I think I have a way to fix impostor syndrome. Rachael Cayley tells us that it is “a failure to internalize success”. I like that way of putting it. Obviously, the individual solution is to, well, internalize your successes. But how do we make that happen more generally in the student population, so that those who get good grades and, therefore, might go on to pursue advanced degrees, not only are in fact successful, but also feel entitled to the grants and the tenure we give them?
First, I think there should be more on-site written exams with a fixed time limit and no materials (no books, notes, phones, laptops, etc.) Don’t tell me that this tests an “irrelevant” skill, since in “real life” students will always have access to “the internet”. Don’t tell me it just demands memorization, not learning. What it demands is internalization of learning. Getting a good grade on such an exam requires not just that they have successfully understood the material, it requires that the students make that success, i.e., that understanding, their own, rather than feeling forever dependent on whatever source happened to teach it to them. When they then successfully “regurgitate” it, they show themselves that they really did appropriate the material.
Second, grade the students on a curve. Getting an A should not tell students that they have reached some arbitrary level of understanding as defined by an institution. It should tell them plainly that they are the smartest in their class. Graduating with straight As should not make you unsure of whether you can impress some future teacher or other authority. It should make you confident that you’re better able to impress such authorities than most others.
It’s that simple. The reason impostor syndrome has become, as Rachael put is, a general “academic condition” rather than a rare disorder is that we’ve stopped grading students on their abilities. If we started doing that again, this problem would go away in about a generation. But we’d also have a generation of horrifyingly competent young people. Maybe that fear is part of what’s holding us back?