8 Useful Graduation Gifts for the (Almost) Ph.D. in Your Life

celebrate- hoorayIt’s spring semester ya’ll, and for me, that means graduation season is almost upon us. If you’re like me, “Omg,” “fml,” “I’m so behind,” etc. will be screams heard ’round the world (and certainly from me) as we draw closer and closer to defense dates and final submission deadlines for the graduate school.

As I think back on my life, I honestly cannot believe I’ve made it this far. I’m a Black woman who spent all of my Black girlhood with working-class parents, at public schools where 100% of students received free and reduced lunch lunches, and in neighborhoods where gang violence and murder were the norms. And yet, somehow (we know how but for the sake of dramatics rock with me), here I am, several years and a slightly safer neighborhood later, writing my dissertation.

I’m currently analyzing, recoding, and collapsing codes so I also want to stab my eyeballs out. But every few minutes, I pause and begin to think about graduation because the idea that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel alone is what is sustaining me. Tonight, one of my former grads and friend, Nacho, agreed to look over some of my writing. Nacho, like so many other people, has been instrumental in my continuing forward on this dissertation. And as Nacho agreed to help, I started to think about ways that others could use their talent and gifts as a graduation gift– things that would be useful and helpful for the Ph.D. candidate in your life like they’d be useful in mine. This led me to compile a list of eight things I’d love–with the number eight as my go to because eight years is the average time to degree completion for a Ph.D. student.

SO, here goes– 8 useful gifts for the Ph.D. (or Ed.D. or M.A. etc.) in your life:

  1. Professional editing: If you are great at writing (hey Nacho), consider gifting your time and talent. If not, pay for X amount of hours or pages for editing for a friend who is pressing toward graduation. Gift it early, prior to final deadlines,  so that students can use it before graduation. Trust me, it would help a lot.
  2. Gift Cards: Every Ph.D. student finishing up is going to want to sit and do NOTHING for a few weeks after they’re done. You can help them with this by sending them grocery store, restaurant, airline, etc. gift cards that they can redeem to help them relax a little more.
  3. Spa Certificates: Grad school is sckressful. The amount of tension we carry in our bodies from the stress of the process is always noticeable. A trip to the spa to help recalibrate could make a world of difference.
  4. Dissertation Binding/ Booking: When I finish, I’ll be taking a well earned break from looking at my dissertation. However, it’d be cool to be able to hold a well-bound physical copy of this thing called hell dissertation I survived. Gifting services for binding a copy (or two) could be extra special for the grad in your life. Note: Some institutions have printing services available. Check with the institution your friend attends for more information.
  5. giphy- you look mighty fine and dapperRegalia: Okay, so I pulled out the big gun here. UGA’s regalia is so darn expensive that I’m going to have to take on a fourth job to purchase it. Grab some friends and go in together to gift the grad in your life the NICE, top of the line, regalia (which, at my school, is almost $1,000, but still not as much as the most expensive regalia available). This would def take a load off and make graduation prep less stressful. Also– everytime they wear it, they’ll think of you. (If everyone from #CiteASista gave me 1.00 I could afford mine, just saying.)
  6. Diploma Frame: Despite how much schools get you on the way in with fees (GRE/ Applications/ etc.) and throughout your time enrolled with all sorts of miscellaneous fees (special $400/semester institution fee at UGA, I see you!), it doesn’t let up on the way out. Not only is the regalia ridiculous, but so are the diploma frames. Degree frames allow your gift to be on display, surrounding the paper that represents an achievement (…and the blood, sweat, tears, and sleep deprived days and nights) that your friend worked super hard for.
  7. giphy- martin workout sceneGym/ Fitness/ Personal Trainer Memberships: Okay folks– this is NOT the time to tell someone “you’re getting fat.” *Staring at you Black family members.* However, the average graduate student gains much more than the Freshman 15  we’ve all come to associate with college. In my case? I’m staring at a 45-pound weight gain since I started my degree. The good news? The weight can come off. The bad news? It’s probably going to cost me more financially than the degree itself (eugh!). So, a gym or fitness membership, to a grad you know well enough not to offend, would make an amazing gift. Or maybe I’m speaking for myself– buy ME some personal training. Added bonus? Meal prep to get them through the end of the semester. #GiftGoals.
  8. Graduation Outfit Shopping: Okay, so some of these are way too practical. Perhaps you’re the fun friend/ aunt/ uncle/ etc. Then the number eight is for you. Take your grad shopping. For most of us, defense and graduation are big days. For me–my Ph.D. graduation day matters more than any potential wedding day I might have. This is it– the moment I’ve worked so tremendously hard for. So like most Black folks, an exorbitant amount of thought will go into getting this outfit ready. If you want to get the fun gift, go with your grad shopping and purchase part of the graduation outfit. Perhaps you could even volunteer (with a limit) to purchase an outfit for their graduation pictures. Either way, Black folks love to get dressed up and there’s no better moment to help your grad strut their stuff than this.Edi

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*Bonus*: Sanity. If you can find a way to gift it back, we’ll take it. H/T Chelsea Doub for the suggestion.

