You will learn many things by word of mouth – learn to connect with experienced colleagues.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 😉.
- 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!”
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
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.