What I wish I knew prior to beginning this journey is that self-care and positive mental health are incredibly important to have a grasp on prior to embarking upon a journey that will literally test everything you know about yourself and those important to you. Pursuing a degree of higher learning truly requires genuine self-reflection and much understanding of who you are and what you’re made of. For me, that journey required a deep and intimate inspection of my passion(s), my goals, my family relationships, and my personal relationships. I needed to understand choices that I made, decisions that were apart of cycles of learned behavior, and how to overcome and forgive myself and others for the things that truly held a lot of weight on who I was as a woman. I also had to align my newfound understandings with my What, Why, and How to make sure that I sought clarity and spiritual guidance that was consistent; and that all of it made as much sense as it could.
Life isn’t perfect, and it certainly is not easy. However, sometimes we must examine the rolls we play in where we are in life and constantly engage in self-care and self-reflection to become a version of ourselves that is stronger than our strongest excuse. As a Black woman, I understand the strength that I am made of. However, as Black women, we also must know when to protect that strength and focus on nurturing ourselves before other people. Embarking on this journey of self-care and positive mental health opened my mind to abilities that I either knew I possessed but initially had trouble tapping into or abilities that I didn’t even know I possessed. This made me a better student and person, and opened my life up to new, positive experiences. It’s scary to confront things and people that have been a significant part of your “routine” or thought processes for so many years – or for your entire life. Ultimately, I made the decision to be fearless in the pursuit of what I needed to do for my soul – for my future self. I remember always seeing quotes on social media about walking confidently in the direction of your dreams, and that is exactly what life, and grad school, are all about.
Her Mantra: “You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” ― Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
Juris Doctorate Candidate
Everything I know now! This might be the atypical response, but when I was a teen an elder had this saying, “If you live long enough.” I didn’t get it then, but I most certainly do now. Grad school has taught me about life in general. Most lessons that I’ve picked up on my journey #TheRoadToDrPh have nothing to do with school. I can’t even articulate it in a way that gives this journey the justice that it deserves. All I can say is “self-awareness” and “If you live long enough.” What I know now wasn’t necessarily “taught” to me. I had to come into my own understanding. Hopefully, that resonates with someone; even if it doesn’t make sense now, it will when it’s time.
Her Mantra – “Don’t let the PROCESS punk you out of the PROGRESS ” – Unknown
Morgan State University
DrPH in Epidemiology, Infectious Diseases
As a current Doctor of physiotherapy student, I entered this profession due to my love for physical medicine and assisting patients to alleviate pain and improve their mobility. I still have that main mission and driving force in mind in addition to showing others that they can pursue a profession/passion even if they don’t noticed others that look like them within that profession and the importance of enjoying the journey. My profession currently consists of the majority being women and then within that subcategory a small percentage of women are of African descent. There are numerous reasons that one can suggest why this is an occurrence. For me, instead of solely focusing the “why” I focused on the “how”. How can I expose others of diverse backgrounds to my profession if it is of interest to them. I didn’t want to wait until after I graduated to help with this cause, so as a current doctor of physiotherapy student I spend some of my time mentoring and sharing advice to others of diverse backgrounds that may be interested in the field of physiotherapy.
In my young adulthood, I have realized that one’s exposure can have powerful effect on their state of mind and the possibilities they see for their future. Another thing that I share with others is to not worry about the destination. Yes, those that came before us in our profession that paved the way may have thought about the destination. But, I am sure they took time to honor their journey with the moments of victory and achievements they received. I wish that I knew that even though I may not see a diverse representation of those in my profession doesn’t mean that it will always be that way. I also wish that I knew to just honor the current journey that I am experiencing and not to focus solely on the destination. School will go by quickly, (even though it may not seem like it) so being present in the moment and enjoying the journey is a necessity.
Her mantra: “They journey of a thousand steps, starts with one” …so get going.