So that’s that. Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments with your suggestions.


Editors note: Edited to add a bonus message.

Lessons Learned: Reflections on Graduate School 10 Years Later

Just before I began the first semester of my graduate program, I nervously drafted an email to my advisor. To my surprise, I had been accepted into a program that would help me fulfill my goal of a rewarding career in health education. But part of me thought maybe the selection committee had made a huge mistake. Sure, I had enough experience, foresight, and passion to know I wanted to be in the program. I had the test scores and recommendations to get into the program. But for some reason, there was a small part of me that thought maybe they accidentally accepted me into the program and would rescind the offer any day. I was dealing with a major case of imposter syndrome before I ever knew it had a name. So, I emailed my advisor partly to be sure that my acceptance letter was not going to be rescinded and partly to get to know the person who would guide me through the process in a way that led to my successful completion of the program, assuming they had accepted me on purpose.

 

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During that first meeting with my advisor, he lauded the strength of my application package, specifically my references and my potential as demonstrated in my thoughtfully chosen work experiences. He mentioned the high ratings across the board but particularly in the area of ’emotional intelligence’, which at the time I thought was an odd thing to rate an applicant on.  He said that in a graduate program, you move from consuming knowledge to applying and contributing to the body of knowledge. He also mentioned that I had applied for entry into a selective program at a rigorous research university where the selection committee wouldn’t have accepted anyone who they weren’t absolutely sure could finish. I exhaled. It wasn’t a mistake after all. I left that meeting feeling supported by my advisor, curious about how I would develop in order to be prepared for graduation, and absolutely determined that I would indeed graduate. And I reflect on the lessons I’ve learned in the 10 years since graduation, the importance of those things, support, curiosity, and determination, stick out to me.  Here are a few things I’ve learned:

 

Be determined to build a life, not just make a living. 

Capitalism will try to convince you that making money is the most important thing. Academia will try to tell you that teaching and publishing are the most important things. Working in a helping profession will have you convinced that changing the world and helping others is the most important things. But what I learned in graduate school is that building a life you love is more important than all those other things. In fact, building a life you love, filled with people who add value to your life will motivate and inspire you to do everything else.

 

It took me an extra year to complete my Master’s because I needed to work while attending school. At the time, I was very conflicted about that. I wanted to focus on school so I could move on. But at some point, it dawned on me that life as a student is unique and fleeting and I was well advised to focus more on maximizing the opportunity, not rushing through it. I didn’t want to be in school a day longer than necessary. But the extra year allowed me time to improve my employability by gaining invaluable part-time, volunteer, and unpaid work doing exactly what people paid me to do when did graduate. I also had time to focus build some amazing and professional relationships that have been invaluable to my career and some absolutely priceless friendships that have been invaluable in my life.  

 

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Be willing to seek and receive support.

Listen, asking for help, of any kind, is tough. I know. There was a time when my pride wouldn’t let me do it.  But, there is something about being committed to reaching a goal you’re not sure you can reach that will force you to either get some help or fail.  You can do what you want. Whatever you want. But you can’t do it alone. This is true in graduate school and it’s true in life.

 

I’m not a numbers person. If it’s not about counting money, I leave the numbers to other people. Like many women, I was steered away from math at a young age and since I never liked it anyway, I was fine with that.  But I loved all manner of human and behavioral sciences, which eventually requires some competence of numbers.  I knew I’d have to take some statistics courses in graduate school so I got my mind right and took the first one during my second semester.  I figured I should get the most difficult subject done and over with so I could quickly move on to more interesting things.  This turned out to be the right strategy for me because I dropped out of the course the first time.  It would take a second attempt at the subject (during which dropped out a second time) before I set aside my ego and sought out the support I knew I needed.  On my third attempt, and armed with an in-person tutor and every single book my university’s library had on statistics, I completed the course with a high “B”. Of all the grades I’ve ever earned, this was the one I was most proud of, partially because I had to work so hard at it and get a ton of support to get it done.

