Before and throughout my first year, countless jokes were made (both by friends not at Oxford, and those who are) about how the words ’well-being’ and ‘Oxford’ just don’t go together. It’s easy to slip into this mindset, whether that’s due to the workload or due to the preconceived expectation of Oxford, and the tutors and staff are well aware of this. In one of my first classes, our tutor asked us if we felt like we didn’t belong. Most – if not all – of us nodded. She was struggling to grasp the name of this feeling, and we were all more than happy to tell her the phrase that has recently been thrown around so often: imposter syndrome.
It didn’t hit me when I first arrived. We were all too busy unpacking and trying to get to know the people around us whilst simultaneously following college guidelines, which was already a challenge and a half. But then classes, tutorials, seminars, and lectures started. Even having done the prep work, it felt like treading water – I was staying afloat, but not without effort. There was a fear of drowning in a sea of those better and more suited to be here than you.
Speaking of effort, our tutor made the point that we were the probably the ‘crème de la crème’ (one guess as to which subject I take) of our old schools, and therefore we weren’t used to being surrounded by like-minded students on a level playing field, and maybe we weren’t used to no longer being spoon-fed information. These are some potential reasons, but the imposter syndrome can creep up no matter who you are. She went on to tell us about an academic she knows who is an expert of his field and highly revered; just before he had to give a talk on the subject that he knows best, he was full of doubt and felt as if he knew nothing at all. Her wise words of wisdom were: the more we know and learn, the more we realise what we do not know, and therefore we plague ourselves with doubt, which we shouldn’t do. She also said, ‘You’ll all get 2:1s and Firsts anyway, so don’t worry about it!’, which was pretty nice, but her previous words did wonders for my baseless worrying and mental well-being. We did all get in here for a reason, and we do all deserve to be here. We should make the most of our time, instead of judging whether we should be at Oxford or not; that’s not our job to decide.
My advice would be to act as if you were in Among Us. Do your tasks and help one another, and you’ll beat the Imposter (Syndrome) whilst realising that you’re not alone in your intrusive thoughts. Enjoy the game while it lasts!
Illustration by Grace Kirman.