Behind the mask of success and excellence : impostorism and women doctoral students
Studdard, Emma Scarlette Spears
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The purpose of this study was to document how impostorism shaped the graduate experience for women doctoral students. Three questions guided the research: 1) How is impostorism manifested in the doctoral experience?; 2) How do gender and race role stereotypes and expectations influence impostorism in women doctoral students?; and 3) How does the educational system influence impostorism in women doctoral students?|The sample for this qualitative study was comprised of eleven women enrolled in doctoral programs in a College of Education at a Research 1 institution in the southeastern United States. Participants ranged in age from 28 to 52. Seven were single, three were married with children, and one was divorced. As part of the selection criteria, participants completed the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale (CIPS). Participants CIPS scores ranged from 49 to 84.|Analysis of the data revealed that participants experience impostorism that was manifested as: feelings of fraudulence, fear of discovery, and feelings of inadequacy. Data also revealed that particular sites, occasions, and circumstances intensified instances of impostorism in the women studied. These conditions or situations included: new endeavors, the classroom setting, and evaluative situations. Participants demonstrated impostorism in the following behaviors: 1) they experience intense anxiety; 2) they varied their work styles between procrastination and over preparation; 3) they attributed their success to external loci of controls, e.g. God and luck; and 4) they behaved in self-defeating ways. Examination of the participants’ interviews showed the negative impact of gender roles and race bias on the graduate experience. Participants also found that the higher education system was uncomfortable and unwelcoming.|Three conclusions were drawn from this study. First, impostorism played out in real ways in participants’ lives. Second, social position exacerbated impostor feelings for the women in this study. Third, the structure of the doctoral experience escalated participants’ impostor feelings.
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