 

Similarly, the work experience I have been most proud of was not the one where I received the most accolades or the most money. It was developing a workplace wellness program from scratch and I was proud of the work because it required me to rally the support of dozens of people across several departments in county government.  It required me to ask people for money, time, and commitment and it required me to be more committed to the goal than I was to my own ego and my own comfort, lessons I learned in graduate school. 

 

Stay curious.

One of the beautiful things about attending a research university was the ability to engage in inquiry at every level, in every class, about any topic. I found spaces to safely inquire about why African-American women in the south often have disproportionately poor health outcomes and how to assess the value of a healthcare system where such inequalities exist. I had space to ask questions about what can be done to change such a system. I took deep dives into the reasons it so challenging to change human behavior, even in the face overwhelming evidence of that we ‘should’ do. Being able to ask these questions guided me toward doing work that helps answer them.

 

Professionally, I attribute much of my career success to being curious. Asking ‘how does this work’ or ‘why are things that way’ allows me to dig below the surface to a deeper understanding of the world around me. Asking similar questions of the people I come in contact with not only builds rapport, but it also helps me to continuously develop that emotional intelligence I once thought was non-essential for someone applying for entry into a graduate program.  Now, 10 years later, I understand its value more than ever and I’m grateful for a graduate school experience that allowed me to practice being curious in a way that got me comfortable asking questions and even more comfortable not having all the answers.

 

I’ve sometimes wondered, especially as I consider applying to a doctoral program, if the years I spent in graduate school were worth it. It didn’t provide me with a one-way ticket up the career ladder.  Though I have progressively moved into more challenge roles, made more money, and had a larger impact over the years, none of it was without many, many challenges. But as I reflect, what I know for sure is that the journey to achieving any big goal is not really about the goal.  It’s about the person you become on the way to achieving it.  And for that reason, it was absolutely worth it.

 

I could go on and on about what I learned about myself and the world while enrolled in school.  But, I’d much prefer to hear about the lessons you gathered along the way.  Type them in the comments below.

Beyoncé Level Presentations

Finals are around the corner and presentations are happening right now. If you’re like me, you probably have four finals, a report due for work, five presentations, and a bunch of other deadlines that sneak up on you after Spring Break. Have no fear; there is a way to Beyoncé through your presentations. (For advice on how to attack your finals, check out the Finals Attack plan.) Here are seven tips for Sasha Fierce presentations:

1) Be Entertaining

You don’t have to put on a concert because having an entertaining and captivating presentation does not require glitz and glam. Tell a story that relates to your topic. If you do not have a story that is relevant to your presentation, use a video clip from YouTube to set the stage for your presentation. You could also use Prezi, gifs, or memes to add excitement to your presentation.

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2) Command the room

It is no secret that everybody is working on finals or something else during class. As a presenter, it is your job to hold everyone’s attention during your presentation.

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3) Select a format that works for you

We often feel pressure to make a PowerPoint or a Prezi to present information, but those platforms are not the only ways to present information. My best presentations have lacked visuals and forced the audience to pay attention to me. You should consider the information you are presenting and select the best aid that will assist your delivery.

4) Don’t Read

Your audience does not want to watch you read your presentation notes. It is your presentation. You have researched the topic, and you have to be confident that you know it well.

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5) Do not overload visuals with information

Too much information in visuals will ruin your presentation. Information overload is a real thing. If you give someone too much to take in at one time, they will not listen or take in what is most important to the presentation.

6) Get to the point

Your audience will lose focus if you go on too many tangents. Compose a list of talking points to keep you on track, both you and your audience will appreciate it. Sometimes it helps to create an outline of what you are going to talk about. It can help to break down the specific points and mention the main things you what to hit. At the end of your presentation make sure to reiterate what is most important that you want your audience to take away.

7) Leave space for questions

Do not give your audience all of the information you have on your paper or project. You want the audience to ask questions. Plus it makes you think through some parts of your paper or project that you are struggling with.

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8) Move around the room

It will help ease your nerves and assist you in commanding the room.

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9) Remember you’re a FLAWLESS, and you can do anything!

 

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10) Don’t forget to smile and breathe.

