The Imposter Syndrome as Related to Teaching Evaluations and Advising Relationships of University Faculty Members

By Brems, Christiane; Baldwin, Michael R. et al. | Journal of Higher Education, March-April 1994 | Go to article overview

The Imposter Syndrome as Related to Teaching Evaluations and Advising Relationships of University Faculty Members


Brems, Christiane, Baldwin, Michael R., Davis, Lisa, Namyniuk, Lorraine, Journal of Higher Education


Teaching excellence and good advising relationships have long been of concern t academicians, administrators, and students |for example, 5, 10~. In this regard numerous personality variables have been explored to assess whether they characterize better teachers. A concept that has emerged as particularly important in this respect is that of "faculty vitality." This trait, which has been shown to relate to good teaching and positive student-instructor relationships |cf. 1~, encompasses an instructor's willingness to challenge and engage students and herself or himself intellectually, to expand personal skills, to strive for effectiveness in numerous roles, and to contribute to student development |1~. Further, the vital instructor is enthusiastic, flexible, caring, dedicated, and vigorous |2~. Such a faculty member is also likely to enjoy student contact, a feature that has been shown to reduce studen burn-out (17~.

Vitality thus defined and related to teaching effectiveness appears to be closely tied to level of self-development |15~ and the absence of an imposter syndrome as defined by Clance |6~. "Imposter syndrome" refers to individuals' feelings of not being as capable or adequate as others perceive or evaluate the to be |6~. Common symptoms of the imposter phenomenon include feelings of phoniness |7~, self-doubt, and inability to take credit for one's accomplishments |12~. The literature has shown that such imposter feelings influence a person's self-esteem, professional goal-directedness, locus of control, mood, and relationships with others |for example, 3, 8, 11, 19~. Individuals with the imposter syndrome are often intelligent and high achievers |7, 12~, and hence some university faculty may show symptoms of the syndrome. Given the interpersonal impact of imposter feelings, their presence may affect how faculty interact with students; how available faculty make themselves to students for advising, supervision, and research activities; and how faculty ar rated by students on teaching effectiveness. Imposter feelings and faculty vitality as defined by Bardwick |2~ and Baldwin |1~ appear to be inversely related, suggesting that the presence of imposter feelings may be related to lo effectiveness of instructors |cf. 4~.

Symptoms of the imposter syndrome are also common to individuals whose self is not fully or healthily developed as defined by self-psychology |15~. Specifically, self-psychologists propose that a healthy adult is capable of realistic self-appraisal and has healthy, but realistic self-esteem. Furthermore, this person has a clear direction for her or his life, and has values and beliefs that guide her or his behavior and lend strength for supportive and guiding relationships with others. These two aspects of the self can be measured by the Superiority and Goal Instability Scale developed by Robbins and Patton |18~, and, as with imposter feelings, may be related to an instructor's teaching ability and advising effectiveness. Specifically, an instructor with realistic self-appraisal and clear professional goals and confidence may be more likely to make herself or himself available to students for mentoring and advising relationships |cf. 13~. This individual is likely to be perceived more positively by her or his students than an instructor who is unable to focus on courses taught and to direct her or his own professional life. Such a self-confident instructor is likely to reach her or his students emotionally and tends to be more skillful at teaching a given subject in a manner understandable to most students |cf. 4, 16~. In other words, instructors whose selves are well developed are vital and willing to be available for student contact, the two very features that have been identified as important t students' academic success.

This study explores the possible relationships among imposter feelings, level o self-development, advising relationships, and teaching evaluations. Faculty responded to the Imposter Phenomenon Questionnaire, the Goal Stability Scale, and a brief questionnaire about advising relationships with students. …

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