Graduate Program: how to choose?

I have been asked this question so many times and some of us have had open debates on what is most important when it comes to choosing a graduate program. What is important to me is not going to necessarily be the same things that are important to you. But I would like to attempt to share some thoughts on what I now think I should have considered and why.

  1. Funding
  2. Advisor
  3. Program Rank (Accreditation)
  4. Location/Cost of Living
  5. Diversity

1)  Funding: This should be one of the top items considered when costing a program. A graduate program is rigorous without having to worry about where your tuition and stipend sources are going to come from. In any program you choose, ensure that you have at least the first year FULLY funded (without having to become a teaching assistant). This will allow you time to acclimate to your new environment. Finding funding is challenging but there are many untapped resources. As a woman and a minority, it is a proud moment and platform to display diverse excellence.

2) Advisor: Finding an advisor was the next important thing for me. Although in the program I chose you don’t choose a professor till  the end of your first semester, it was important for me to have the options and opportunity. Having options on which advisors are accepting students also means having possible funding options. The last thing you want to do is show up to a school with no advisor in mind.

3) Program Rank: This one I think is self explanatory but I will say that if you are able to chose a professor you can relate to and who understands your vision (which is not always the case), you can have a groundbreaking PhD. At the end of the day you can go to the number one school in your program but if you do not get the support that you need (Funding/Professor), your work will suffer. Any institution you attend, ensure that it is accredited. Also become familiar with their transfer policies in case anything should happen.

4) Location and Cost of Living: For me these two were equally important because I wanted to be in a place where I could get to my family if there was an emergency. Especially since I would be flying out of the country. It was important that the location was also affordable because student stipends are just that: A stipend. Just enough for you to get by per month but not too much to get comfortable where you feel the need to become a “professional” student.

5) School Diversity: Looking back now, ESPECIALLY as a black women, I feel as if I should have spent more time looking into this factor. This would have determined how small or large my support system would have been. If you have a strong support system in your undergraduate institution or home support system, you can use these relationships to give you strength. Honestly, wherever you go fora  tertiary education, as a minority you are going to be one of few. If not in your school then in your field. But do not let this define your experience.

Tell us, what were your most important considerations? Feel free to share items not on the list. Let’s help each other out!

xoxo

Understanding the ‘Why’…

These past few weeks I have been grappling with understanding the why. The ‘why’ in why certain things happen, the ‘why’ in situations or moments that may not seem clear, the ‘why’ in what made us make a decision. In reflecting on some of these thoughts, it reminded me of many moments in graduate school where I scratched my head or cried in frustration or disappointment.

During that period of your life as a student, you will be asking yourself about the ‘why’ more times than you think. For instance when you spend weeks on a research topic or experiment, only to realize the results are not what you expected, you will wonder why the universe made you waste your time. This is just one of the number of situations that we spend our time on, cursing the universe – whether it be a disagreement with our advisor, or the overwhelming feeling of having too much on our plate. So what do we do or what do we need to understand the ‘why’? Short answer: We shouldn’t try to understand.

Instead we should think about what’s next, the path forward. How do we course correct? We spend so much time focused on the wrong things that happen, that we forget sometimes that the worst aches and pains happens right before the end of the race. We have to remember that the negative instances are only temporary but it is all dependent on our outlook. It’s about telling ourselves, that it is just our Act 2, a temporary pit stop to a grand finale. I had to remind myself of that these past couple weeks as I kept trying to understand all the ‘whys’  from the unfortunate events happening.

Today I am reminding you, Act 2 may beat us down, but for Act 3, it will be a glory road to success. Don’t give up before Act 3 comes around!

xoxo

5 Summer Experiences Graduate Students Should Have

#1 – “Summer months can get hard. For my specific Masters Degree Program, our summers were filled with classes everyday. In NYC there’s plenty to do but even when the city became too much for me I made sure to take a break to surrounding cities. I visited D.C, Philly, and even Jersey. Sometimes with members of my cohort but most of the time alone. I made sure to take the bus so that I would have time to write and complete any assignments, and that was all the time I needed. Once I arrived to my destination, I made sure to take advantage of the happenings, food, and people of that city. So my advice is to travel during the summer, even if it’s just to a nearby city. In grad school, balance is a must. So during the summer, take a break and travel whenever you get a chance, even if it’s just a few hours away. “

 Cierra Selby 
Public Adminstration
 MPA, National Urban Fellow Class of 2017

#2 – “During the summer between my two years I decided to do an internship that allowed me to get course credit as well as some professional development. I choose this because it let me live in a new city and be able to explore, I am in St. Louis for the summer and enjoying it.
I would say for the summer in between make sure you relax and just take time to kick back and have fun if you aren’t taking classes because this is the last time time you will have something known as a “typical summer”. Live life go and visit things take yourself out on dates if you are single or dating.
If you are still taking classes just like me make sure that you get your work done but don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the outdoors, so that you aren’t always in school mode.
Extra Tips:
If you don’t have to get on a computer don’t for a day, go outside to the park or just take a nap.Enjoy a TV show, catch up with an old friend, go visit family.
Make sure you have fun especially if you don’t have that many responsibilities take advantage of your time now.”