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“I Expect You to do Well”: Diary of a High-Achieving Black Girl

After writing extensively for three weeks, waiting off and on for written results for another three weeks, and then anxiously counting down the days until the oral defense of my preliminary exams…it happened. I was FINALLY a Doctoral Candidate! It was by far the happiest moment that I have experienced since getting the call with my acceptance into my PhD program two years ago.

The process was generally nerve-wrecking and anxiety-producing, but I was determined to conquer my nerves and reach this next major milestone in my doctoral journey. I had been #ChasingCandidacy for what seemed like forever. I had set a strict schedule since January, accounting for 10 hour+ writing days, a full-time academic load, anxiety-induced heart palpitations with every submission to my committee, the mounting frustrations when I couldn’t get my words just right, and the day-to-day reminders to myself that this process wouldn’t last forever.

However, after standing in the hallway while my committee deliberated, I finally heard the words, “Congratulations, you PASSED!”. My advisor took pictures of me signing my official documentation for the graduate school, I thanked and hugged my committee, and then we took a group selfie in celebration. And I was over-the-moon. And grateful. And humbled. And relieved. And proud. Proud because I was exhausted and nervous and stressed and anxious…but I was finally a Doctoral Candidate! I persisted and endured and achieved; I could have lived in that moment forever.

Once I gathered my thoughts, I could only think of a few people whom I wanted to call and share my exciting news with, so I made my way down my contact list. I made FaceTime calls that weren’t answered, but I told myself that it was the middle of the day and adults were at work. Though disappointed, I continued calling those closest to me until I finally got an answer: “Good job! I expected you to do well”.

Just because you expect excellence from me, that doesn’t mean that I don’t work hard. I know that Queen Beyonce’ changed the game with, I woke up like this, but I worked hard for this. I am inherently brilliant, yes. I am more than capable, yes. AND I worked really, really, hard to accomplish this milestone.

As a high-achieving Black girl, I expect myself to do well. I hold myself to higher standards so that others don’t have to. And because of this, I have to work twice as hard to celebrate myself when something incredible happens. I have to intentionally and consciously remind myself that every accomplishment, whether big or small (to me), belongs to me and is worthy of celebration. The (my) truth is, when the world expects greatness from you, you have to work overtime to appreciate your struggle.

To all those who know and love #highachieving Black girls and women, be mindful of how you respond to our sharing of accomplishments with you. Stop qualifying your well-wishes with your (undue) expectations for our successes. Be proud. Be happy. Be enthusiastic. But please, don’t be dismissive. We EARNED this. Acknowledge that or don’t say anything at all.

Are you a high-achieving Black woman with a similar story? I’d love to chat with you in the comments!

Unleashing your Inner Child to Master Graduate School

Last week, a few articles discussing the importance of being more child-like regarding professional life were highlighted in my blog subscription emails. This post will focus on the “Adulting is Killing your Vibe–Master these Toddler Moves Stat”  from Shine and “8 Reasons Thinking Like a Child Will Make You Happier” from Mental Floss stood out most. Both blog posts provide tips detailing the importance of going back to your child instincts in your adult life. I found both articles inspiring and decided to try being more like 5-year old Jessica, particularly in regards my graduate career.

I reviewed recommendations in the blog posts and selected the following:

  • Be unapologetically carefree (8 Reasons Tip 1& Shine Tip 3),
  • Wander more (8 Reasons Tip 2),
  • Be impulsive (Adulting is Killing your Vibe tip 4),
  • Be more decisive (8 Reasons Tip 7), and
  • Look for new experiences (8 Reasons Tip 8).

I completed this challenge for almost two weeks and here is what happened.


I became more adventurous and carefree. This change was a combination of tips one, two, seven and eight from Mental Floss and tip three from Shine. In an attempt to reduce my concern for other’s opinions, I worked on 8 Reasons Thinking Like a Child Will Make You Happier tip 1 (Stop caring what people think of you) and tip 3 (be your carefree self) from Adulting is Killing your Vibe. My concern for other people’s opinions of me is already pretty low in my personal life; however, I do worry about my professional brand when committing to tasks. I feel like my name is on the line and any wrong move could tarnish my reputation. So, I gave it a try. Applying this attitude to my graduate career reduced my stress and it was unexpectedly rewarding. I was still productive but my focus shifted from worrying about how projects, reports and my presentation could influence my professional future to being happy with completing tasks.

