Imposter Syndrome

Astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell was recently awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. This recognition gave her $3 million and placed her in a pantheon with standouts like Stephen Hawking. The irony is that she made the discovery of pulsars in 1973, yet her PhD supervisor won a Nobel Prize for Burnell's discovery in 1974.

However, this is not about the struggles or lack of recognition for female scientists. Because of Burnell's imposter syndrome, she saw her admittance to Cambridge as a mistake. Still, she found a way to turn this mistake into a lifetime of achievements.

The imposter syndrome is a condition we see in both men and women. Many avoid presenting because they feel they aren't an expert, or smart enough, or don't deserve the recognition-- all fueled by an inaccurate state of reality.

Drive that nasty beast out of your head. Focus instead on what you want to achieve. See your doubts as unnecessary noise. Then, to change your internal narrative, remember your positive reviews. Burnell's discoveries were transformative, leading to a new understanding of the heavy elements in the universe. And even though early in her career she doubted her abilities, Burnell gave her award money to fund physics scholarships for other undeserving recipients. Be the change agent in the world.


  1. Hi there, thanks for the great article. I have a question for you. What kinds of people have imposter syndrome? My wife thinks that I might have it. Thanks in advance for your answer.

    • Deborah Shames says:

      Typically, the folks with imposter syndrome are very bright, but mentally believe they are putting one over on their audience. They work hard to know everything they can about a subject and yet never feel it’s enough. Then again, I’m not a psychologist. It might be useful to ask one.

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