ‘frequent’ and more than 80 ‘intense’.

The test was used for survey of more than 1000 researchers published in 2019 by Ashley R. Vaughn et al. ( Confirming earlier observations, high levels of impostor syndrome were found in female academics. Interestingly, the survey also asked respondents about their sources of motivation and their perceived reasons for past successes and failures (for a commentary see Emma Stoye on March 11, 2019, at



Articles & Publications (ordered by publication date)

Impostor phenomenon and motivation: women in higher education (Studies in Higher Education Volume 45, Issue 4, 2020, Pages 780-795, by Ashley R. Vaughn, Gita Taasoobshirazi and Marcus L. Johnson; published online January 25, 2019)
This article analyses the relationship between impostor phenomenon and motivation in academic women. These highly successful academics often express feelings of self-doubt, lack of belongingness, and incompetence, ideas echoed within motivation literature. […]. Findings indicate elevated levels of IP amongst our female academic sample. Statistically significant relationships were observed between IP and measures of motivation, including negative relationships between IP and sense of relatedness, as well as IP and attributions of success and failure. […]Implications for graduate and early career supports, as well as systemic and cultural changes are discussed.

Hard to believe, but we belong here: scholars reflect on impostor syndrome (TimesHigherEducation magazine by Caroline Blyth, John Tregoning, Susan D'Agostino, Merlin Crossley, Katarzyna Kaczmarska and Darren Linvill; June 21, 2018)
Do you feel you’re just winging it, waiting for the day when your incompetence is exposed? Six academics show that you’re far from alone.

Feel like a fraud? Five ways to beat impostor syndrome (blog post on global academy jobs by Jo Mitchell; May 16, 2018

Faking it (Article by Chris Woolston in nature 529, pages 555–557; January 27, 2016)
In the face of routine rejection, many scientists must learn to cope with the insidious beast that is impostor syndrome.

Unmasking the impostor (nature Special Report by Karen Kaplan in nature 459, pages 468-469; May 20, 2009)
Feelings of inadequacy in one's field sometimes plague even the most accomplished scientists, especially women. Karen Kaplan analyses this apparent phenomenon and its impact.

The impostor phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. (Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, Volume 15, Issue 3, Pages 241–247, by Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes; 1978
The term "impostor phenomenon" is used to designate an internal experience of intellectual phoniness that appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women. Certain early family dynamics and later introjection of societal sex-role stereotyping appear to contribute significantly to the development of the impostor phenomenon. Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Numerous achievements, which one might expect to provide ample objective evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not appear to affect the impostor belief. Four factors that contribute to the maintenance of impostor feelings over time are explored. Therapeutic approaches found to be effective in helping women change the impostor self-concept are described.




Books (leisurely reads)

Dear Oxbridge - Liebesbrief an England (in German) by Nele Pollatschek, published January 21, 2020; Verlag Galiani Berlin
Insiderbericht aus den Elite-Universitäten Cambridge und Oxford und Liebesbrief an ein eigensinniges Stück Europa.
See pages 95-107 for a „personal account” on the imposter syndrome.

Lean In for Graduates: With New Chapters by Experts, Including Find Your First Job, Negotiate Your Salary, and Own Who You Are (in Englisch) by Sheryl Sandberg, published April 8, 2014; Alfred A. Knopf /Random House
Expanded and updated exclusively for graduates just entering the workforce, this extraordinary new edition of Lean In includes a letter to graduates from Sheryl Sandberg and six additional chapters from experts offering advice on finding and getting the most out of a first job; CV writing; best interviewing practices; negotiating your salary; listening to your inner voice; owning who you are; and leaning in for millennial men.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (in English) by Nell Scovell und Sheryl Sandberg, published March 11, 2013; WH Allen
Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is a massive cultural phenomenon and its title has become an instant catchphrase for empowering women. The book soared to the top of bestseller lists internationally, igniting global conversations about women and ambition. Sandberg packed theatres, dominated opinion pages, appeared on every major television show and on the cover of Time magazine, and sparked ferocious debate about women and leadership.

Lean In: Frauen und der Wille zum Erfolg (in German) by Nell Scovell und Sheryl Sandberg, translated by Barbara Kunz; published März 30, 2013; Econ
In Deutschland sitzen in den Vorständen der 100 umsatzstärksten Firmen gerade einmal 3 Prozent Frauen. International sieht es nicht viel besser aus. Sheryl Sandberg aber ist ganz oben angekommen. Sie ist Geschäftsführerin von Facebook und gehörte davor zur Führungsmannschaft bei Google. Außerdem erzieht sie zusammen mit ihrem Mann Dave zwei Kleinkinder. Sheryl Sandberg ist eine der wenigen sichtbaren Top-Managerinnen weltweit und ein Vorbild für Generationen von Frauen. In ihrem Buch widmet sie sich ihrem Herzensthema: Wie können mehr Frauen in anspruchsvollen Jobs an die Spitze gelangen? Sie beschreibt äußere und innere Barrieren, die Frauen den Aufstieg verwehren. Anhand von unzähligen Beispielen und Studien zeigt Sandberg, wie jede Frau ihre Ziele erreichen kann und welche Kleinigkeiten dem Erfolg manchmal im Wege stehen.

Verantwortlich: Eric Herbst
Letzte Änderung: 17.02.2022
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