PTA General Meeting Minutes 11-18-2014

Hunter PTA Meeting

November 18, 2014


Imposter Syndrome: Owning One’s Abilities (or not)


  • Rachel Christmas Derrick, Co Chair of Hunter Life
  • Margaret Chin Co Chair of Hunter Life
  • Dr. Virginia Valian, Hunter College Professor of Biopsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Dr. Elissa Brown, Director of Hunter College Gifted Center, Liaison to campus schools

The meeting opened with a series of videos of Hunter student voices reflecting on their experience with Imposter Syndrome.  Themes of the videos related to the pressure of grades and competing against students who are perceived to be academic stars; not measuring up to peers’ performance; a sense of inadequacy in an environment of very high standards; a sense of not fully belonging socially.

Panel Discussion

Each panelist introduced themselves and briefly discussed how their background and experience qualified them to discuss Imposter Syndrome. 

Rachel Christmas Derrick described how the Hunter Life Committee undertook a survey at the end of last academic year to better understand Imposter Syndrome at Hunter and understand how to better support and guide students.  The survey went to 1225 students in grades 7-12. Of the 99 kids who responded to the anonymous survey, the vast majority said they had experienced Imposter Syndrome, some saying they experienced it every day.  Only 15 of the 99 responded said they hadn’t experienced Imposter Syndrome.  The majority provided detailed accounts of their regular experiences with Imposter Syndrome. 

Dr. Elisa Brown described how the issue of Imposter Syndrome came up from faculty members.  Dr. Dr. Brown shared information about what researchers have concluded based on adolescents in gifted programs.  Studies found students had more positive social adjustment than average ability peers, and fewer negative; yet gifted children ages 11-18 report range of problems related to expectations from self, parents, and peers.  There are 5 categories of self reported issues:

  1. Ownership –talented adolescents both own and question the validity of the reality of the abilities they possess.  Kids simultaneously own and deny their abilities. 
  2. Dissonance – by admission, talented adolescents feel like perfectionists.  They experience dissonance between what is done and how well they expect it to be done.  They perceive the difference as greater than it is in reality. 
  3. Taking risks – while risk-taking is typical of adolescents, gifted teens are less likely to take chances than others because they understand the long range goal and then back map to what is needed to achieve that goal such as getting into an Ivy school.  For example a gifted student may take a slightly lower level math class in order to get an A, rather than taking the risk of taking the very hardest level and not achieving the highest grade.
  4. Premature identity – research indicates the adolescents feel the weight of expectations, pressuring them to develop an adult=like identity stage regarding their future career and education plans..
  5. Uneven cognitive social and emotional development.  Cognitively a student may be working at a level that is 4 or 5 years more advanced than chronological age but their emotional development is age appropriate.  Gifted kids feel this uneven development more than average ability adolescents. 

Dr. Valian reiterated that in science there is no such thing as Imposter Syndrome, but it can be a useful label or term to normalize students’ experiences.  She shared how researchers are conceptualizing ability.  For example, some people conceptualize ability as an entity that is not impacted by effort.  Students who have this perception are not resilient in the face of failure.  Another perception of ability is incrementalism – and seeing yourself as able to become more able through increased effort.  For students who test well and whose identity is wrapped up in testing well, the issue of ability becomes far too important.  Reassuring people that they are doing well is not a good solution.  It is far better is to understand the task, some strategies to be successful at that task, and whether you are prepared to undertake those strategies.  We need to teach kids that these skills are learnable, and they need to better understand what is needed to get better at something that is important to them.  For example, good advice from a parent would be “Find someone who knows about something you want to do well at and ask them to appraise your current level and what you can do to do it better. “ Parents and students need to think less about ability and more about effort to develop skills.  Kids who will achieve are the ones who know how to work hard and have other qualities to bring to the table.

Dr. Valian also discussed the gender aspect of this. Many studies show that males and females judge men as more competent than women in what are typically male type tasks such as math and science.  When women are successful at jobs we think of as male jobs, males and females see that person as not very likeable, so there is a cost to success to a woman.

PTA Budget

Officers of the PTA shared the PTA 2014-15 budget including expected income and expenditures.

The meeting closed.