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

“What I wish I knew” – Indira Turney

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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

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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

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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 – KayLa Allen

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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

“What I wish I knew” – Felicia Wenah

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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

“What I wish I knew” – Sherrina Lofton

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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

“What I Wish I knew” – Symone Alexander

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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

Rediscovering Your Motivation

Sometimes for reasons unknown to us, we lose our motivation to continue the clock work grind that we have been doing day in and day out. When was the moment I realized I did not want to go into the lab or write another paper? I asked myself this question so many times, and there is going to be a time (if you have not already done so) that you ask yourself the same thing. All this means, is that you are human and some days are going to be harder to find the meaning of it all; more than the other days. Most times, we choose our research topics and questions based on key moments that take place in our lives or we form them based on our passion or a derivative of our passions. This does not mean that in some instances we would not rather learn or discover something else, even if just for a brief moment. When you eat, breathe and sleep the same topic, an underlying feeling of frustration develops, especially when it is not always smooth sailing. So how do we step back and regroup in order to prevent our frustration from evolving to disdain?

The first thing to ask yourself is why did you sign up for this program? At some point, there was a belief that the world can be changed by a novel idea or expanded knowledge. Something someone missed before that you have now uncovered. If that reason is not groundbreaking enough for you then think about the opportunity you have. You are in the minority. More clearly, you are in the very small percentage of folks who have taken the step to get an advanced degree.

Let’s be clear, yes you are doing this for yourself, but you are also doing this for the young black girl who has been observing your journey. You may not know who she is and she may be the most unlikely person you had in mind. But because of your courage, she is now hoping to become you when she grows up.

Never forget about your tribe your tribe will keep you going so let them. When you misstep, they are there to encourage and let you know that you got this. When you succeed in even the small things, they will be there to say they told you that you were magic! Just by their presence, you are going to realize, these people have been on the journey with you and you owe it to them to see it through.

Lastly, it may sound cliché and many of us are afraid to admit it. But God can do anything, and he will do it! I have a praying family and I am not ashamed to say that they prayed for me every single day. In the same breath the question of why am I feeling this way is asked, self-reflect and ask for the guidance and motivation that is needed. Ask for the extra push. It will be provided.