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” – 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” – Tylisha Villaruel

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What I wish I knew going into the master’s program for Public Health is such a long list. But the one thing that stands out to me is knowing how to handle course work because it was so much material that I needed to know and understand. The master’s program for Public Health was very hard, especially epidemiology. I say epidemiology because there’s a lot of research that you need to do in order for you to know the work.

Epidemiology was challenging because the many diseases that you have heard throughout the years is something that you will get to know and read about once you were in the subject. For instance, the Black Plague was one of the killers in the 1920’s and 1930’s due to the fact of contaminated water, dust, Etc but there were no vaccinations. After doing more research on particular diseases out here, I have grown to appreciate subject matter as it comes along and in this particular case, I truly appreciated the work epidemiologists do. Learning about them got me one step closer to my Masters Degree.

My Mantra:

“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again” – Sojourner Truth

“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

“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 

Preparing for the Graduate School Interview

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.

  • Be friendly and engaged

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.

  • Have confidence

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.