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Imposter Syndrome: SMCC Professor to Speak About Overcoming that Little Voice that Tells You You’re a Fraud

“This is crazy,” you think. “I shouldn’t be here. They’re going to find me out, and I’m going to get fired.”

Or thrown out of the building.

Or laughed off the stage.

If these types of thoughts have ever crossed your mind, you’re not alone. It’s called Imposter Syndrome, and South Mountain Community College geoscience professor Dr. Sian Proctor believes that it’s a nearly universal phenomenon that we all have experienced at one time or another. She will be speaking about overcoming it in her upcoming TED talk, “Imposter Syndrome: Overcoming the Voices Within,” as part of the TEDx event “Voices” taking place on Oct. 13 at the South Mountain Community Library, on the SMCC campus.

At its core, Imposter Syndrome refers to an individual’s concern at being discovered a “fraud,” despite their own real success or expertise. Many of the world’s most successful and famous individuals have talked about their own experience with Imposter Syndrome, including actors Tom Hanks and Emma Watson, authors Maya Angelou and Neil Gaiman, and Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“Society and social media are already constantly pressuring everyone to be the best, or to be the smartest or most amazing person in the room,” said Proctor. “But Imposter Syndrome is different, in that you’ve already been chosen and invited to be on the stage as an equal with all these other experts, and you still feel as if you have no right to be there.”

Proctor herself has struggled with these thoughts, despite a stunning resume that includes being a finalist for NASA’s astronaut training in 2009, being featured in the PBS Series Genius by Stephen Hawking, and a current side gig on the Science Channel’s TV show Strange Evidence as the science demonstration expert – not to mention a master’s degree in geology and a Ph.D. in science education she puts to regular use as part of the faculty at SMCC.

Proctor believes that Imposter Syndrome is particularly hard on women and minorities, as they increasingly and successfully navigate their way into experiences that had previously been inaccessible.

“It’s often when you are trying something new or trying to achieve a goal in a brand-new way,” said Proctor. “Your inner voice is telling you that you don’t deserve to be there, even though others have obviously identified you as someone that is engaging and unique, and has something to contribute.”

Proctor believes that one of the keys to overcoming Imposter Syndrome is trying to focus on what you bring to the table.

“We can be our own worst enemies, but we have to also be our own best cheerleaders,” said Proctor. “We have to remind ourselves of our own unique experiences, backgrounds and prospective, and say to ourselves, ‘Clearly, I am special, and I was chosen and I belong, and I am on the right path.’”

Proctor can be seen at the tedx event on October 13, and also as a speaker at the Women of Color STEM Entrepreneurship conference, October 4-6, hosted by Arizona State University.

SMCC Geoscience Professor Dr. Sian Proctor

SMCC Geoscience Professor Dr. Sian Proctor