Hiatus Filler: `Impostor’ at Stanford


The “Impostor Syndrome” is something often brought up when talking about the pressure of grad school. talented students can feel overwhelmed and believe that, despite their merits, they’re not good enough to cut it in their PhD program.

An interesting piece of news about a different kind of `impostor syndrome’ recently made it to the California news-stream: an 18-year old girl has been apprehended at Stanford University for posing as a student an living in residence halls for eight months. Here’s the story from the Stanford Daily, whose headline yesterday was `Impostor caught.’ The girl apparently made up stories about not getting along with her roommate and convinced friends to let her stay in their dorm rooms. She bought books and studied for classes along with other students and apparently fit in quite well.

It appears that nobody was hurt and there was no threat to person or property, so I’m tempted to treat this as something to have a good laugh about. However, there are a few serious issues to be brought up. Foremost, campus security and residential education will have to reassess how this wasn’t caught for an entire academic year. The residential system is the most sesnsitive sector of the university, but during my time at the university there was a commonly-known squatter in the physics department who was unaffiliated with the university. Again, there was no overt threat to person or property, but I still thought it was a bit disconcerting.

A bit more subtle, however, is to address the motive for such an escapade. The Stanford Daily article suggests that the girl may have been under tremendous `pressure from overbearing parents’ to attend Stanford. I’ve had a few friends who were under similar duress from their parents in high school — it never really worked out and the kids ended up miserable. I know of one person from my high school who flew across the country to Harvard, pretending to be an admitted student, only so that she could go to the admissions office and beg them to reconsider her application. How could her parents let her do this?

Anyway, I’m not sure if there’s a lesson to be stated here. It’s patently absurd that someone could pretend to be a residential student for an entire academic year, though it does make for interesting discussion.


4 Responses to “Hiatus Filler: `Impostor’ at Stanford”

  1. 1 Jh

    Heh, well it works out sometimes – A friend of mine was going for the same course as myself & unfortunately he didn’t get in because he didn’t have the required points but he kept pestering the physics department & attended all the physics lectures for the year. Eventually they let him in just to shut him up!

    Moral of Story: Persistence pays off…

    …sometimes 🙂

  2. 2 micramm

    “commonly-known squatter in the physics department”, she’s still there…

  3. Here’s a commentary by Gregory Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Times:

    “The hustler in all of us: What the mixed reaction to the Stanford student impostor reveals about the American psyche.” 4 June 2007, Los Angeles Times.


    It includes the following paragraph:
    We Americans might be a sanctimonious bunch, but we also have a glimmer in our eyes. We may publicly embrace the Horatio Alger ethic of lifting ourselves up by our bootstraps through honest work, but we’re also secretly fond of our crafty cousins who climb their way to the top by successfully gaming the system. Although American culture has been fully professionalized and credentialized, we haven’t fully lost our lawless frontier spirit — particularly those of us in the West.

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