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Author Valerie Young tells graduate students to think big

Dr. Valerie Young gave a talk thursday evening in Koury Oral Health Sciences Building on Imposter Syndrome. On encouraging students to break out of their personal imposter experience, Dr. Young said "Everyone loses when bright people play small."
Dr. Valerie Young gave a talk thursday evening in Koury Oral Health Sciences Building on Imposter Syndrome. On encouraging students to break out of their personal imposter experience, Dr. Young said "Everyone loses when bright people play small."

Young has spent years studying what she calls the “impostor syndrome,” which she said makes people feel inadequate compared to their peers.

Graduate students, Ph.D. candidates and faculty members crowded into the Koury Oral Health Building’s Kirkland Auditorium to hear Young speak on the effect that going to a school like UNC has on students’ confidence.

“Academic culture in and of itself fuels self-doubt,” Young said.

Young said students often feel they don’t truly belong.

“If you think that you are just flying under the radar, undetected, what’s your biggest fear? Being discovered,” she said.

University Career Services worked alongside UNC Training Initiatives in Biomedical & Biological Sciences to bring Young to campus, TIBBS director Erin Hopper said.

“It’s something we had in mind for years, mostly because we knew many graduate students and postdocs have those feelings,” Hooper said.

Young said graduate students are understandably under a lot of stress.

“You’re supposed to be rocking the world, changing the world, conducting seminal research,” Young said. “That’s a lot of pressure.”

Marc Emerson, a second-year graduate epidemiology student said some of the behaviors Young mentioned resonated with him personally.

“I think my favorite part was just being able to label some of those things and knowing that there are other people that feel like me,” he said.

Desinia Miller, a student of toxicology who attended the event, said she recently felt insecure upon sending her doctoral proposal to be peer reviewed.

“I guess the criticism has been very hard,” Miller said. “I guess it’s like, ‘Am I really smart enough to combat the criticism they have?’”

Young told the audience the syndrome starts at childhood and develops further once people reach college.

“Kids get labeled young. One might be the funny one, the creative one, the athletic one, the bad one; then there’s the smart one,” she said. “If you didn’t get to be the smart one, you’re gonna spend the rest of your life trying to get their attention.”

The speaker said overcoming insecurities requires students to consciously normalize their feelings and reframe how they view failure and unconditional perserverance.

“What people want when I get to the cure part, is they want to feel differently. They don’t want to feel like impostors. But that’s not how change works,” Young said.

Miller agreed.

“You can go to all these talks, and you could read the books, but you have to do the work.”

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