“What I Wish I knew” – Dr. Malika Grayson

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In honor of Black History Month, Black Girls Guide To Grad School will be featuring amazing women in graduate school who continue to create history by just their very presence. They will be featured in a “What I wish I knew” Series. As a prelude to the amazing story and thoughts that are to come, I thought I would share mine:

As only the second black woman to enter my PhD program, I already felt the pressure to succeed and I also learned that mistakes were not a luxury I could have. I wish I knew that I could ask for help earlier and that others were willing to help me without judgement. I wish I knew how to speak up with the realization that asking a question does not mean you are incompetent. Asking questions are necessary and it is important to be assertive and to make sure that you understand every aspect. Your education and your growth is the most important.

I wish I knew that being alone did not always mean that you had to be lonely. There are so many of us, women of color, who are the only ones or only a few. If we truly came together and supported each other, do you know how great our community could be? What an impact that would be.

My mantra: “All great achievements require time” – Maya Angelou 

Readjusting Goals despite Setbacks and Distractions


There are instances when we have well-planned goals with what seem like a full proof plan to execute them, yet still unexpected setbacks or distractions disrupt the execution of these goals. Setbacks are different from blockers. Blockers are situations that you must overcome or individuals you must work with to get to your goal. It is almost safe to say that you see blockers in your goal plan when you are laying out your pathway. A setback is an event that occurs unexpectedly. There is no plan for it but there is re-adjustment. It is important to readjust on a holistic level to see all the goals and how they may be affected. While one goal may experience a setback, another goal might also be affected by this and as a result a bird’s eye view is necessary. Therefore, take a step and do some light re-planning. Identify what goals need to be shifted or added and what pathways need to be updated.

Readjusting may require setting new goals with possible scaling especially if time is a factor. If time is a factor, one question that can be asked is, ‘What is the Minimum Valuable Product that can be produced from this goal?’ In other words, if planned to save $50 for a trip but only really need $30 for the ticket and $10 for local transport, it means that your minimum achievable goal (MAG) is $40. You should only think about reaching your MAG when there is belief that you are too constrained to achieve the goal you set. It should not be common practice, but this relieves unnecessary pressure and the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Remember this process of goal planning and execution is iterative, and keeping an open mind for adjustments and re-planning is important.

This concludes our 2018 January Series on ‘Goals’. Remember what the weekly highlights in January were:

  • Successful Goal Setting
  • Strategies for Executing Goals
  • Identifying blockers and working around them
  • Readjusting Goals despite Setbacks and Distractions

“See” you in February! Thank you for your views 🙂

Preparing for the Graduate School Interview

At times, many of us are fortunate enough to express our enthusiasm for a school not just through the paper application process, but a face to face interview. As daunting as it sounds, this is a great opportunity and must be used to the full advantage. This is an opportunity to show the admissions committee who you are and the impact you will have if given the chance to attend the institution. Yet, the entire process can still be very nerve-wrecking with tremendous pressure applied. Here are some tips to prepare you for the interview process:

  • Get to know the program to which you are applying
    • What makes this program special?
    • Why is this school the one you have always wanted to attend?

Even though these questions are common, they are also two of the most difficult because you never want your answer to sound cliche. Think outside the box about what makes the school and program unique. Have they invested in a certain type of research? Or maybe they offer a type of program that no other institution offers? The takeaway: Highlight uniqueness.

  • Ensure you are able to express what you are most passionate about when it comes to your future profession.

This is the big why question. Why are you doing this? What was the pivotal moment in your life when you realized this was the path you wanted to take? This is almost saying your personal statement out loud because as you highlight the points in your journey that helped you make your decision, you are going to highlight your experiences as well.

  • Take a note of who is going be interviewing you. Is it a dean? Your potential advisor? other graduate students? This can help you prepare for who you are going to encounter and what types of questions you can not only expect but also ask.

As you schedule your interviews, feel free to ask about your interview committee. This will give you a sense before-hand of attendees.

