Imposter Syndrome in Students

Students often come into our classrooms feeling academically inadequate and fearful of being found out as imposters. They want to learn and are willing to work hard to do so, but worry about the assumptions they think professors make about them. This sense of being judged, or believing that others are noticing them more than is likely, is what social psychologists call the spotlight effect. Several strategies can be used to overcome students’ fear of self-conscious embarrassment:

  1. Communicate your understanding that introversion and shyness are not indicators of disinterest or disrespect.
  2. Warn students in advance that you are going to call on them, and follow through. Give them time to prepare both academically and emotionally. For example, ask certain students to prepare an answer to a question that will be posed in a later class session. Plan for all students to take turns doing so.
  3. Talk with students about the process of developing a professional or academic identity separate from their private self. Practice transparency by explicitly telling students that you are intentionally creating a safe, brave space for them to practice speaking up, sharing ideas, and taking risks.


  • Cox, R. D. (2009). The college fear factor: How students and professors misunderstand one another. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Kaufman, P., & Schipper, J. (2018). Teaching with compassion: An educator’s oath to teach from the heart. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Newkirk, T. (2018). Embarrassment: And the emotional underlife of learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Karen Huxtable-Jester, Ph.D.
Associate Director, Center for Teaching and Learning
University of Texas at Dallas