Book Review: The Palgrave Handbook of Imposter Syndrome in Higher Education, edited by Michelle Addison, Maddie Breeze, and Yvette Taylor

Person sitting down holding piece of red paper in front of their face with an unhappy expression

IN Palgrave’s Handbook of Imposter Syndrome in Higher Educationeditors Michelle Addison, Maddy Breeze And Yvette Taylor bring participants together to reflect on the crisis of impostor syndrome in higher education. The book provides a fascinating insight into “imposterism” and offers useful context and advice to readers who wish to understand their own experiences. Chris Featherstone.

This blog post originally appeared in the LSE Review of Books. If you would like to contribute to the series, please contact the Editor-in-Chief at’s Handbook of Imposter Syndrome in Higher Education. Michelle Addison, Maddy Breeze and Yvette Taylor (editors). Palgrave. 2022.

Book cover of The Palgrave Handbook of Imposter Syndrome in Higher Education

Palgrave’s Handbook of Imposter Syndrome in Higher Education gives a brilliant insight into how people experience feelings of inclusion and exclusion in higher education. Editors Michelle Addison, Maddy Breeze, and Yvette Taylor have created a collection that brings together participants’ reflections, explorations of broader experience, and arguments contextualizing impostor syndrome through social explanations in an accessible volume.

The handbook begins with Breeze, Addison, and Taylor providing important context for the concept of impostor syndrome. The academy defines impostor syndrome as “a combination of feelings of inadequacy and inauthenticity”. The belief that one is imperfect and one’s performance is substandard goes hand in hand with the feeling that entry into and advancement in GO has not been earned, but rather secured by trickery, luck, or error on the part of the gatekeepers. They outline the trend in many Western discussions of the impostor syndrome towards this individualizing experience. The editors dispute this by placing the impostor syndrome in higher education structures and their social and political contexts. They provide a fascinating exploration of “imposterism” by discussing how the growing claim to a sense of exclusion can give the aspirant prestige and currency to include, the means to obtain resources, and “space” in the context of VO.

This important contextualization is followed by Helen Huertson and Faith Tisza’s cross-examination of impostor syndrome and how marginalized groups experience it. A wide range of research from various national contexts is presented, providing the reader with both a conceptual explanation of how the “imposter phenomenon” occurs in higher education and useful advice for those working in academia. The authors argue that the impostor syndrome may be related to the structure of higher education in the UK. The habits and culture of privileged students are expected and rewarded, leading to less privileged or first generation students feeling socially incompetent. Huertson and Tissa argue that people with impostor syndrome tend to belong to more marginalized groups with less power. They advise those of us in academia to question and challenge power culture “and resist the false narrative of a sufficiently integrated and equally accessible education system.”

Man seated holding a piece of red paper in front of his face with an unhappy expression

The handbook provides insight into the experiences of a number of groups involved in higher education. Addison and Nathan Stevens Griffin demonstrate the impact of impostor syndrome on the student experience, using in-depth interviews to inform their analysis. They argue that imposture acts as a metaphorical “canary in a coal mine” to illustrate the impact of other inequalities in higher education. Based on their interviews, they argue that students perceive impostor syndrome in an individualized way, separating it from a structural context.

In her chapter on performance reviews at UK higher education institutions and how they can cause impostor syndrome, Karen Lumsden talks about the experience of aspiring researchers. The chapter draws on the author’s auto-ethnography of the process of conducting the “Performance and Development Review”, talking about the “masculine culture” of self-promotion and the ongoing competition in which these reviews were conducted. Lumsden argues that universities give scientists a “double mind”: this separation between the university’s definition of a “good academic self” and one’s own understanding of the self can lead to impostor syndrome. The difference between the university understanding of a good scientist as a person who constantly improves and innovates, and one’s own self-esteem and personal values ​​is seen as a way to create a sense of inadequacy and unreliability. The experiences described and theorized in this chapter will be familiar to many in British higher education and will no doubt echo experiences in other contexts.

In perhaps the most unique final chapter I have ever read, Breeze, Addison, and Taylor reiterate their challenge to overarching trends in higher education discussions of impostor syndrome with their own take on the troubled Aunt’s Agony page. This is a methodology that is new to me, but reading the emails and responses to the problem pages served as an excellent introduction and thought-provoking description of the method and usefulness of this approach.

In these letters, the authors address a range of perspectives on imposture and the challenges that come with dealing with these feelings. This is a particularly accessible chapter in the book that will appeal to a wide range of readers and provides some insight into how structural imposture arguments can be countered. Presenting the various lines of argument for readers at all stages of their path to higher education is both a brilliant means of providing explanations and a practical tool.

The conclusion is insightful, interesting and useful for all those involved in higher education. However, the contributions can be combined to a greater extent by illustrating how they relate to each other in order to better understand the impact of impostor syndrome on academia. The methods presented could also be more varied. There are several autoethnographies here; although they are very interesting, a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches can help to generalize some of the findings. However, the Handbook provides a fascinating insight into the concept of impostor syndrome and how different groups in higher education are experiencing it, as well as practical advice for academic researchers and students.

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