Aliesha Nunnally 
Masters of Education
Student Affairs in Higher Education

#3 – “As a first generation and a Black grad student, I had no idea how to navigate the summer! Should I be taking classes, should I be working? What I did do early on, was join several professional organizations/associations in my industry. This was extremely beneficial in expanding my network of other professionals and getting me in contact with potential mentors. Not only was I able to stay abreast of current happenings in my industry, but I was able to have some fun by attending conferences and later apply those experiences to my studies. There are some academics that don’t take advantage of the value of staying closely connected to industry, set yourself apart!”

Sha’Mira Covington
Communications and Public Relations

#4 – ” Let’s face it, the year-round grad school grind can be both intense and isolating. While reading extensive research articles and producing a steady stream of writing assignments, it’s easy to lose sight of life’s bigger picture lying outside the ivy towers of academia. Studying or Volunteering Abroad can not only provide the perfect change of scenery, but also a great mental vacation, soul searching adventure, or opportunity to help those who are less fortunate than you. Most universities offer study abroad experiences that allow you to earn credit towards your degree while being immersed in a foreign culture. For example, this July I will be studying abroad /doing a service learning project in Costa Rica with other students from UGA’s College of Education. As a person passionate about community service, I felt this experience was perfect fit for me both socially and academically- especially because the 4 weeks of courses count towards an additional teaching certification. But the best part is– as a strong student coming from a diverse background, I was awarded a FULL scholarship covering the academic costs of the program; I only needed to buy my flight!! Once you enter the work force, your free time, flexibility, and disposable income will most likely decline. Take advantage of the free time you have and the resources your university might offer while you’re able to! Who says studying abroad has to end after your undergraduate experience?”

 Jessica Gibbs
Masters of Education                                                                                                                          Early Childhood

#5 – “During my first fall semester of grad school, I knew that I wanted to intern during the summer to gain more (industry) experience while helping me pay the bills! I looked heavily at different opportunities and decided to move across the country from Atlanta to San Diego to work in a group that tested unmanned systems. The initial weeks were pretty tough – I had moved out there by myself and there weren’t any other graduate interns that I knew of. I decided to be proactive and reach out to the young professionals who worked full-time at the company and get to know them. This was awesome because they gave me a better insight of what it was like to spend more than 2 months at the company and showed me around the San Diego area. I would recommend building relationships with the full-time employees even if it’s outside of your comfort zone – they will give you candid insights and help you get to explore the areas around you!”

Andrea Gutierrez
Masters of Science                                                                                                                Aerospace Engineering

Few extra gems to take with you:

  • Enjoy the people around you
  • Laugh as much as you can
  • Traveling is expensive but road trips are not 😉
  • Take advantage of the flexibility you get in graduate school

Is Mastering More Time A Thing?

I think one of the most popular (and probably worst) statements many of us have said at some point is “I wish I had more time!”

It is a never ending struggle that seems to follow us through out every point in our lives. Even now where my days are a bit more structured, post graduate school, it is still a struggle for me but doable. However, life is not as predictable in graduate school. Assignments arise, experiments go wary, classes are overwhelming, the list goes on. So how does one do it in graduate school? How does one “master” making more time? After all, time cannot be created….but it can be managed. Here are just two simple ideas that give the illusion of “making more time”.

First order of business (and my bad habit at times), procrastination needs to be left by the way side. 

Just like bad habits are hard to break, procrastination is hard to overcome. It is easy to put things off by a few minutes or a couple of hours. I have been guilty of  the “I will start in 30 minutes.” There is so much lost time when that approach is taken. Just think about how many times you procrastinate a day. If that time was added up, it may be several minutes or even hours.

Make Post-Its your new favorite thing.

I have no idea how I would have made it without these seemingly unimportant pieces of paper. In graduate school, you need to write everything down and lay it out in your line of sight. It helps to have a list of daily tasks that you split up into three categories:

  • Priority – These must get done.
  • Minimum Value – The minimum number of additional tasks you will complete.
  • It Would Be Nice – The group of tasks that would be great to get to but if you don’t, progress has not been lost because of it.

This may seem like overkill when it comes to executing your day, but when you have a visual list that you can pull from and discard on completion,  you will be surprised by how much more efficient you become. Efficiency leads to more time 🙂

Don’t overcommit.

