Studying at Imperial is rewarding but it can also be challenging! It’s natural to have concerns or questions about your academic performance and it’s important that you seek support from trusted individuals when these things come up. This page looks at some of the common academic concerns you might face during your time here.

Struggling with imposter syndrome or perfectionism?

Contact the Counselling Service for confidential support. Get in touch with Counselling.

Want to learn more?

Listen to Dr Stuart Higgins' podcast on imposter syndrome in academia, Scientists not the Science.

Listen to the podcast now
Watch Elizabeth Cox's Ted-Ed video on combating imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome describes feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt that can leave people fearing that they will be exposed as a “fraud”. Imposter syndrome is not classified as an illness or disorder but is sometimes, although not always, associated with symptoms of depression, anxiety or low self-esteem. If you’re experiencing imposter syndrome you might be feeling:

  • That you’re not as good as your fellow classmates
  • Isolated in your place of work and/or study
  • That your successes have been down to luck rather than your ability
  • Nervous about sharing your thoughts or ideas

Imposter syndrome manifests itself differently in each person and it might apply to other aspects of your life outside of university. It’s important to try and identify situations where you perceive yourself to be an imposter in order to start challenging these assumptions. Some tips for overcoming imposter syndrome:

  • Talk to people – don’t be ashamed, you’ll probably find that you’re not alone in what you’re feeling and being honest can be really liberating
  • Try to separate feelings from fact – it’s important to understand that even if you feel inadequate, it doesn’t mean you are
  • Collect your positive experiences – if someone gives you a compliment, allow yourself to appreciate what is being said about you
  • Develop a new response to failure – try not to beat yourself up when you make a mistake, use it as an opportunity to learn and improve
  • Visualise success – try and picture yourself giving a successful presentation or receiving a high grade on an upcoming assignment
  • Reward yourself – try and break the cycle of dismissing validation and learn to congratulate yourself when you succeed


Perfectionism is often seen as a positive trait that increases your chances of success, but it can lead to self-defeating thoughts or behaviours that make it harder to achieve your goals. If you are attempting to achieve unattainable or unrealistic goals, it can have a negative effect on your mood and self-esteem.

Perfectionism traits

Some traits that are common to perfectionists are:

  • All-or-nothing – anything less than perfection is seen as a failure
  • Critical eye – rather than being proud of accomplishments, they tend to spot small mistakes and imperfections
  • Unrealistic standards – setting goals that are out of reach in an attempt to achieve perfection
  • Focus on results – focusing on goal means that sometimes the learning and progression is lost along the way
  • Discouraged by unmet goals – finding it more difficult to bounce back after not achieving the intended goal
  • Fear of failure – so much emphasis is placed on the end result that failure becomes a scary prospect
  • Procrastination – fear of failing can be paralysing and halt any productivity, leading to procrastination
  • Defensiveness – constructive criticism is received negatively
  • Low self-esteem – being very self-critical and discouraged by work can lead to feelings of isolation and low self-esteem

If you recognise some or all of these perfectionist tendencies in your work, we have some tips for tackling perfectionist behaviour:

  • Strive for excellence not perfection – if you strive for excellence, you’re more likely to develop broader skills instead of focussing solely on grades
  • Develop a growth mindset – many perfectionists will have what is known as a ‘fixed mindset’ where they tend to see failure as permanent. Conversely, someone with a ‘growth mindset’ will see failure as an opportunity to learn from mistakes and grow as an individual
  • Compare yourself to yourself, not others – by doing this you will be able to see how you’ve improved over time rather than comparing yourself to your peers
  • Set realistic goals within your abilities – much like not comparing yourself to others, set goals based on your achievements. This way you are more likely to reach your goals and be satisfied with your results
  • Remember to look at the bigger picture – if you spend a lot of time worrying about small things, it’s important to ask yourself; does this really matter? What’s the worst that could happen? Will this matter next week, next year, or in five years?

Studying with a disability

A disability is any long-term condition that has a substantial impact on your ability to study effectively. If you are disabled, or you have a long-term physical or mental health condition, our experienced Disability Advisors will work with you to develop a support plan that is flexible and tailored to you.

DAS part 1


Not sure if you have a disability, or whether your long-term physical or mental health condition entitles you to reasonable adjustments? You can make an appointment with one of our experienced Disability Advisors who can undertake an initial assessment. They can also advise you on what support is available to you and whether you qualify for reasonable adjustments.

Click here to find out more

DAS part 2


You can disclose a disability at any point during your studies at Imperial. To ensure reasonable adjustments can be made for you, we advise you to get in touch sooner rather than later. There are several ways you can make the College aware of a disability or long-term physical or mental health condition:

Your disclosure will be treated confidentially and only shared with the relevant members of staff who are directly involved with your personal student experience. Disclosing a disability does not mean you will be treated unfavourably or face discrimination. It enables us to provide you with the right support during your time here.

Reasonable adjustments

If you have disclosed a disability or long-term physical or mental health condition to the College, you should arrange an appointment with a Disability Adviser to discuss what support and reasonable adjustments you might need to allow you to fully engage with your studies.  This might include access to assistive technologies, mentoring support from an SpLD Tutor, accommodation close to College or additional exam arrangements such as a reader/scribe, extra time or rest breaks. 

An application for additional exam arrangements must be made by your Departmental Disability Officer.

Find out more, and make an appointment with a Disability Advisor.