“What I wish I knew” – Indira Turney

Turney

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” – Ziara S.

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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 

Ziara S.

Masters of Arts in Education Degree candidate, May 2018

 

 

“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

8 Steps For Proper Self-Care & Stress-relief: Part II

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.

Appreciate

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! ”

Rest

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.

Enjoy

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.

8 Steps For Proper Self-Care & Stress-relief: Part I

Support

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.

Exercise

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.

Live 

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.

Food

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.