24 hours in a day means so much can be accomplished right? Wrong! You cannot expect to truly make more time if you are committed to different activities and tasks that are going to leave you with no time. When commitments suffer, it means that there may be too many extra activities and you may need to remove from your plate. Again, look at your task list. If the stack is not feasible then that means it is not just about time, it is about the number of things you do.

So how does one make more time? By doing what you are supposed to do when you say you are going to do it, and sticking  to your task list.

What are other ideas have you tried?

“What I wish I knew” – Jasmine Dillon

DSC_0289-1

You will learn many things by word of mouth – learn to connect with experienced colleagues.

  1. For example, knowing where and how to get funding for your graduate program, which conferences to attend, how to conduct yourself at conferences, parsing through your hypotheses and perspectives, and learning to improve your oral and written communication can all be things you accomplish simply by having relationships with people in your department. Of course, since graduate school is a highly competitive and high-pressure environment, it is important to choose wisely.

As a species, we humans run our mouths a lot. Much of what comes out of them is bullshit, especially when you’re in a high pressure, competitive environment like graduate school.

  1. Learn to discern bullshit from the real and try to stop comparing yourself to the things they say. Learn to be self-motivated. Gauge your performance in graduate school by your individual benchmarks and your progress towards them. There will be times when you’re ahead and times when you’re behind, and that’s NORMAL. Develop a plan for getting to the finish line and always re-evaluate your progress and adjust accordingly to stay on track.

Make friends with people who reach out to mentor you.

  1. These are typically people who understand the process, know a lot more about the resources available to you, and see something in you that compels them to support you on your journey. Set your pride aside and be open to their feedback. These people are on your team. Ask for help with school, life, navigating difficult circumstances, etc. To this day, these people are still friends and mentors of mine who have helped me navigate new and tough situations in work and in life. I’ve learned that graduate school and life are a lot easier when you are able to set your pride aside and ask for help. Your mentors are typically ready and willing to give advice.

Life doesn’t begin after you graduate. Life is happening now and as far as we know, you only get one. What are the implications of this?

  1. You don’t have to wait for graduation to become the “you” that you want to be. Contrary to popular belief, you can be a good graduate student and have hobbies outside of graduate school. In fact, I’ve found that my work performance is improved when I partake in fulfilling hobbies outside of work. Most recently, this has been powerlifting and body building with a close friend of mine (shoutout to my SWOLEMate!) who is also “part of my tribe”, as Jessica Gibbs put it.
  2. That said, you don’t have to do everything NOW. Pick and choose carefully what you decide to involve yourself in. You only have so much time, energy, and focus. Choose wisely and take care of yourself.
  3. Be yourself. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very important to learn institutional norms to succeed in graduate school. That said, once you’ve learned to navigate these norms, I think that the academy is also a place for your individuality to flourish. It is your unique perspective and approach to problem solving that enables you to make novel contributions to your research area. A professor once told me that as I proceeded through my career, I would have insights and inclinations about the systems that I was studying. She told me to hold on to those and to let them guide my work. To accomplish this, I had to stop trying to conform and assimilate and at times let my freak flag fly – with well-thought out logical arguments and defenses, of course 😉.
  4. Live your life. Work hard. Rest hard. Repeat. Take that trip. Get that tattoo. Start that relationship. End that relationship. Always wanted to learn to play an instrument? Take lessons. Get fit? Learn to paint? Make music? Become a competitive slam poet? Pursue these hobbies. It will give you something to think about other than graduate school and can become an outlet for relieving stress.

Finally, life is about growth in my opinion. During graduate school, you have an opportunity for accelerated growth. Figure out how you work best and become your own manager. This will serve you well whether you continue in academia or go on to do something else.

My mantra: “[Insert some motivational quote that resonates with you here.] Hahaha. But seriously, just BE!”

“What I wish I knew” – Indira Turney

Turney

Grad school has been pivotal to the woman I am growing into. I am now at a place of peace, happiness, and continued growth. Here are my main take-homes:

Change is inevitable
Most of my most adult years to date have been spent in grad school. Our early adult years come with many major life changes and adding the stress of grad school created a lot of uncertainty in my life. I used to hate uncertainty, so when it became an everyday thing, it began to wear me down. I eventually realized that one thing that was certain in life was change. The end result is always for the best, so I have come to accept change and try to enjoy life’s moments instead of worrying about what comes next. It’s going to be great, right? So why worry? Don’t miss life’s amazing moments by worrying what’s next because there will always be another uncertain thing around the corner. Leave that up to God.

