This topic is close to my heart, because as a Ph.D. Candidate these are the crossroads that I currently find myself at. I’ve done a little research to save you the time, dear reader, and help you on your journey. However, lest I remind you that I am but a lowly Ph.D. Candidate, my unsolicited advice is best taken with a dash of salt and a hearty conversation with your advisor/reading committee members. Below, please find information broken down into three main categories: 1) things to know upfront before starting, 2) potential sources for “free” dissertation topics, and 3) criteria to evaluate topics selected. Continue reading
It’s so dastardly simple that it’s also a bit hard to accept as an answer. But so much of what we need to do in life can be boiled down to just showing up. Bringing all of your attention, heart, and body into the space where you’re working. Relationships, presentations, acts of service would all be radically different if people just vowed to do this one act. Continue reading
This is the age-old question that I ask myself and constantly gets asked of me. I would like to believe that it was my strategic foresight, research and leadership experiences, and all of my ambition. And while that may be part of the story–a large part–it it still far from complete. When I originally wrote this post, I started by listing all of my accomplishments, things I had done, started, and won. The ways I had forged this path ahead of myself on my own. Upon reflection, I think it could be more useful to emphasize a different perspective; a maxim I learned from my improv class, “Dare to be Average.”
Disclaimer: this post is not a short-cut substitute, or alternative for hard work. It does not contain mystical wisdom about the admissions process or the formula for the perfect introductory email. These are my compiled mistakes, blunders, and near-regrets that also contributed to me getting where I am today–a Ph.D. Candidate at Stanford University in Mechanical Engineering. I won’t, however, make you wait too long for the answer to the post title’s question. I got into Stanford…I think because of Continue reading
The weeks leading up to the 2015 NSF GRFP deadline were consumed by editing personal statements with a writing tutor, drafting research proposals with my advisors, and tracking down recommendation writers for the application. If this story resonates with you–if you even know what “NSF GRFP” stands for, then I’m sure you were in a similar situation (and if you don’t know what it is, you should probably copy and paste it into Google some time around now). Continue reading
If there’s a young child in your life, I want you to try this experiment or do an observation (in a non-creepy way) of a healthy parent-child interaction.
EXPERIMENT: Watch the child do or say something that makes others laugh, smile, or offer a lot of positive reinforcement and celebration. Make note on whether or not the observed behavior is then repeated. Ponder why or why not.
What am I getting at here? In Lisa Nichols’ powerful book, Abundance Now, she uncovers a truth that shook me to my core: what gets celebrated, gets repeated. Let that soak in a little. What gets celebrated gets repeated. This means that it’s also okay for us to celebrate fellow adults that do and say healthy things that make others laugh and smile. When I run on the treadmill, I set mini-goals along the way. And every mile I run without lowering the pace, I raise my fists in the sky and cheer for myself–wildly–and in public. Seriously. Some might even call me a “spectacle” at the gym with all of the commotion that I make. And for some reason, it makes me excited to do the same thing again.
There are so many things that I do right every day. Things I do so well. Things, that when I reflect on where I’ve come from, I’m surprised to learn that I could be doing. For example, writing this blog post as a fourth year Ph.D. candidate in Mechanical Engineering from my Stanford studio apartment, trust me, I’m still celebrating wildly, and so are my parents and friends.
Look, if you’re still finding it difficult to think of something you’ve done worth celebrating, let me see if I can help conjure some ideas. You woke up today. Wandered onto this blog post (which means you have a computer, internet access, and more importantly that you have good taste). That last part is cause for celebration alone. The time, concerted effort, exerted mental energy that it takes to have gotten to this place where you could afford these luxuries. You had to have done something right today to have gotten to this point.
Why wait for the full-ride scholarship to college to celebrate getting accepted? Why not celebrate getting a B- in your first quarter Linear Algebra class that snatched your sleep day after day? Don’t confuse celebrating what you’ve done with a celebration of mediocrity. Rather, I choose to see each day as a finite amount of energy. Everything you do: wake up, get dressed, go outside, venture to learn something new, complete a task at work, pick your kids up from school, all of these things each take small amounts of energy to complete. We then refuel ourselves by the things we choose to consume. Whether your vice is caffeine, telling people what you’re doing on social media, or shopping, etc. In healthy privileged environments, adults will surround a child with things to help the child grow. Positive praise and affirmations, educational tools and media, healthy foods for brain development. The things we continue to consume as adults says a lot about what we think of ourselves and what we believe we deserve.
