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”
I wish I knew that no matter what I could overcome every struggle that came my way, from the beginning. I faced adversity, discrimination, abuse, and depression all at once for years, and I struggled deeply until I realized that everything that I needed was already inside of me. No matter what you deal with, it is not the end-all-be-all. You can move beyond your circumstances.
I wish I knew that there are people out there who are great mentors and advisors, who are the great counsel that God said He would send forth. I kept finding myself following my heart instead of my mind and spirit. I thought I knew what I wanted and it took what I perceived as failure before I was able to see that I needed to use the gifts and talents that God gave me. I needed to take those exact qualities and values and build a brand and career for myself that incorporated my passion for global health, helping others, epidemiology and psychology.
Lastly, I wish I knew that there were so many scholarship and grant opportunities out there. I did not grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth, nor did I live in the suburbs. I grew up in a 1 bedroom apartment with my single mother; it was tough. The counselors/advisors at my high school were not exactly helpful, so at first I did struggle in college. After a year, I learned the power that I had right at my fingertips. Use the internet to search for scholarships that are specific to you and your ambitions. Join organizations that are related to your career goals and make connections. You do have the power, do not be afraid to ask for help! The only questions that are stupid are the ones that you do not ask.
Now, my journey in college is not over, but I am proud to say that I am a 4.0 GPA Master’s Candidate in a great Public Health Program; next year I will begin my doctoral program and study Epidemiology.
Your education is power, use your knowledge as pearls of wisdom and never stop reaching for higher levels.
Her Mantra: “Whatever you want to do, if you want to be great at it, you have to love it and be able to make sacrifices for it.” -Maya Angelou
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
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
Choose & Control
Sometimes we cannot choose the situations that inflict stress such as the classes we take or setbacks in research. However, there are other times we overload ourselves with so many activities that we forget we have the choice to control what we take on. Do not over-commit. While it is good to be involved in other activities for stress-relief, without knowing the limits of what we can do, that can sometimes add to our already full plate. Instead of prioritizing in terms of importance, prioritize based on the amount of time you can commit.
You have worked hard and continue to walk a long, sometimes lonely path. Self-care means showing yourself appreciation for all that you have accomplished. Getting the degree is not the accomplishment by itself, but waking up everyday and showing up to a place that may have brought you more misery than joy at times, that is the accomplishment. When you take the time for self-appreciation, you open the mind to the courageous you. The one who says, “I have made it this far, I am ready to take on tomorrow knowing that I can make it to the end! ”
We spoke about exercising and living together with having a healthy diet. But do not forget, all of this only works if you give your body enough time to rest. Recharging is necessary for your mind to reset. A fresh mind, tends to be sharper and more patient. It is very difficult to get enough sleep in graduate school but you must carve out time to get a good night’s rest, at least 2-3 times a week. Chose a day where you are going to do completely nothing for a few hours. Call it your Relax Saturday or Sunday.
As hard as graduate school is, you are going to have some of your best memories there. Enjoy the moments and take advantage of opportunities. Take advantage of free conference or program trips. Take advantage of the networking and mentorship relationships you form. Also, take the opportunity to meet others outside of your discipline and just enjoy and be elated in other people’s company.
So it’s that time of the semester and you are wondering, how are you going to have the time to read entire text books and prepare for exams? It’s all about finding your study style. It is easy for us to cram days before an exam so that we know what we need in order to get that passing grade. But what happens after the exam? Sometimes, you forget everything. It has certainly happened to me. I forgot everything because I did not take the time to understand the subject. I found that when I took the time to truly understand the topic, I was able to approach the exam with a different view.
In taking a high level approach to my notes, I asked myself some key questions to summarize what I was reading.
- What is the general idea of the topic? What is the objective?
- Basically if I could right a synopsis in one line, what would it be.
- What are the key aspects? Pros, cons and key points
- This provides more detail such as key findings.
- What was discovered? What does it all mean?
- What conclusions have been drawn or can be drawn
Whether you are a visual or auditory learner or learn better by doing, here are a few other tips to consider:
- Stay abreast of current lectures
- At the end of the day, take a few minutes just to review day’s lectures. If there is something you do not understand, your review will help identify it.
- In the midst of frustration, take step back
- Sometimes you may feel as if you are hitting a wall with a topic, this is when it is important to speak up and ask questions. Talk to your professor or teaching assistant for guidance on how to approach parts of a review that may be challenging.
- Host a study group
- This is a great way to spend time with your friends. Meet in the library or coffee shop and make this a recurring meeting.
- Form a homework group with you classmates. Sometimes everybody may not know the answer for everything but often times, enough of you know the answer for some things.
- Avoid lengthy notes
- Be brief and precise.
- Use flash cards (highlight 3 main points)
- Learning by doing
- Sometimes it helps to have a little practice. Try answering the questions at the end of a chapter or in a practice exam.
- Length of study time
- Avoid studying multiple hours at once. Take a short break after about an hour to help your mind reset. You don’t want to burn yourself out before the real race even begins.
When it comes to preparing and studying for exams, you have to listen to you body and your mind. Be mindful of your saturation point and limits. Most importantly, don’t forget to study F.A.S.T.
- Focus on the key points and takeaways
- Alternate where you study
- Surround yourself with people who you can not only ask for help, but uplift you
- Timing is important. Take time for rest and self-care.
What methods do you use to study?