  • Be friendly and engaged

This is the time for your personality to shine.  Be relaxed and be yourself. Your resume and your application speaks for itself. Let this be just the icing on the cake.  When you take the pressure off, it will be an enjoyable encounter.

  • Ask questions about the school and the program

Remember, they are also being interviewed by you as much as you are being interviewed by them. Ask the questions you need to know the answers to in order to ensure that this school is the right fit for you.

  • Have confidence

The program wants you. If they did not, they would not take the time to have you visit them for a face-to-face interview. Think about this when you need a self-confidence boost.

Remember, you have made it this far and this is nothing more than you showing them the awesome and brilliant person they already know you are.  You got this!

For further interview guidance and one on one mentorship, please feel free to reach out to me.

Strategies for Executing Your Goals

Now that we have taken the time to think about the goals we plan to accomplish for the semester, how do we lay them out strategically to ensure they are successfully executed? The most important thing is laying out the path and steps needed to achieve each goal. Look at each goal and determine what needs to be done to get to the end point. This gives a comprehensive view of how tasks for each goal are going to be executed. This method also allows you to see what steps have dependencies and may require sub-tasks or sub-goals in order to move forward. Because your goals are time-boxed or have an achievement date, the outlined steps for each goal should also fall within the timeline, allotting enough time to get each task done. This is where those time management strategies come in to play (visit the post on ‘5 Tips for Time Management’). This may seem like a rigid method, but it still allows for some fluidity as tasks can be moved around; as long as there is an initial plan.

The approach is ideal in also helping to identify any goal blockers you may have. Goal blockers are situations or dependencies that you cannot work around in order to get closer to your goal. In other words, you have to get through that blocker to move ahead. This can be difficult sometimes, especially when it comes to depending on something or someone else to make it happen. But in laying out the plan, you can easily identify these blockers and therefore account for them when you are doing your steps. You may have to come up with an alternate step or allot more time for that particular task or even plan in a way where you can get started on another goal while you wait. Whatever you do, stand firm and do not remove any of your end goals from the plan until absolutely necessary. Readjusting the goals you have that are difficult to accomplish is a whole different ball game that we will touch on next week. Sometimes you have no choice but to alter the goal but when is the right time to do that? Stay tuned to find out.

Successful Goal Setting

So at the end of every semester, we all say, “I need to set my goals for the new semester”. But how do we determine our goals for the semester? What is the strategy? Here are a few tips to helping you set your goals successfully. First, determine what major milestones are going to happen during the upcoming semester. For example, maybe there is the qualifying exam or a proposal due. These are major events that cannot be changed or shifted, therefore you need to set goals to help prepare you for these major events. The goals you set should be focused, achievable and realistic. It should also relate to the bigger picture. What do we mean by the bigger picture? Think of your semester and the things you would like to achieve holistically. In other words, use a systems thinking approach to goal setting. Using a systems thinking mindset allows you to look at your semester wholly and recognize what aspects of the semester depend on each other. It also leads to creativity as you are better able to think outside of the box when you have all the pieces in play.

Once you have the holistic view, you can determine what direction needs to be taken and set specific goals to take you there. The goals should be focused and the outcomes should be clear. The focused goals should also be achievable and realistic. If there is an obvious impediment that is going to prevent you from achieving that goal then the goal is not achievable. Hopes and maybes should never be included in the goals you set. For example: “This semester I will be published in a journal” vs “This semester I will submit to a journal”. The first goal is uncertain because being published depends on reviewer approval but the second goal depends mostly on you and therefore you can take steps (we will talk about strategies for execution next week) to achieve that goal. Although the both goals begin with “This semester”, making them are technically time boxed, drilling down to a more specific date (month) helps set a cadence: “I will submit to a journal by April of this semester”.

Now it’s time to visualize! The best way to visualize your goals is to write them down in a place you will be seeing them regularly as a constant reminder. First we see then we DO. This means that your last goal you should add to your list is “STICK TO GOALS!” The only way to meet a goal successfully is by being consistent.

Next week’s topic will focus on strategies for goal execution and will help with consistency.