“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 🙂

It’s Personal: How to Write the Statement

Planning and writing the personal statement can be challenging. Even though it is the most general question, it is the most challenging. The challenge comes in creating a package which entails your passions, goals, experiences, skills, and uniqueness. It is also difficult to put all of this into just a page and a half, but it can be done. It is about telling the story of how you have used your passion for the subject you want to study and applied it to your different experiences. Imagine if there was nothing else in your application packet but this statement, what should the admission committee read to know that you deserve to be at their institution. Here are some general tips and advice on approaching the personal statement.

  • Be Personal
    • It’s about telling YOUR story. The only way to do that is to give unique details about your life. What pathway has influenced your passions and goals? Was it a childhood experience or special people in your life? When did you become interested in this topic?
  • Past Experience
    • What have you learned about this field or what experiences have you had? Have you done internships or summer programs that lead to the realization of the topic you wanted to study?
  • Leveraging Past Experience
    • What skills (technical and leadership) did you acquire? How did you overcome obstacles and challenges? What was your solution? What did you learn?
  • Toot Your Horn
    • Highlight some of your non-academic experiences and accomplishments that have helped you prepare for graduate school. Discuss your characteristics and discuss ways in which they make you a successful candidate.
  • Be Specific
    • What makes this program you are applying for special? Research the school and what makes the program unique. Is there a professor you have identified you would like to work with or a special program the school sponsors?
  • Begin Strong, End Strong
    • The first paragraph is the place you convince the admission committee why they should keep reading. The concluding paragraph is where you convince them that you deserve to be a student at the institution.
  • Be Concise, Be Correct
    • Remember that hundreds of applications are received during a cycle. Make sure your essay is within the word limit. You want to ensure a reviewer doesn’t see multiple pages and immediately gets discouraged.
    • Proofread – proofread – proofread. I have been guilty of this sometimes because re-reading can be tedious, but it is worth it. It is important that your grammar and spelling are correct.

Be honest and confident. You are one-of-a-kind so do not be afraid to share your experience! Continue reading