Consistent self-care is vital
Self-care (e.g., gym, sleep, quality time with family and friends etc.) was always the first to go when work became too much. However, within the last year I realized that once I put my self- care first and was consistent with it, it positively affected all aspects of my life. Make time for yourself and learn to say no to things that prevent you from doing so. I also realized that having a self-care accountability buddy helped me be more consistent, especially when it was someone who did some of my self-care activities with me (i.e. gym partner/swolemate).

A support system is crucial
Grad school is tough. In undergrad, you can get away with being a loner, but in grad school, if you want to be mentally stable, it’s important to have a selective group of friends that you can vent to (about personal and academic struggles), celebrate milestones, cry and learn life lessons. I have a small group of people I rely on for support. I must also say that having my dog, Buddy, has been a great support for my mental health. From a slightly different perspective, networking is also essential. This includes connecting with a mentor or life coach (someone independent of your academic advisor), which will make a world of difference. As I mentioned before, many important life decisions are made during this time and it’s helpful to have someone who’s already gone through it, help you navigate.

It takes more than intelligence
During undergrad, your intelligence is very valuable. In graduate school it’s important, but really you typically only know a whole lot about a very specific topic. Perseverance is more important here. It’s about being able to get back up when you didn’t get that award or publication or when that experiment doesn’t work. It’s about continuing the fight and not doubting your ability to succeed.

It’s a place of growth
Again, because of the battles you face in grad school, your morals and values will be
challenged, and your worldview will change. You will learn who you are and what you truly value in this life. It will break you down and build you back up, and in the process, you will learn valuable life lessons that make you a better version of yourself.

My Mantra: “Focus on the now; you are exactly where you’re supposed to be.”

“What I wish I knew” – Jessica Gibbs

Jessica G

There’s so much I wish I knew when embarking on this journey almost a year ago… The top 3 things I wish I knew were:

  1. The Importance of Being Gentle With Yourself

Pushing your boundaries and venturing into new territory is never easy, especially in graduate school. The path to academic success isn’t always the clear pavement road we envision; sometimes it’s smooth, in some places it’s bumpy, and occasionally you may make a wrong turn. Instead of doubting yourself and your abilities (imposter syndrome)– be gentle with yourself.

– Intentionally and routinely practice self-care.

-Stay connected to your source. (My source = Jesus)

– Give yourself grace and space to learn and grow as you go forward.

  1. Find Your Tribe

The Academy can be a lonely place, particularly for women of color.  Not only are you isolated from family and friends, but often we are one of a few, if not the only in our programs. I wish I knew earlier to regularly seek solace and emotional support from my tribe back home, and to branch outside of my program and build relationships with others I can relate to. During my first semester at UGA last summer, I participated in a focus group for a Graduate Student of Color mentoring program which was fully implemented last fall. Joining this group, finding mentors and sponsors in several black faculty members, and traveling abroad to Ghana with a group of phenomenal black graduate students allowed me to find the community I needed and could rely on during challenging times. Find your tribe and support each other fiercely.

  1. Trust the Process

Life is unfolding exactly as it is supposed to, and every experience is shaping you and positioning you for your next set of experiences. Let it…

My Mantra: “Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment” –Oprah

 

“What I wish I knew” – Brittani Halliburton

Brittani

As a young African American female professional, I wish I knew that I would learn tons of things I did not like to do before I learned or found anything I actually like to do.

In law school, we were taught to go out for internships at large firms or companies and make great impressions in hopes to be offered the opportunity to return the following year and so forth until you are ultimately offered a job after passing the bar. Hearing this constantly could easily sway you to believe that is the only way to become a successful attorney. When in fact that is not true at all, it is not the only way. But in the spirit of following the “rules”, I found myself applying for internships and working in certain areas of law because I thought those were the areas that I wanted to practice, and I thought I was doing what was right.

However,  I wish I knew I would learn things I don’t like before I ever learned anything I did like because I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself during the process of school, interning and entry-level jobs. I allowed the dislike for things I went through at internships and on jobs to negatively impact my confidence, and I allowed self-doubt to rise inside of me.

Had someone sat me down and simply explained that I would learn things I did not like before I found anything I did…it would have helped me to see that it was not that I was doing a bad job or that I wasn’t good at the work assigned but that it just wasn’t where my heart or interested lied.

I would have also looked for the silver lining more often. I would have worked to find things I could take from those internships and jobs instead of just beating myself up.

So as someone that has learned what I love by first learning what I disliked I encourage you to stand firm and hold your head up even if you are doing something you dislike. Don’t beat yourself up, thinking you aren’t good at the job or knock your self-confidence as a first resort. It’s possible that you are just learning what you dislike and that’s ok.

My Mantra: “First believe that you can and then accept that you will” 

“What I wish I knew” – Kirsten Williams

photo2

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

 

Kirsten Williams
Juris Doctorate Candidate

“What I wish I knew” – noa_the_little_scientist

noa

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