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” – 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 

Strategies for Executing Your Goals

Now that we have taken the time to think about the goals we plan to accomplish for the semester, how do we lay them out strategically to ensure they are successfully executed? The most important thing is laying out the path and steps needed to achieve each goal. Look at each goal and determine what needs to be done to get to the end point. This gives a comprehensive view of how tasks for each goal are going to be executed. This method also allows you to see what steps have dependencies and may require sub-tasks or sub-goals in order to move forward. Because your goals are time-boxed or have an achievement date, the outlined steps for each goal should also fall within the timeline, allotting enough time to get each task done. This is where those time management strategies come in to play (visit the post on ‘5 Tips for Time Management’). This may seem like a rigid method, but it still allows for some fluidity as tasks can be moved around; as long as there is an initial plan.

The approach is ideal in also helping to identify any goal blockers you may have. Goal blockers are situations or dependencies that you cannot work around in order to get closer to your goal. In other words, you have to get through that blocker to move ahead. This can be difficult sometimes, especially when it comes to depending on something or someone else to make it happen. But in laying out the plan, you can easily identify these blockers and therefore account for them when you are doing your steps. You may have to come up with an alternate step or allot more time for that particular task or even plan in a way where you can get started on another goal while you wait. Whatever you do, stand firm and do not remove any of your end goals from the plan until absolutely necessary. Readjusting the goals you have that are difficult to accomplish is a whole different ball game that we will touch on next week. Sometimes you have no choice but to alter the goal but when is the right time to do that? Stay tuned to find out.

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.

5 Tips for Time Management

One of my biggest challenge has always been managing my time well. I enjoying adding to my plate and volunteering for tasks till I realize that my plate is overflowing and everything is due at the same time. This leads to a stressful dash to get things completed with all-nighters and no sleep. Busy time comes in ebbs and flows, so how do we find a way to find that balance and manage while not feeling overwhelmed with deadlines looming over us? It’s all about planning, prioritizing and managing our time.

Step 1)

Begin with a high level view of everything you have upcoming. From exams to deliverables. What are the milestones and deadlines? Laying out tasks visually allow you to see not just when tasks are due but the time you have between them so you can better plan. If you put something on your radar for 5 weeks out, then you can start working backward on the steps you will have to take to achieve that task. How you visually lay it out is personal preference but I have found printing monthly calendars then taping them to my desk have worked great for me. If you are on the organized side then a planner will also work as an added plus. But the key to having a high level view is to ensure that a constant optical is maintained. A planner is always put away and unless it is opened and flipped through, you are not going to have that constant view. Having a printed view in places that you tend to be (office, bedroom), will give you a constant reminder.

Step 2)

Now that you have laid out the tasks, milestones and deadlines you need to track and create a short road-map for each of them. This is a hybrid road-map that can show you the steps you need to take to get an end goal accomplished. From researching, to writing a paper, to submittal, it is important to list the steps you need to take. From this list, you can then work your way backward from the end task to see when the steps need to be completed. This way, they are strategically placed on the calendar.  It will take some practice to arrive at the optimal road-map but this is a great start when it comes to time management.

Step 3)

Once you have worked your way backward, you are probably going to end up with multiple steps to do for different tasks on the same day or within days of each other. This is where you prioritize and plan, try to avoid placing heavy to-do’s on the same day. It is important to set feasible goals. If stuck to accomplish those tasks within the same sitting or week, then that means Step 2) is not yet optimum. But that is okay! This is where some prioritizing and mini-planning comes into play. Break up the bigger list items into smaller items. This ensures you are not too overwhelmed and trying to do one multi-hour item in one sitting. Which leads me to the next step. (Tip: Try not to have more than two big tasks in one planned sitting/day)

Step 4)

So you have highlighted everything you have to achieve on your visual calendar or board, made your hybrid roadmap/list of steps in getting there and strategically placed these steps on your visual to create a timeline, now, time-blocking. There is no point in doing all this pre-planning if you are still going try to jam everything in at once. This is where prioritizing from step 3) and having dedicated time blocks go hand in hand. When there are multiple steps to be completed in your queue, you can’t afford to only spend time on one thing that only serves a single end goal. It helps to come up with a plan where there is dedicated time spent on each. Just like studying, it is important to break up heavy to-do’s into shorter sittings. Of course some items will take longer to complete than others but this is where your priority and goal placement on the calendar come into play.

Step 5)

Be consistent and dedicated to your plan. The only way to improve time management is to be consistent with your planned flow. There will always be unexpected occurrences but with great structure, you can handle it. As you continue to manage month by month, you will find your rhythm and your style, what works for you and what doesn’t.

What other time management tools work for you?

Feel free to contact or comment for more discussion and tips!

 

It’s Personal: How to Write the Statement

Planning and writing the personal statement can be challenging. Even though it is the most general question, it is the most challenging. The challenge comes in creating a package which entails your passions, goals, experiences, skills, and uniqueness. It is also difficult to put all of this into just a page and a half, but it can be done. It is about telling the story of how you have used your passion for the subject you want to study and applied it to your different experiences. Imagine if there was nothing else in your application packet but this statement, what should the admission committee read to know that you deserve to be at their institution. Here are some general tips and advice on approaching the personal statement.

  • Be Personal
    • It’s about telling YOUR story. The only way to do that is to give unique details about your life. What pathway has influenced your passions and goals? Was it a childhood experience or special people in your life? When did you become interested in this topic?
  • Past Experience
    • What have you learned about this field or what experiences have you had? Have you done internships or summer programs that lead to the realization of the topic you wanted to study?
  • Leveraging Past Experience
    • What skills (technical and leadership) did you acquire? How did you overcome obstacles and challenges? What was your solution? What did you learn?
  • Toot Your Horn
    • Highlight some of your non-academic experiences and accomplishments that have helped you prepare for graduate school. Discuss your characteristics and discuss ways in which they make you a successful candidate.
  • Be Specific
    • What makes this program you are applying for special? Research the school and what makes the program unique. Is there a professor you have identified you would like to work with or a special program the school sponsors?
  • Begin Strong, End Strong
    • The first paragraph is the place you convince the admission committee why they should keep reading. The concluding paragraph is where you convince them that you deserve to be a student at the institution.
  • Be Concise, Be Correct
    • Remember that hundreds of applications are received during a cycle. Make sure your essay is within the word limit. You want to ensure a reviewer doesn’t see multiple pages and immediately gets discouraged.
    • Proofread – proofread – proofread. I have been guilty of this sometimes because re-reading can be tedious, but it is worth it. It is important that your grammar and spelling are correct.

Be honest and confident. You are one-of-a-kind so do not be afraid to share your experience! Continue reading