Category: Academics

Do you belong here?

It’s a loaded question, and one I believe that many Columbia students encounter during their time here — commonly in the first or second year. The feeling that while your classmates are smart, talented, and generally have their lives together, you are dumb, untalented, and merely pretending that you are not falling apart.

This feeling, labeled Impostor Syndrome from its first characterization in 1978, is thought to be common in high-pressure cognitive environments — by some estimates affecting as high as 70% of the population in these environments. The psychologists who first discovered the phenomenon, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, described it as “a feeling of phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.”

While not recognized as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (more commonly known as the DSM), Impostor Syndrome can have real effects on the way people interact with the world, especially among college students in elite universities.

Terrified of being outed, the ‘impostor’ avoids taking on extra challenges, hesitates before  applying to high-level internships or fellowships, studies excessively to make up for their perceived cognitive deficit, or correspondingly, procrastinates out of fear that they’ll never finish it all.

When something bad happens, whether it be a below average grade, a failed audition, a rejected submission, or merely a fight with a friend, the ‘impostor’ does not see it as merely a small setback in an otherwise well-lived life. They see it as a confirmation of what they’ve known all along — that they do not belong at a school like Columbia, and that they are doomed to fail.

In particular, certain populations are more susceptible to Impostor Syndrome — for instance, those which have been underrepresented or disadvantaged. This group predominantly includes women, people of color, and first-generation students, and these identities can negatively impact student performance in a significant way.

When primed with their identities, each member of these groups did dramatically worse on tests of logic or mathematics, in some studies underperforming by 10-20% than those who were not reminded that they were “different.”

Why do so many high-achieving students ignore all evidence to the contrary and believe they are inferior? How can this belief so negatively impact their performance? While Impostor Syndrome has not yet been studied neuroscientifically, some clues from related fields of study can help shed some light on possible neural mechanisms underlying Impostor Syndrome.

One possible explanation comes from the perceived inadequacy causing an activation of stress-systems in the brain. As I have discussed before, when your brain is flooded with stress hormones the amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex, and the insula all light up. Activation in these brain regions is known to induce anxiety and fear, as well as a host of other deleterious effects on student health.

Correspondingly, induced stress can inactivate your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and inferior temporal cortex — reducing working memory load, the ability to form new memories, and the ability to recall stored knowledge. In effect, if you constantly believe that you are not good enough to succeed, your success might ironically decrease.

Far from just a cognitive nuisance, if Impostor Syndrome is left unchecked it can cause extreme risk-aversion and contribute to generalized anxiety disorder. So what can be done about it? Some evidence points to fact-exposure as a good treatment — remind yourself of all the times you have in fact succeeded.

When failures inevitably occur, take the time to analyze how much was truly your fault, and how much can be chalked up to bad luck. Perhaps most importantly, talk to the people you trust about the feelings of fraud you might be experiencing. Whether that is your parents, friends, or a therapist, talking through those fears and having them invalidated can often be cathartic in combating Impostor Syndrome.

In an environment of brilliant and hyper-competitive peers, it can be easy to compare your inner self to your classmates outer selves without stopping to think that the vast majority of your fellow students are struggling with the very same issue. And if nothing else, I can answer the question I asked at the beginning of this article for you — yes, you do belong at Columbia.

 

In a press release today, Columbia has announced outgoing Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will begin teaching as a Visiting Professor at SIPA starting next month.

The full press release can be found below:

Columbia University announced that outgoing Secretary of the Treasury Jacob “Jack” Lew would be joining its School of International and Public Affairs faculty as a visiting professor in February. He will lecture, teach graduate students, and work with faculty members at the school and across the University on the subjects of international economics, fiscal and trade policy, and a range of other public policy issues.

“As a school committed to the highest level of both academic scholarship and producing leaders in public policy and international relations, we are delighted to have someone with Secretary Lew’s unique government leadership experience join us,” said Dean Merit E. Janow, herself a former Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative who later served as one of the seven members of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Appellate Body. “At a time when we are all concerned with issues of global economic growth, trade and finance, our federal budget, tax system and the challenge of creating economic opportunity, Jack Lew brings insights borne of years of experience from the academy and the most senior decision making roles in the US and global economy.”

“Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs is central to the university’s mission of applying scholarly expertise and practical experience to understanding the world and addressing its problems,” said Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger. “Our university community is better able to serve that mission when we welcome leaders like Secretary Lew who possess deep first-hand knowledge about the workings of the U.S. government and international institutions. He will be an invaluable addition to our faculty, and an asset for our students who will benefit greatly from all that he has to teach them.”

“SIPA is at the forefront of tackling critical policy challenges facing the global community. I am delighted to have the opportunity to share my experience with talented young people who aspire to engage in the world of public policy and international affairs. I am impressed with the strength of Columbia’s faculty, students and thought leadership and look forward to making a contribution to the education of a new generation of leaders,” said Jacob J. Lew.