8 Reasons Thinking Like a Child Will Make You Happier also discusses the importance of being decisive (tip 7) and tip 4 in Adulting is Killing your Vibe recommends that you take more impulsive chances and see where it takes you. Typically, I am indecisive. I take my time making decisions about invitations because I consider everything else I have going, which usually results in me not doing what I want to do because I prioritize other things. Following the guidance of this recommendations increased my network and community engagement. I noticed a spike in my social activity. I started saying yes to more invitations for networking opportunities and creating some. Forcing myself to say yes to more social opportunities was probably the best part of this experiment. My network has increased, and more people are helping with my job search. I made new high profile contacts in various organizations, which have resulted in new unique opportunities.

Basically, I stopped boxing myself in. This meant speaking with my supervisor about working from home, coffee shops, parks or other places I felt inspired to work. These subtle changes in workspace resulted in unplanned creativity with projects and reports. It also helped me think outside of my office and our network for partnerships and how my colleagues and I interact with the community professionally.

Overall, being more kid-like in my professional and academic life has yielded excellent results. I suggest that you take time to read the articles and select the recommendations that are relevant to your graduate school career. If you try these suggestions, leave comments about what worked and did not work for you.

Here Come the Questions: 25 Things NO Grad Student Wants to Hear

 As the graduate school years go by you will find that you will be hit questions left and right.

Ugh…

At some point, they will start to haunt you like the Thriller MJ taught us about. And while most people mean no harm,  it begins to feel like people are intentionally disrupting your space and happiness as if you’ve failed to meet some sort of internal deadline they set for you. 

If you’re like me, you need to hear no matter how many questions you’re asked, their words don’t define you. Besides, it’s  like I always say, your journey is your own. But for now lets just chuckle and side eye at some of the most commonly said things on this journey called graduate study–

  1. So you’re like a medical Doctor?

  2. Why does it take so long for you to graduate?

  3. When do you graduate?

  4. Are you done yet?

  5. You must really like school, you can’t stay away.

  6. Are you done yet?

  7. You have to write how many pages?

  8. So what are you going to do with that degree?

  9. You don’t really need a doctorate.

  10. Why didn’t you get a Ph.D? No one respects an Ed.D (mainly comes from people not getting their Doctorate)

  11. You getting a Doctorate? You’re going to be single forever, no man wants a woman who has it all together.

  12. That Doctorate is intimidating to men so maybe you shouldn’t bring it up.

  13. Are you done yet?

  14. So when are you gonna get done?

  15. How are you not done? It’s been forever.

  16. You’re better than me, I would never.

  17. YOU’RE getting your Doctorate degree? Oh wow… (usually said by shocked white people who then follow up with “isn’t affirmative action awesome”? or some other idiotic excuse to make them feel better)

  18. I mean it shouldn’t take long to write a book, I can write a book so why is it taking so long for you?

  19. You want to get done don’t you?

  20. If I were you…

  21. You know what you need to do? You need to…

  22. You’re done with classes so why aren’t you graduating?

  23. I don’t get it.

  24. You don’t need it to be successful.

  25. So when are you done?

So what do you think about this list? How many of them have you heard already? Do you feel it helps or hinders your process? What would you add to the list? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

A Cautionary Tale *With Advice!*for Doctoral Students

“I’ve been robbed!” and then the tears fell.

“My entire Dissertation is on there what do I do?!? Somebody help me!” more tears fell.

This happened to somebody I knew who had their laptop stolen and had planned to graduate in less than 12 weeks. The look of distraught on their face shook me to the core and made me think, what if that was me? How would I handle this situation? Is there anyway to prevent having the feeling they had? 

 

I decided to reach out to Doctoral students who recently graduated this past year and asked them for advice for those of us who are navigating the college experience and here’s what they said:

“Don’t do what I did; please get an external hard drive and keep extra copies of your work. I heard people say get on but I figured why would I waste my money? That is until I lost my ENTIRE dissertation and didn’t back up any of my information. My heart sank when it happened and the only saving grace that I had is that I had turned in my chapters to my chair however that was before all the edits. I had to rewrite ALL the edits and remember what articles I pulled and other relatable things that I saved to my desktop that are now gone.”

“I celebrated the little things. If I made it through a semester, or if I added a paragraph to my chapter I celebrated it! Sometimes you can get so busy in the hustle and bustle of classes and writing that you forget to pause and celebrate the little things. This helped me refocus and motivated me to move forward in this program.”

“Don’t compare yourself to everyone else.  I always felt I wasn’t good enough and I moved at a much slower pace than everyone else but you know what, I graduated just like everyone else.”