Celebration Ideas. It’s possible that you would like to partake in this idea, but you’re not quite sure where to start. Celebrations don’t only have to involve parties, expensive dinners, or lavish gifts and vacations. Remember our experiment from earlier? Simply smiling and clapping at a baby can be the catalyst that makes them stop crying, and try walking again. Here are a few things I love to do:
- Invite someone you care about to go on a phone-free walk and just catch up on each other’s lives, share your good news!
- Listen to only gospel music for a day or music that has only positive and loving lyrics. Dance and sing until the music begins to feel like a second skin.
- Sit back, kick your feet up, and watch your favorite comedian do a 1-hour Netflix special. Lose track of how many times you almost knock over your laptop laughing so hard.
- Write yourself a genuine thank-you note and ask a trustworthy friend to mail it back to you in 6 months. Repeat this process. Begin to thank yourself for things you haven’t even done or gone through yet.
- Take a real break from social media (i.e. the ring circus of people desperate to be celebrated by everyone except themselves). Deactivate your accounts. Reach out to someone you’ve meaning to catch up with in person.
Come on, you’ve earned it. Take a few minutes, hours, days, to celebrate how despite the challenge of life, you continue to persist. Trust me, each day is no small feat. When we remember to see ourselves through the eyes of a child again, celebrations will feel natural and we’ll feel more free to repeat these behaviors that serve us well.
Okay, I know the title comes off a bit harsh. I mean, who do I think I am telling other grad students what they struggle with? Well, kudos to you for being intrigued enough to continue on anyway.
To attend to my earlier question: I am an incoming fourth year Ph.D. candidate in ME that has made a TON of mistakes along the way. If not all “mistakes” then certainly I’ve taken the “scenic route” while other folks whizzed by me and I hustled to catch up. Dear reader, I am merely trying to save you from this wasted time and foolish embarrassment. So let’s dive into the list, shall we? I’ve got FIVE things that I want to highlight.
FIRST THING: We are pretty awful at writing. I mean absolutely horrendous. This is most obvious in our emails. The problem with our emails is that our subject lines rarely explain what the email is about and the body is either too wordy and long and I can hardly figure out what you really want to get at or it’s very short and leaves very little room for a reply or it doesn’t make sense and seems to have sentences that go on forever…(look familiar?).
Here, you can find a template and some useful tips on how to write a good email. Pro tip: keep your email to 5 sentences long. Whether it’s for a request from your advisor or a comment to a faculty member that you’re interested in working with, here’s a template to help you get over all of your messy faux paz. Final tip, if you don’t already have an email signature, create one. It looks schnazzy, provides more context on who you are, and sets a more professional tone. Who doesn’t want that?!
SECOND THING: Asking, an in most cases, not asking for help. These are two separate challenges. Writing better emails CERTAINLY helps with both but there’s layers to this. For me, few things are more important than minding and tending to relationships. Especially in these more vulnerable moments, it is important to me not to overburden the person that I’m asking for support. On the flipside, I am also learning to accept help and unsolicited advice when it’s offered. Even when I don’t necessarily ask for it, it’s good to let other people also know they’re needed and have valuable things to share.
THIRD THING: This especially goes out to my fellow engineers and STEM nerds. We over-complex-icate every single thing. Sure, you sound really intelligent and nerdy to your audience but you’ve likely also alienated a much larger audience from ever truly coming to understand your work and contributions to the academy. To the extent where possible, keep it simple. Make it possinle for people to give your research legs. As far as I’m concerned, what’s a publication in Nature, worth if only people who even know what Nature is understand the impact of what you’ve done? For me, this message far exends into other aspects of my life. Take pauses in difficult moments. Allow yourself to think without judging or punishing yourself for where those thoughts lead. Ask yourself, what is the next most logical thing that I can do in this predicament? Often, the thing itself isn’t that over-complex-icated, it’s having to do the thing that rectifies or course-corrects the situation.