Secretary Lew has led the Treasury Department since 2013. He took office as the U.S. economy was struggling to regain its footing after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. He helped lead the U.S. economy to its current foundation of economic growth and declining unemployment.

Prior to serving as Treasury Secretary, Lew was White House Chief of Staff and Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a position he also held from 1998 to 2001. As White House Chief of Staff, Lew advised the President on issues from politics to policy. Before joining the Obama administration in 2009, initially as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, Lew served as a managing director and chief operating officer at Citigroup, and executive vice president and chief operating officer of New York University, where he was also a professor of public administration.

As OMB Director from 1998 to 2001, Lew led the Clinton Administration’s budget team and served as a member of the National Security Council. He was Special Assistant to the President from 1993 to 1994.

Lew began his career in Washington in 1973 as a legislative aide. From 1979 to 1987, he was a principal domestic policy advisor to House Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr.

A graduate of Harvard College and Georgetown University Law Center, Lew is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the National Academy of Social Insurance. His appointment will begin on February 1, 2017.

In an email sent to students earlier today, Provost John Coatsworth notified students and teaching assistants behind the University’s rationale in challenging the vote to decide whether Teaching Assistants should unionize that was overwhelmingly supported by eligible voters based on its results.

The full email can be found below:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

Last month, after an election to determine whether Columbia’s research and teaching assistants will be represented by the United Auto Workers, the University formally asked the National Labor Relations Board to examine whether certain actions by union representatives and Board agents responsible for supervising the election improperly affected the election outcome. I am writing to explain why we did so.

All of us have chosen to be part of this community because we value different viewpoints and believe that individual rights matter. Actions that could intimidate voters or create the impression of surveillance, such as installing a camera operated by union supporters just steps from the polling place in Earl Hall, are inconsistent with these basic values and violate NLRB election rules. In addition, the NLRB Regional Office’s reversal regarding the presentation of identification at the polls (first requiring, then encouraging, then ultimately not even allowing poll watchers to request IDs), not only created confusion but had the likely effect of allowing ineligible voters to vote, while forcing eligible voters to cast challenged ballots. Students arrived at Earl Hall only to be told that their names already had been checked off as having voted there.

If there were a means to protect voters’ rights and compliance with NLRB rules without filing objections with the NLRB, or, for that matter, if students troubled by these violations and others during the election were able to raise their concerns directly with the NLRB, we could have considered a different course. However, those alternatives do not exist: Under the National Labor Relations Act, our filing of objections is the sole available recourse for ensuring compliance with rules governing the election and to speak on behalf of student voters who have no independent voice in the process. The NLRB has responded to our filing by recognizing that the objections we raised, “if true, could have affected the outcome of the election and would, therefore, warrant setting aside the election.” The Board has scheduled a hearing in this matter later in the month.

I want to be clear that the University has taken this action mindful of concerns that extend beyond the outcome of last month’s election and the manner in which it was conducted. Our academic community may be operating within a new and very different framework for engaging with research and teaching assistants and for preparing them to have careers as scholars, the latter being one of our core functions as a university. That new framework would be governed by federal law and by the National Labor Relations Board.

In this setting, the prevailing rules must be scrupulously observed by all parties if we are to reach fair outcomes and effectively support all of our teaching and research assistants. As I said on many occasions before and after last month’s election, we will continue to strive so that Columbia remains a place where every student can achieve the highest levels of intellectual accomplishment and personal fulfillment. The actions taken by the University since the election should be understood as consistent with, and essential to that commitment.

Sincerely,

John H. Coatsworth

Provost

At 3PM today, Columbia’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions announced that it had received 4,086 Early Decision applications to Columbia College and The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. This marks a 16% percent increase over last year and the largest Early Decision applicant pool in Columbia’s history.

Decisions will be made available online for applications starting at 6PM EST today.

Congratulations to the incoming Class of 2021; the entire community is so excited to welcome you in the fall!

This post will be updated as more information becomes available.

Photo Courtesy of GWC-UAW Local 2110 Graduate Workers of Columbia

After counting ballots, the NLRB has revealed that Columbia’s Teaching Assistants and Researchers have overwhelmingly voted to unionize with 1, 602 in favor versus 623 against the union.

The news was first announced on GWC-UAW Local 2110 Graduate Workers of Columbia‘s Facebook page and can be found here.

With this vote, all Researchers and Teaching Assistants will be represented by the Union which will fight for higher wages and better support for this contingent of the University.

The fight for a union at Columbia has been on-going for the last two years as Columbia’s administration pushed back on recognizing a union to represent teaching assistants. In recent days, the University Provost as well as several department heads stirred controversy by sending out emails that many viewed as anti-Unionization. Alongside these, the pro-Union group racked up a series of high-profile endorsements from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Congressman Jerry Nadler.