“I had a hard time focusing so a friend told me to try using the pomodoro method (google tomato timer) and you know what it helped me focus. This method had a series of times where you focus on your work and you take short and long breaks along the way. Knowing I had a break coming kept me for drifting into my social media and staying there. Once I got used to this method I then shifted to setting a plan where I wrote down my goals for each session and checked off each time I completed it. I saved those sheets and I was in awe at how much I completed especially at times when I felt like I didn’t do anything.”

“Understand that your chair/committee will be your colleagues one day. They play a pivotal role in your doctoral journey and beyond: chose wisely.”

“Don’t take the feedback from your work personal, remember their goal is to get you to the finish line. Writing at the doctoral level is different and you often feel that you’re over citing at times but you’re not. Keep the APA format book near and know that in time you will be fluent in APA.”

This by no means is a comprehensive post on advice for Doctoral Students so we would like to hear from you.  Post in the comments below and let us know what advice have you received? What about those of you working… How does advice about a dissertation project mirror your experiences in the office setting. Let us know!

Don’t Believe the Lie!: 3 Ways to Combat Imposter Syndrome

TheLieRecently, a friend asked me to help her decide if she should apply for a new job. The description of the job read like it was perfectly designed for her and she was very excited about the opportunity. When I asked why she was unsure, she said “I don’t meet the qualifications in the last two bullet point”. I took another look and noticed that the last two bullets were listed as “Desired but Not Required.” She met or exceed the qualifications in the dozen other bullet points.  So, in a thinly veiled attempt to help her see that she’d make a great candidate for the position, I asked her to walk me through her qualifications for each of the bullet points. After reviewing her qualifications together, she applied for the position.  She has an interview next week.

The conversation reminded of how often high-achieving Black women we fail to give ourselves credit for the amazing things we’ve done but can easily point out the places where we fall short. This is Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is when we find it difficult to internalize our success or even view ourselves as unworthy of success. It’s the thing that made my friend anxious to apply for an amazing job she was more than qualified for.  It’s the thing that makes us feel unworthy of success. Imposter Syndrome makes us feel like we must have just gotten lucky instead having achieved success through hard work. Imposter syndrome is a lie…

While talking with my friend about her situation, I noted some tips that are useful in combatting Imposter Syndrome that I’d like to share:

  1. Get Support. A support system is essential to combat feelings of inadequacy or fraudulence. Wise mentors help us develop in areas of weakness and celebrate our strengths. Family helps us remember that we are so much more than the status of our job. Supportive colleagues encourage us to focus on simply doing our best. Sister-friends helps us stay encouraged and celebrate our accomplishments with us. Be careful to graciously accept the support and encouragement when it’s offered and assume it is genuine. After all, you really are worth it so why wouldn’t it be genuine?
  2. Count Your Accomplishments. Imposter Syndrome is often a function of success. Women who have achieved at high levels may be less likely to internalize their success and more likely to think of all they have yet to achieve. But combatting Imposter Syndrome requires us to work toward achieving new goals while not LH-1-Quote-2losing sight of successes we’ve already experienced. After all, our past successes prepare us for what’s coming next. When feelings of inadequacy creep up, try writing a list of several things you’ve done that made you proud of yourself. Read the list aloud several times to help internalize your accomplishments. It’s easier to see yourself as worthy of success when you’re reminded of the places where you have already succeeded.
  3. Try New Things…And Try Again. Sometimes when we try new things, we experience failure. If framed as a learning experience, not as a tragedy, our failures can propel us forward. They create opportunities to learn about ourselves, gain resilience, and try again…or try something new.

Being open to trying new things provides space to challenge ourselves and gain confidence in our ability to adapt and learn when facing the unknown.  These are essential life skills that happen to also combat Imposter Syndrome. So often, we’re so focused on getting the exact job that most aligns with the knowledge we gained in our field of study, we forget about these and other transferable skills we’ve gained as well. Internalizing our own brilliance and getting past feelings of unworthiness is easier when we know that although new challenges will surely come our way, we are equipped to work our way through them because we’ve done it many times before.

I know that Imposter Syndrome and the lie that we’re not good enough, worthy, and 100% capable of achieving the success we seek has plagued many women in the CiteaSista community.  How has it shown up in your life? What have you done to combat these feelings and debunk the lie?  Let’s talk about it!

Bae is Great, But I’m Tired!