FOURTH THING: Relying on your advisor to be your emotional guide, spiritual support system, research advocate, scholar cheerleader, boss, friend, and colleague that will push you to new heights and expose to to data analysis techniques that you could only dream to learn…Ehhhh. You’re right. That was a bit patronizing, but the point is tha tmany of us (myself included) hold an unrealistic picture in our heads of what our adivosr is “supposed” to be. And thus, how our relationship should function. If my third year taught me anything, it’s that it takes a VILLAGE to get a Ph.D. (especially true if you don’t already have one in your family). I’ve begun collecting mentors and potential research committee members, each person adding a bit more clarity to the mystery. More on methods or best practices or conferences or opportunities or ways to even talk about what I’m doing, folks that say slow down while others yell speed up! I’m not saying it’s easy juggling these people in your life, but perspective is constructed. Be wary and selective about who you invite to help you build your own insights.
FIFTH and FINAL THING: Jealousy is the only vice that breeds no reward or good feelings. Comparing your situation to other graduate students is just MADDENING. Trust me, I do it all the time. And the longer I’m in this marathon, the more I realize that life truly has a funny way of working out. Opportunities that friends told me they had earlier, ones I drooled over, I’m not embarking on too. People who have seemed to be given easy rides, just don’t openly reveal all the places they’ve stumbled. I forget that exposing all of my nattles scars is an act of “bravery.” It seems like the most human thing I can do to show people how and where I’ve fallem, so they avoid those places too. Get excited aboiut the work you’re doing and watch how quickly your research becomes a focal point in your life. Strive to produce the best that you can, whatever it is, go all in. It will be frustrating. For my black and brown sistas, it will be excruciating at times. But it feels that way for everyone. Only 3 black women have gotten their Ph.D.s in ME at Stanford. They haven’t even figured out what to DO with us yet.
Peace and good tidings!
I put a lot down for you to pick up. For those of you that need the tl;dr–above all else, 1) Learn to write better, clearer, and more professional emails–for writing to me and when you ask a Professor for a meeting. 2) Ask for help, don’t be a hero(ine). 3) Stop making things more difficult than they need to be. 4) Your advisor is just that–an advisor. Treat them accordingly. And 5) Don’t compare yourself in graduate school what a frivolous waste of time when you’ve got a world full of things to master.
CONGRATULATIONS on deciding to pursue a graduate degree at (INSERT name of your dream graduate program here). We are so looking forward to having you here to (INSERT project/idea that you believe deep down will fundamentally change the world). There are a few things you should know to get started with the waterboarding–whoops! We meant “onboarding” process (NOTE: we totally meant “waterboarding”).
Look familiar? Not sure where to start? Below, you can find a short list of tips to help you start your graduate school journey strong so the above no longer looks familiar. Continue reading
Though unofficial, there are a handful of people I go to for advice but very few (that I know of) that are willing to shift their weight around to help me get something. I recognize now that it’s not new mentors I need, now I need sponsors, advocates, people with power who can speak up for mr when I’m not around. Continue reading
The first day of fall ’16 quarter (yesterday September 26, 2016) was a beautiful day on campus. Bright eyed and bushy tailed freshmen and first years hustled and bustled to classes and learned just what a quarter system is all about. I cannot believe that the year has passed by so quickly–though going through it at the time, it felt anything but quick. So much about me and my perspective on life has changed. Having come back from a trip to my alma mater, University of Maryland College Park and performing in Washington D.C. I feel ready to take on the world again. My skin is thick, my chin is held high, and I finally have a plan.
I envision a world where Continue reading
*In a June 2016 letter to the judge, Dan Turner, father of rapist, Brock Turner, wrote:
“His life will never be the one he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve…He’d never even expressed violence before the incident in question…That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action. Out of his 20+ years of life.”
Open letter on behalf of Brock Turner’s“20 minutes of action*,”
Today marks ~3 weeks since I completed my first year of graduate school, putting me an entire academic year closer to earning a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering. I wanted to post this on my last day of school since I started blogging on the first day—but I was exhausted. I mean completely wiped out. This year was full of meetings no one should have, of heinous crimes against black, brown, and female bodies no one should see, of a world being strewn about and reassembled in a fashion no one would dare accept. So forgive how lackadaisical I am about concluding one of several years. Despite this, everyone, and everything that threatened to deter me from my trajectory, my consistency has been my greatest asset. Of course, this is yet another learned behavior from my parents, echoed in the sentiment of Dory’s favorite song, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…”
True words plastered on the walls of gyms nationwide.
My year taught me that the most difficult part of falling down is Continue reading