Felicia Wenah, Doctor of Physiotherapy Candidate
University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences
As a former Division 1 student athlete, I had trouble with identifying my next steps, so I understand how challenging that time and process can be. Before starting my graduate career, I had not really given much thought to pursuing a master’s degree, let alone a doctorate. I wish I had known that it was ok to take the necessary time to fully research and understand all of the PhD programs that were available to me. I did some research based on my understanding as a career counselor, but it wasn’t until a year or two into my PhD that I realized the program I had entered into, was not the right fit for me. Had my pre-doctoral research been more thorough, I would have started in my current program (Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.) Although this little detour has extended my time to completion, I learned a lot through the process and am happy for the experience and knowledge I have gained thus far in pursuing my doctorate.
As my research centers around identifying ways to best assist collegiate student athletes in their transition out of college sports; now that I have gone through this process myself, I know better how to guide other students, especially student athletes, through the process of pursing an advanced degree. I think my matriculation experience adds some fruitful wisdom to share with others like myself who are first generation African American undergraduate or graduate students.
My Mantra: “Life is a journey filled with lessons and blessings.”
Sherrina Lofton, PhD Candidate
Florida State University
Higher Education: Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
I really wish I knew that pursuing an advanced degree would expose your character and commitment! It has been a challenge, not because I’m unintelligent, not because I am incompetent… but because I felt as though I was indebted to everyone who came before me, and that load was a heavy one to carry. Being “the one” in the family can lead to imposter syndrome, unrealistic expectations and unnecessary stress. But this process has taught me more about myself than any other experience thus far.
Working a full time teaching position during the day and classes at night have taken a toll, but I have become intentional about, as Erykah Badu would say, “packing light”. I’ve learned to prioritize my expectations of myself over anyone else’s. I have included mental health checkpoints for myself to ensure I am well during demanding times, while also establishing boundaries and actually enjoying the journey to my end goal. I never want to be so focused on the finish line, that I do not celebrate those in between “wins” that occur during the journey. This has been a transformative experience, and I’m thankful for it all.
My Mantra: “I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.” -Tupac Shakur
Masters of Arts in Education Degree candidate, May 2018
What I wish I knew going into the master’s program for Public Health is such a long list. But the one thing that stands out to me is knowing how to handle course work because it was so much material that I needed to know and understand. The master’s program for Public Health was very hard, especially epidemiology. I say epidemiology because there’s a lot of research that you need to do in order for you to know the work.
Epidemiology was challenging because the many diseases that you have heard throughout the years is something that you will get to know and read about once you were in the subject. For instance, the Black Plague was one of the killers in the 1920’s and 1930’s due to the fact of contaminated water, dust, Etc but there were no vaccinations. After doing more research on particular diseases out here, I have grown to appreciate subject matter as it comes along and in this particular case, I truly appreciated the work epidemiologists do. Learning about them got me one step closer to my Masters Degree.
“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again” – Sojourner Truth
As a chemical engineer and polymer scientist, I was blessed to have an amazing graduate advisor who is also a black woman and has been extremely successful in her career. However, I was always afraid I would mess up or disappoint everyone who believed in me. I wish I knew that it was okay to not have all the answers and to be vulnerable with trusted mentors. Chances are they have had similar experiences and can offer great advice on how to move forward.
I also wish I knew that it is okay to say “no” or “not right now” to extra responsibility. As black women in the academy, we are often called upon to do more because we represent gender and racial minority groups. Looking back, saying no to unnecessary responsibility would have allowed me to put more energy into causes I am passionate about, and would have prevented some of the “burn outs” I experienced.
We have made so much progress and are knocking down racial, gender, and class barriers left and right! I’m so proud of and encouraged by all the brilliant black women I encounter in communities like Black Girls Guide to Grad School. I have hope that if we continue to connect with and support one another, there’s nothing we can’t do!
My Mantra: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” – Anaïs Nin
Symone Alexander, PhD Candidate
NSF Graduate Research Fellow
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
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.