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Understanding Imposter Syndrome and What You Can Do About It

October 29, 2015

By Kelly Pedersen

I had been out of school for eight years, working, teaching and traveling. I returned home from a four year stint in Asia and applied to graduate school some months later. When I received my first acceptance letter, I was incredibly excited. I felt that I was starting a new chapter in my life. But, in the weeks leading up to my first semester, I started to get nervous. By entering my graduate program, I was breaking into a new field where I didn’t have much experience. I felt certain that I would walk into a classroom full of industry professionals who knew much more than I did. I experienced feelings of inadequacy and began to wonder if I even belonged. By the first day I was shaking when it came time to leave for class. After a few class periods, though, the feelings of inadequacy subsided and I adjusted to my new role as a student. But what if they hadn’t? What if I had continued to feel like I didn’t belong, like I was an imposter, just waiting to be found out?

These types of feelings are typical of students who suffer from imposter syndrome, a specific form of self-doubt often found in professionals and academics. Imposter syndrome, first researched by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud. (American Psychological Association)

So how do we, as students, stop these feelings of self-doubt?

Talk to Your Mentors/Professors/Advisors

Don’t idolize or fear the people who are here to teach and help you. Some of the professors may be notable professionals in their field or may be intimidating. Even people who are highly successful in their careers had to start somewhere. Ask them how they got to where they are today. Don’t be afraid to ask for their help. In my experience, people are generally very willing to pass along their expertise and knowledge to others who are just starting out.

Build Your Self Confidence

Don’t just look to people who are more experienced than you for help. Help others who need some of your knowledge. Tutoring or working with younger students can help you boost your confidence and realize how far you have come in your academic career.

You can also build your confidence by building your resume. Apply for internships or assistantships to learn more about your field (and don’t give up after a few applications.) Attend conferences or join an emerging professionals group to become part of the community you are studying.

Cut Yourself Some Slack

Don’t focus on perfection; focus on performing the best that you can at the time. Sometimes performing well enough is all you need.

Talk to Someone Who Can Help

Remember that others in your program may feel the same way you do, even if they seem more experienced or confident. Every graduate student is new at some point, just like you. Talk to others in your program and build relationships with your fellow students. You can share your feelings about class and support one another.

For many people with impostor feelings, individual therapy can be extremely helpful. A psychologist or other therapist can give you tools to help you break the cycle of impostor thinking. At George Mason the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) office is here to help students deal with these types of feelings. Services are provided by a staff of professional clinical psychologists, social workers, counselors, learning specialists, and psychiatric providers.  CAPS individual and group counseling, workshops, and outreach programs are designed to enhance students’ personal experience and academic performance.

For more information about CAPS, you can visit their website at www.caps.gmu.edu. Call (703) 993-2380 to schedule a consultation for individual counseling or call at 8:30AM to inquire about available same-day consultations.  These slots are filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Change can be difficult, especially if you doubt your own abilities. Students at Mason can make the most of their graduate school experience by taking advantage of the many resources available to them. The faculty and administration are available to help students enjoy this process of growth and learning.

* http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx

Kelly Pedersen is a Graduate Assistant with University Life Arlington and masters candidate at the College of Visual and Performing Arts in the Arts Management program.

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Knowing Your Strengths and How to Use Them Effectively

October 22, 2015

By Kate Shaw

If you’re a Mason graduate student, it’s quite possible you’ve heard the words StrengthsFinder uttered around campus from time to time. It’s also possible that you’ve already taken the StrengthsFinder assessment. For those who haven’t, the Gallup StrengthsFinder is a personality assessment, similar to the Myers-Briggs, that helps you identify your top areas of strength. Along with your strengths comes an explanation of each strength and how you might use it in everyday life. The assessment is free to all Mason students as part of the university’s Well-Being Initiative.

I took the StrengthsFinder assessment during my first semester at Mason and was intrigued by the results. Because I was a staff member, I completed a training on how to apply those strengths to my workplace. One interesting thing I took away from the training was the idea that while many people tend to focus on their weaknesses and how to improve them, it might be more productive to be aware of and focus on one’s strengths. It seems obvious, right? Using our strengths will help us succeed, but I think a lot of times, we tend to focus on the negative.

