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
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.
“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
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
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
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 🙂
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.
Part of self-care is knowing that in the hard moments, the right support system needs to be in your corner. It is important that you have supportive friends that are either surrounding you or in your network. These people should be dependable and should be people you can rely on when you are going through a challenging period. How do you find a support system? We will go into more detail in a later post, but all you need to ask yourself is, if you were to evaluate the people in your network, how many of them can you say would be in your support circle? Although there are many who may be located in your hometown or scattered across the world, you want to make sure that a dependable circle is formed at graduate school. Sometimes tears will come, and it is always great to have someone there to give you that hug and in-person pep talk you need.
You are probably asking yourself, when am I going to find time to exercise? Trust me, I know that after a long day, the last thing you want to do is go to the gym or do some type of physical activity. But, being physical helps with your mood and truly releases the stress of the day. It does not have to be a strenuous activity and it does not have to be gym only. It can be something as simple as a short hike or as involved as boxing. The key is to do it as regular as you can. Not only are you ensuring that you stay active and have healthy circulation (we tend to sit all day as graduate students), but you are allowing your mind to have a mental break. This is a time where you do not have to think about anything or the things you think of are irrelevant, which gives you that moment of a free mind.
You have chosen the graduate life of working hard and achieving some of the greatest accomplishments, but life is also about having the experiences. Remember to take time to truly live. Explore the area you in which you reside. Every place has a list of top 10 things to do, work your way through the list. Plan a trip with friends to somewhere you have always wanted to go. Try new hobbies such as cooking, painting, photography or volunteering. I enjoy volunteering because it puts things in perspective. We sometimes forget that the world and the problems around us are bigger and while we may be frustrated, someone else is in a worse position. Take time to enjoy the fact that you are blessed and this opportunity you have while stressful, is rare.
Feed your body the right type of fuel. What do I mean by the right type of fuel? Remember your body is the source of all your energy and knowledge. It’s like a rechargeable battery. You wouldn’t charge a battery with the wrong cord or put diesel in your only gasoline car, would you? It is the same as your body. Food affects your energy levels and your health. Although it was mentioned earlier that exercising is important, what is the point of exercising if you are treating your battery with the wrong fuel? We all love to indulge, but you want to make sure that when you indulge, you are also eating things that keep you 100% fueled and do not make you feel too tired and lethargic. Walk around with some fresh or dried fruits, nuts, carrots, crackers, and other light snacks to get you through the day. Also avoid eating large amounts of food at lunch that are going to affect your productivity in the afternoon.