Greetings Cite a Sista Family,

As I am writing this, we are on the eve of what could potentially be a very difficult night for many of us.  This month’s Cite a Sista chat focuses on us as Black women being too educated to be loved. What a concept? I want to acknowledge that I recognize the timing of this post is somewhat in contradiction of tonight’s chat, but my hope is that it offers hope to add to the conversation.

That said, this post is, too, inspired by where I am in my personal journey leaving me compelled some thoughts that I want to share with my #Sistascholars.

As a couples’ therapist, one of the most common questions that people ask in strained relationships is “How did we get here?”  And the most common answer is “I don’t know.”  Many people believe that relationships end because of some grand transgression, e.g. infidelity, but the reality is that many relationships end because of small things that build over time.

For those of us traversing the terrain of the graduate school journey and the early academic career, relationships can be a struggle. When we enter a relationship, or if we’ve already been in one for a while, we must ask the tough question: what are some of the challenges we face that are unique to partnerships amidst the graduate school environment? How do we continue to love on and support one another when who we are at the core is shaken with every continued educational experience?

In my own life, I’m newly partnered and we found ourselves having a conversation the other day about the dissertation process.  I found myself trying to explain to him how difficult life is going to be for me in the next few months.  As we continued to chat, he made a statement to the effect of, “your work is going to change lives… I won’t stand in the way of that.”  He went on to say how he wants to support me in any way he can.  And while this conversation made my heart smile, it also created a little worry because I have seen my friends going through the dissertation and heard the horror stories about the strain on their relationship.  I started to think about why that happens, even when one’s partner has been prepared (as much as possible) about what dissertation or a tenure track position, for instance, is going to be.  For partners who’ve never done it, I mean. The therapist in me kicked into overdrive.  The first thing I realized: it’s the small things that build over time.

But there’s also another layer to this for us as Black women.  Yes, many of us take on the work that is meant to help our own whether it be Black people, Black women, Queer men and women, people with disabilities, and other minoritized groups.  Our work is often undervalued, underappreciated, and underfunded.  So what does it mean to have a partner that is supportive of us throughout this process.  I would say that a major part of that is having a partner who validates that struggle whether they understand it or not.  Support also looks different for each of us.  For some, it is relaxing some of the expectations of duties within the home.  Some days I may not feel like cooking or washing dishes, so I may need my partner to step in.  I may be sad, angry, frustrated and not know why and I may need my partner to allow me to just be quiet and hold off any heavy decisions.  I may need to spend an entire week away just to get some writing done.

So how do we, as Black women, maintain a relationship once we have found that one that makes our heart smile?  In a healthy, loving, non-abusive relationship, how do we continue to work through our goals while also giving our relationship the same amount of effort?  I found myself recalling conversations where people say things like “If he loves me, he’ll support me no matter what,” and while this is true, nobody wants to give-give-give without getting anything in return.  What about your love for them? The question that kept rumbling in my head, “how do we still keep our partner happy when we barely have enough energy to care for ourselves?”  Because the truth is, if the degree or career is all that matters, why be in the relationship in the first place?  You can’t just put the relationship on hold!

The answer is, there’s no real formula.  There’s no real way to prepare a person for what is to come.  But the age old “communication” is a very good starting point.  Open, clear communication that involves more listening for understanding.  In addition to this cliché phrase, there are a few other things:

  1. Flexibility-Both partners must be flexible. Flexible with housework, flexible with scheduling big events, flexible with emotions.  Some days, you just don’t have it in you to put forth the emotional energy and having a flexible partner is necessary.  If there is something bothering either of you, some days just aren’t good to get into a deep emotional conversation.  Maybe there’s a defense of some sort the next day.  That is not a good time to start a difficult conversation.
  2. Consistency-In the same breath, there are times when you need to stick to your word. Always letting your partner down in the name of graduate school is going to wear on the relationship over time.  Remember, small things.  If there is something big happening and you say you’re going to be there, be there.  If your partner is struggling, be there for them and support them the way they do for you.  It can’t always be a one-way street.  Some conversations can’t wait.  Avoiding big decisions and things that are weighing on your partner will only widen the gap between you.
  3. Dedicated Quality Time-We don’t get a lot of free time as graduate students, but the time that we do have needs to be intentional. The same is true for new professionals. If your partner has a break from their commitments and you can get a break, take that time and make it meaningful.  Create memories.  Recharge the relationship.  When there is not a lot of extended time, take advantage of small pockets.  Eat breakfast together without your phones.  Wash dishes together (two birds with one stone).  Have your partner drop you off at work and converse in the car.  Read some articles while you cuddle on the couch. There are endless possibilities.
  4. Gratitude- Sometimes a simple thank you is all a person needs. Having a supportive partner is great, but they are not obligated to do anything.  Every decision is a choice that they make for the betterment of you and the relationship.  Simply acknowledging that can go a long way.
  5. It’s Not All About You- Yes, you’re getting an advance degree and the work you are doing will change lives, but everyone needs to feel like they are also getting something out of the relationship. Even the most amazing man or woman gets tired of always being the one to make all the effort, but their love tank needs to be filled too.  Find small ways to say “thank you” “I love you” “I appreciate you.”  Find ways to incorporate their goals in the mix.
  6. Know Your Partner-Pay attention to changes in behavior and affect. If you notice something is off, take the time to check on them.  Let them know that they are a priority.
  7. Assertiveness- This is the most important! Speak up for yourself!  Sometimes, our partners just don’t understand. And #misogynoir is real! We’re not supposed to be too smart or too confident.  Even the greatest of partners will allow some of that to creep it.  Don’t be afraid to let them know when they have you f*cked up in the most loving, caring way.  We work hard, we love hard, and this accomplishment is only going to better us as a unit. Don’t silence yourself for the sake of their ego.  Being free to be all that you are is going to make a stronger, more honest relationship for the two of you.  You’re brilliant, be brilliant!

Being in a relationship in graduate school or when starting a new career is difficult, but absolutely possible.  The goal is to finish the program or move to the next promotion with your partner by your side.  Neither has to fall at the expense of the other.  (Now lots of other things can happen in between, but that’s not the focus here).  Make decisions in love, be flexible, be gracious, and be your brilliant self!

“Time Management” in Grad School? Whet?

Graduate school is not very demanding.

*Record Scratch*

Said. No. One. Ever.

Every time I check my email or look at my calendars I have a looming deadline, new suggestions for a meeting, or request for my attendance at an event. Prior to grad school, I prided myself on setting time to complete various tasks to make my week easier. As I moved through the graduate schooling process, I’ve realized how ineffectively I managed my time and that it often had nothing to do with me being organized. 

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Although this realization came a semester later than I would have liked, the changes I’ve made since have been life changing. So, how do I manage my time? It’s really simple actually. 

Everyday I compose to-do list with priorities. Depending on the day my list varies in size. After I establish my list, I start with the priorities that  are most convenient for me.  I also establish time goals for my priorities. For instance, if I have a paper due on Friday at 11:59pm, my to-do list will have two or three hours next to it. I’ll admit I get carried away with work sometimes so I use my Clock app on my phone to make sure I stay within the allotted time period. Also, I suggest pausing the timer when you take breaks or have to stop for a while. By the time I complete the priorities on my to-do list, I feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. There’s no greater feeling than scratching something off a list–am I right or nah?

With each completed task, I’m encouraged to do other more on my to-do list. This helps me complete school work and socializing while not procrastinating. Although I don’t always complete my to-do list, I find the list and act of finishing items helpful with time management.

time-management.png Since the goal of graduate school is not to remember every little detail about every little thing, I recommend allotting time to course reading for the week and skimming where you can. Some of my colleagues prefer to read the night before class, I’ve been told it helps retain information. Yeah, whatever. But this doesn’t hold true for me. Since my schedule does not allow me to read the night before class and do the things I need to do to take care of me, I complete my readings and small assignments (like discussion board posts) in order of due date for the week.So I allocate 8 to 10 hours to reading for classes and discussion posts. The range is between 8 to 10 hours because some weeks my reading load is denser than other weeks. I don’t complete all of my work in one sitting or day. Sometimes I break it up over two or three days. I know I can not read everything. Combined, these time management practices give me more free time to complete writing assignments and relax. I recognize that grad school is important. However, it does not have to consume all of your time.

In an effort to maximize my efforts, I allocate 8 to 10 hours to reading for classes and discussion posts. The range is between 8 to 10 hours because some weeks my reading load is denser than other weeks. I also try to avoid completing all of my work in one sitting or on a single day. Oftentimes I break it up over two or three days with an awareness that I can not read everything. By focusing on the things that I deem as most important, I still have time to have a life outside of school and to manage relationships with friends and family that are sometimes equally as important to me. 

Combined, these time management practices also give me more free time to complete writing assignments and relax. I recognize that grad school is important. But if there’s anything my time management practices should make clear it is that I refuse to allow it to consume all of my time. Neither should you, sis.