There are many benefits to taking the StrengthsFinder assessment. First and foremost, the assessment breaks down your strengths into categories (such as “relational” or “influential” strengths). Knowing these strengths and how you can utilize them can allow you to learn how to work most effectively both at work and at school. However, the biggest benefit, at least for me, is that the assessment helped me gain a greater sense of self-awareness, especially because my results showed strengths that I didn’t necessarily know I possessed.

Another great benefit of StrengthsFinder is that the results can be extremely helpful during a job interview. You know that pesky job interview question where the interviewer asks what your greatest strength (or five) is? Well, now when you respond to that question, you’ll have the science to back it up!

Kate Shaw is an alumni of George Mason University’s Higher Education master’s program.

Edited by Andrew J. Quillen, 10/17/2017

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Making the Most of My Graduate School Experience

October 15, 2015
By Kate Shaw

I began graduate school for the same reason a lot of people do — I was making a career change. In my case, it was from publishing into higher education administration, and I wasn’t sure how well I’d transition back into academic life after being out of school for a few years. For my first semester, I just stopped by campus for class and then left. I was really enjoying my classes, but as the semester went on, I realized that I craved more of a connection to the campus. I sought out opportunities at Mason and eventually applied for and won a position as a graduate assistant for Graduate Student Life. Since then, I’ve switched to full-time student status and am now involved in the Graduate and Professional Student Association and hold a position with the Center for Global Education as well. In the process, I’ve met some amazing people (faculty, staff, and students), and I’ve realized that Mason has so much more to offer its graduate students than I originally thought.

I know my situation is not the same as everyone else’s. Mason is unique in that the majority of our graduate population consists of part-time students with full-time jobs, families, and other responsibilities or obligations. Additionally, we are spread out over three campuses, another factor that leaves many students feeling a lack of connection to the university. I also know, from working with Graduate Student Life, that many students want to establish a connection with Mason, but aren’t sure how to do so or are unaware of what resources are available to them.

The best thing about coming back to a college campus, at least for me, is that the university offers so many unique events and resources for its students that you wouldn’t necessarily find elsewhere (and a lot of times – the events are free or offer free food, and I’ve never been one to pass up free food). If you want to feel more connected to the campus, my advice is to find opportunities, however small they may be, that work for you and your schedule to get involved with the campus and check out everything Mason has to offer.

As graduate students, we can use all of Mason’s recreational facilities (if you’re full-time, you can use them for free, and part-time students pay only a small fee). Did you know we have a bar on the Fairfax campus? We do! It’s called the Rathskeller, or “the Rat,” located in SUB I. The Mason Center for the Arts holds a number of events year-round at very affordable prices, and depending on the event, tickets are sometimes free for students. Graduate students can also attend athletic events as well as other types of events (again, sometimes for free) held at EagleBank Arena (formerly the Patriot Center). Additionally, graduate students can study abroad — the Center for Global Education offers a number of programs for graduate students, many of which allow you to earn credit towards your program.

The Graduate and Professional Student Association (GAPSA) holds monthly happy hours (near both the Fairfax and Arlington campuses), student outings, and an interdisciplinary graduate student conference in the spring. Any Mason graduate student can be a member of GAPSA, and it’s a great way to meet other students. Finally, Graduate Student Life, the department for which I serve as a graduate assistant, puts on a lot of great events during the year for students, including educational workshops and a write-in day to help you get your biggest projects finished in a quiet, focused environment. Similarly, University Life Arlington offers a range of workshops and special events for students at the Arlington campus, including the annual Networking and Etiquette Dinner in February. I could go on and on, but websites like Today @ Mason, which lists everything happening at the university every day, can provide information on university-wide events much better than I could.

I was working an event the other day for Graduate Student Life, and I was chatting with a student about Mason. He was telling me how much he was enjoying his time here, and before he walked away, he said, “This campus surprises me more and more every day.” I have to agree with this sentiment, and I hope that this campus will surprise you every day in positive ways throughout your graduate experience, too. By the time you graduate, whenever that may be, I hope you have the chance, even if its just once or twice, to take advantage of the great things our university has to offer. Getting involved and meeting people has been the best part of my experience thus far.

Kate Shaw is a master’s student in George Mason University’s Higher Education program.

