Burnout, Self-Doubt and Impostor Syndrome

Sarah Arnold

There are many reasons why students decide to pursue an engineering degree. A passion for math and science, an interest in solving society’s problems, and strong job/financial opportunities tend to stand out as the most common incentives. You will essentially never hear an engineering student say they picked the program believing it would allow them to have a great and fun university experience. We bond over brutal midterm averages and joke about the urge to drop out - because it’s a lot easier to laugh about our situation than to sit down and truly think about how burnt-out and insufficient it makes us feel at times.

We know how fortunate we are to be able to pursue a higher education, especially in a safe and stable environment that provides so many opportunities - and we did choose the engineering pathway. However, the harsh truth is that trying to navigate a demanding program such as engineering, along with attempting to balance extracurriculars, work, a social life, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, frankly seems impossible to many of us.

Too often it feels as if the effort you put in, the work you do, and you yourself are just never enough. Sometimes you decide to put yourself first and set healthy boundaries with school, but then you see your GPA drop. Other times you may dedicate large chunks of time to a project or test, only for it to not go well in the end. Pursuing too many extracurriculars can be draining and take away from your focus on school - but too few feels as if you’re not branching out. Nothing ever feels like enough. It can send you into a spiral of self doubt. For those struggling with additional mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, bipolar, ADHD, PMDD, or other mood related diseases, the burden becomes even greater.

Being in a program with so many bright and talented peers is amazing and inspiring, but can also lead to brutal imposter syndrome. It’s easy to look at those around you and feel as if they have it all together or that they are achieving mountains more than you are - leading you to question if you are even smart enough for this program at all.

So how can we cope throughout this? Well, we were humans before we were any kind of student, and long before we were engineering students. Too often people in this faculty can forget that. It is important to remember that your body and mind are only as strong and prepared as the level you take care of yourself. Prioritize getting enough sleep, finding ways to exercise, and making sure you’re eating proper meals. Listen to yourself and the headspace you are in. If you are having an off day and know you won’t retain much, don’t force yourself to study. Set clear boundaries with school when you need to, allowing yourself to take time off with friends or family.

While battling imposter syndrome is hard, there is an ironic comfort in knowing that most of your peers are probably feeling the same way. The people that you look at and compare yourself to most likely question themselves in their own way. No one truly has everything together. For the most part, we are all just trying our best to manage everything thrown our way. Most importantly, please stay connected. Talk with your friends and family about how you’re feeling. Your peers especially can serve as a crucial community, as they know the type of stress and work you’re dealing with. In addition, students struggling with their mental health are encouraged to reach out to the Student Wellness Center at 905-525-9140 ext. 27700. While the program we’re in will give us these ups and downs, we stay here because we believe what comes after will be worth it. However, the importance of trying to improve the quality of our mental health now is crucial. So please, try to do your best to take care of yourself, and look out for your fellow engineers!