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5th December 2016

Men more likely to suffer from academic ‘imposter syndrome’ than women

A recent study by the University of Houston shows that male academics are more likely to suffer from work-related anxiety, depression, and ‘Imposter Syndrome’ than their female counterparts
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Times Higher Education recently ran an article about Imposter-Syndrome and anxiety among academics. They cited a recent study from the University of Houston which found that male academics were more likely to suffer from work-related anxiety and so called ‘Imposter-Syndrome’ than their female colleagues.

Imposter syndrome is when a person feels unable to cope with the position in which they’ve found themselves, like they shouldn’t be there, and are afraid of being exposed as a fraud. The study didn’t have a very large sample size — it involved sixteen academics across a range of levels of responsibility — but it could indicate a larger trend.

Through a series of interviews, academics were asked about the trigger factors that bring about feelings of Imposter Syndrome, leading to stress and anxiety in the workplace and the kinds of coping mechanisms that they employ. The main cause of these negative feelings was having their expertise questioned by either students or colleagues. Female academics were generally found to adopt a more open approach and rely on techniques such as social support to understand and deal with feelings of Imposter Syndrome. On the other hand, male academics were much more likely to use avoidance tactics and instead cope through “alcohol or other substance abuse, working harder or just not addressing their imposter thoughts.”

The study concluded that given the reluctance among men to use active coping mechanisms, they were more likely to suffer as a result of these unresolved feelings. Participants in the study suggested that academics could deal with these negative feelings better if universities offered mentoring and discussion groups to normalise the feelings and clarify the means by which academic performance is evaluated.

Today, there is more awareness and understanding of men’s health issues than in previous decades. Campaigns such as the Movember Foundation are making a big difference by both raising money and opening up discussion. The Foundation raised £6.8 million in 2015 in the UK alone, which goes towards research and support for both physical and mental health. Also around Manchester city centre you are likely to come across a number of CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) posters, which is another major organisation helping to deal with mental health issues among men.

At the University of Manchester, Izzy Gurbuz is the Well-being Officer on the Executive Team based in the Students’ Union. There are general well-being, advice, and counselling services based at the university. But there are also less formal sounding options as well. Over the summer, Izzy helped students to set up the Open Mind Network which is a student society centring around mental health and well-being.

She said that it’s “another avenue that people might feel more comfortable with, to be able to go to for peer to peer discussions.” The Open Mind Network was involved in events on World Mental Health Day and they’re very keen on raising awareness. Co-founder Sakib Moghal was quoted in the Mancunion back in October saying: “Our two goals are to support those students dealing with mental health issues and to educate all students on keeping a healthy and happy lifestyle.”

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