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Finding an Internship That’s Right for You

October 8, 2015

By Emily Wall, Arts Management

The internship component factored heavily in my choosing George Mason’s Arts Management program for my graduate studies. However, for someone, like me, who has been out in the workforce for a few years before deciding to go back to school for a master’s degree, finding the right internship can be a challenge. According to a 2015 study by Boston based Burning Glass Technologies, “For many college-educated Americans, an internship is the first step on the career ladder,” and “most internships are still aimed at undergraduates.” As many internships now serve as organizations’ entry level positions, those with work experience may be challenged to discover internships that are not introductory in the experiences they offer. In talking with my fellow students I know that this is an issue many of them have come up against as well. I sought specialized arts management experience, rather than general knowledge on how to succeed in an office environment.

With all of this in mind, I sat down for a meeting with the Artistic/Managing Director of 1st Stage Theater in Tysons Corner back in February. My background is in theater and I worked as a stage manager in Chicago before coming to Virginia to pursue my graduate education. Alex is actually connected to a group of colleagues from Chicago (never underestimate the power and geographic scope of the connections you make in your career). Alex was hired as the Artistic Director of the seven-year-old theater company in September and moved to the area just after I did in 2014. After about an hour of conversation with Alex about the theater, its mission, and his aspirations for the company, I was on board and accepted an Arts Administration Fellowship with 1st Stage.

My fellowship with 1st Stage spanned six months, and I can honestly say it was one of the most valuable experiences I have had as a developing arts manager. There are several reasons that the 1st Stage fellowship worked for me. First, Alex received his master’s degree after taking time to work professionally in the field. He understood what I would be looking for in a graduate level internship. Secondly, the company is relatively young, and they have been growing rapidly over the past seven years. I happened to become involved at a moment in the company’s development when my efforts could be fully utilized. Finally, 1st Stage needed someone who had professional experience, and this experience was essential to my success as a fellow.

In my six-months at 1st Stage, I was able to lead projects and take on tasks that would not likely be available in an introductory internship. Some of the responsibilities I assumed were: patron services management, facilities management, connectivity development, social media engagement, and email marketing advancement. Alex has been an incredible mentor, offering equal parts guidance and freedom as we crafted this fellowship together. He listened to what I wanted to get out of the experience and worked to ensure that my goals were met. He gave me individual time and energy that is essential to such a learning process. I have been honored to dedicate my time to 1st Stage, and I know that my work has been valued and necessary to the organization.

There are many opportunities to gain internship experience today, some more valuable than others, and organizations need interns as much as interns need the experience. My recommendation to incoming students would be to use your skills as guidelines to shape the internship that you want. Be clear about the goals you want for yourself when interviewing for an internship. Once in a position, don’t be afraid to ask questions or request to sit in on a meeting. Don’t hesitate because “you are just an intern.” If you feel that way, that internship probably isn’t the right fit for you.

10 Suggestions for Crafting Your Internship

1. Work your network! Never underestimate the power and geographic scope of the connections you make in your career.

2. Interview your supervisor and ASK QUESTIONS to determine: Will the internship be a good fit? Does the organization understand what you want to do? Will you benefit equally from the intern relationship?

3. Define your learning goals explicitly. Make sure you are on the same page with your supervisor and other key players in the organization about what you want to get out of your time as an intern.
4. Be confident. As an intern, it can be difficult to feel confident enough to share opinions. However, as a mid-career professional you have plenty to offer, so speak up!

5. Take initiative (related to #4). Once you and your supervisor have established that your work experience can contribute, don’t be afraid to speak up, offer your thoughts, or take the reigns on a project, as it feels appropriate in your situation.

6. Demonstrate your prowess. You’ve talked yourself up as someone who knows how to function and excel in a professional environment, now make sure you show them you’re telling the truth!

7. Ask for help. You are still learning, that’s why you’re an intern, so make sure you ask questions when you need insight or want clarification.

8. Ask about employment. If you are looking to turn your internship into a full-time job, inquire about the organization’s history of hiring interns during your initial conversations.

9. Get to know other people in the organization. As an intern, your tasks (or even your location in the office) may be such that you don’t interact much with other people in the office. Take time to get to know others. Expand your network and contribute to the positive office culture.

10. Have fun! You might not be making much (or any) money for your time as an intern and this can be kind of a drag, but stay positive, rely on your love for your craft, and take joy from your work. It matters.

Emily Wall earned her B.A. in Theatre Directing and Management from the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln. She will graduate from George Mason University’s Arts Management program in spring 2016.

Editor’s Note: Mason offices such as University Career Services and the Center for Global Education offer Mason students help finding internships. Check out their websites to find out more!

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