Skip to content

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: Why You Deserve to be Exactly Where You Are

By Shannon Ferguson

I’ve known that I wanted to study computer science since I was in middle school. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of creating something powerful and useful from just writing a few lines of code. That being said, by the time I took my first computer science class in high school, I realized most girls my age did not share the same fascination with tech that I did. I was one of two girls in my class and I could already sense that being the odd one out was going to be a recurring theme if I chose to pursue a field in STEM.

Luckily, I stuck with computer science and made it to UIUC where the male to female ratio in CS is one of the best in the country. However, the feeling of being the odd one out persisted, and this time, it was intellectually. UIUC is filled with some of the brightest, most driven minds in the country, and I didn’t feel like I was up to par with my classmates. I constantly felt like all of my classes were a competition where I was destined to come in last because I wasn’t as intelligent or driven as my peers. However, I later came to realize that many of my peers felt the same way and that this feeling had a name: Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that overrides any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.

Alternative Definition: Tina Fey’s take on imposter syndrome: “The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re onto me! I’m a fraud!’”

Although I now felt validated knowing that my feelings were shared by many others, that didn’t change the feeling of inadequacy. After receiving an offer for an internship after my freshman year, I genuinely thought it was a mistake when I received the acceptance email. For every technical interview I had, I would go in with the subliminal mind set that I had already been rejected, that I wasn’t qualified enough to succeed. As a result, I would get rejected time after time, which just further validated my feelings of inadequacy. Yes, this all sounds a bit morbid, but these are actual feelings that I, and many others, have felt in such a competitive field.

By the time I entered junior year, I knew something had to change. I was clearly doing just fine after completing two internships and managing to make it through half of the challenging curriculum at UIUC; however, I still felt unworthy of anything that I had accomplished and that everyone else was doing significantly better than me. This is when I decided to stop doubting my capabilities and start being confident, even when I didn’t know the answer. This change of mindset made all the difference. I went into interviews with a confident mindset and told myself that I would work through any problem given to me, even if I was given a problem I had never seen before. Through this, I learned that visualizing success actually leads to success. For the first time in my college career, I felt confident in my abilities and in turn, ended up securing my dream internship at Microsoft.

The bottom line is that we are all completely worthy and deserving of everything we accomplish. According to a New York Times article by Jessica Bennett, “women tend to explain their successes away by ascribing them to things like ‘luck,’ ‘hard work,’ or ‘help from others’”. This mindset is the very reason why I struggled for so long with imposter syndrome. In order to break free from this, we have to start owning our accomplishments and visualizing ourselves killing that job interview, or nailing that presentation. Give it a try and I promise you won’t regret it 😉

Shannon Ferguson

Shannon is a junior studying computer science and is a member of T&M Class XXVI. She’ll work at Microsoft next summer as a software engineering intern.

4 thoughts on “Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: Why You Deserve to be Exactly Where You Are”

  1. You are an amazing woman and I’m so privileged to know you! I’m a seasoned Senior Vice President in a tech field, and still struggle with Imposter Syndrome. Your advice certainly resonated with me. I’m so proud of you!

  2. Shannon!! This is amazing!! Thank you for sharing this! I think I can relate to what you wrote in so many ways! I am so happy to see how much you’ve grown since coming to UIUC! Keep going!! 😁

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *