F.U.B.U. Advice to Demystify Grad School

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.

TIP #1: Email Professors/grad students ahead of time. Not sure what to ask or say? Well, think of it this way: grad school assumes the place of a full-time job, so you’re basically asking similar questions that you’d ask of an employer or potential colleagues. Still unsure where to start? Here are some questions to help get you going!

TIP #2: Find Funding. And then find more. If you need help with this, check out my earlier blog post. This part is important for several reasons, some that just recently became obvious to me…

TIP #3: Get a head start. Here’s the stuff they don’t tell you, especially when you’re first generation, or embarking on a path no one else in your family has done. No one really knows what’s going on.

TIP #4: Understand the difference between football and baseball. Well, don’t take the title literally. I mean DO understand the difference but think of this metaphorically. Corey Booker has an excellent quote, “Don’t act like you hit a home-run, when you were born on third base.” Meaning, some people in grad school think they’re uhhh-mazing, God’s gift to Earth, and some of them are, however, you cannot compare your progress to other’s that may not be starting from the same place you are. Not only was I not born on 3rd base, but I grew up thinking I was playing baseball when I was actually playing soccer. My parents couldn’t tell the difference, and I didn’t know any better. All the rules I followed, my game plan, my moves, were not prepare for the fact that my ability to kick and score goals was irrelevant to this new sport. I’m learning every day what it takes and using one day at a time to measure my progress. Understand grad school is a different ball game.  A league for the movers and shakers that want to influence the future of science and engineers. It’s okay to not know what you’re supposed to be doing if you and your network of people have never done it before. Document your though process, think about where you see yourself in five years, believe in yourself, constantly talk to people you look up to, and you’ll be astonished by everything you’ve accomplished.

Is grad school still mysterious? Of course it is! But hopefully our roles as trailblazers leaves the path a little clearer and easier to navigate for everyone else following after us. Remember, creating a legacy is not the climbing of the ladder to success, it’s being hoisted up by all of the people you’ve helped along the way. Don’t wait until you’ve made it to help, or you may never make it!

Leave questions in the comments section!

Crossing Train TracksDirections for wanderers: Remember the four main tips to demystify graduate school. The most important advice I can give is trust your gut and believe in yourself. Treat each day as a gift and give everything all that you’ve got!

 

 

(TBT) D183: Rethinking the Need for More Mentors

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.

I wonder what advice people have for attracting this next level of mentorship and advocacy. I see people in positions that I’d like to be in one day, but how does one overcome the hurdle of getting someone to take you under their wing? Especially, with few minority women in these roles, they oft feel too much pressure maintaining and justifying their position rather than to take on the additional trouble of teaching someone else how to navigate this?

People like Sheryl Sandberg and Donald Trump (in this particular case) mean well but miss the mark. Their ideas of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps by “hiring a full-time nanny” or having your father give you a “small million-dollar loan” are precisely why it’s difficult for me to find successful people that can help me. Their perspectives come from places of unchecked privilege. What’s a black girl got to do to break the cycle??

New Year. New Attitude. New ME.

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 3D printing (also known as Additive Manufacturing or AM) is creating the changes individuals wish to see in their communities. I believe this revolutionary technology has the potential to be disruptive and wildly empowering for the millions of people with ideas but few tangible ways to execute them. With the rise of bio-derived 3D printed materials, there’s great possibility to not only create useful and elegant structures but to do them sustainability. We are opening up AM to a world of users that may be able to turn their waste streams into furniture and infrastructure–should they so choose. I am excited to see where this development takes me and I believe my three courses this quarter beautifully supplement my dream: ME310A a course focused on the entire design process, CEE265D Water and Sanitation in Developing Countries, and ME353 Design for AM. It took a windy and troubling year to get to this point, but I have more faith than ever that I’m in the right place and doing the right thing with my life. No matter how hard life attempts to rattle you, you must plant your feet and dig your heels deeper into the ground. The true test of your character will only be in how you decide to respond. Remember, there are always three choices in life: do the right thing (which is best), do the wrong thing (which is second best), or do nothing (which is always undeniably the worst).

black-womanBB Tip: Get up and do something to change the world today! Even if it means just making your bed.

~ACK

 

 

 

Open letter on behalf of Brock Turner’s“20 minutes of action”

*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*,”

Now,

This may come to you as a shock Dan Turner

Given the level of competence you displayed in your quote

I imagine most things are…

But there is no 5-second rule,

Like when food grazes the ground

Rape still counts

No matter how many seconds it lasts

15 years and 4 days ago

The first tower was struck at 8:46am

The other only 17 minutes later

Both towers and families collapsed

In seconds

But we do not mourn the lives of the hijackers

We do not grant amnesty nor leniency

Simply because they pulled it off in under an hour!

Who comforts the grieving families

By adding,

Well

They’ve never killed in the past—

So it’s not really that bad

 

In 20 minutes,

12 people were gunned down at a Colorado

Midnight showing of the Dark Knight

With 13 minutes to spare

But somewhere the police are arriving on time

A soft baby is being cooed to sleep

By a mother with nursery rhymes for eyes

Three black men cloaked in night have made it home

Safely

Bellies swell with fufu, meat, and okra mixed with stew

A black girl exhales deeply

She has big chopped and feels weightless again

Feels suspended in the air

For Usain Bolt,

Even a morsel of a second

Made him the fastest human on Earth

In 20 minutes,

You could listen to 6

Back to back slam poems from survivors

About the shame and guilt they can only shed

For 3 minutes at a time on stage

Just enough

To make this poem relevant for

2 more women

 

When you say “20 minutes of action”

Do you think of doing a load of laundry

Or what will come out in the wash

Do you imagine sweeping your living room

Or picture what you’ve left to rot under your rug

Are you cleaning out your closet

Or burning the bones you’ve buried within it

Is it just half a Fela Kuti song?

An overture without the repeats to you?

 

Have you no regard

For how many crimes you can commit in 20 minutes?

Is your White Male American,

Blue-eyed Upper middle class,

Privileged blonde head

Too far up your own ass to see

How black

And unbothered you can be

In that span

How woman

How unconscious

How non-complying

 

It takes most people 60 minutes

To process ½ oz. of liquor

Do you know how many chances that left Brock

To make a good decision?

 

How dare you trivialize the wrath

A Turner has wreaked in 20 minutes time?

How a Nat Turner

Led a slave rebellion

So calculated

Educating black people became illegal

How an Ike Turner would lay hands,

Snort a line,

And write a song

In a fraction,

Hell,

Even Timmy Turner got 12 wishes

From his Fairly Oddparents

During opening credits

And you expect me to believe

A Turner can’t cause destruction

Can’t rewrite history

Can’t bring people together

Before tearing them apart

 

What you fail to resolve

Is that however spent,

Minutes are the very definition of lifetime.

And if I could only have one to spare on you,

You would never disrespect any of us again.

D282: Just Keep Swimming (Recognizing the Strength in Consistency)

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…”

NPNG.png

True words plastered on the walls of gyms nationwide.

My year taught me that the most difficult part of falling down is convincing yourself you can get back up. Consistency kicks in like a reflex catapulting outstretched palms each time knees tremble and buckle under the weight of low bars and expectations. All I can do is continue to do. All I can hope is to continue to hope. And all that matters is that I continue to realize I matter. I must recognize that my existence in this nexus of technology, academia, social entrepreneurship, and sustainable design is my active resistance against my oppression. I affirm that I am here and thus still have just enough energy to get back up one more time.

cute-queen-bee.pngQueen Bees, stay in formation and sip lilac lemonade. The black female body is subjected to incomprehensible amounts of pain and is advised to emerge every time even stronger and more prepared for the worst that has yet to come her way. Just because we don’t look like what we’ve been through, doesn’t mean we aren’t in need of support.

“Just because we’re magic, doesn’t mean we aren’t real.” -Jesse Williams

~ACK

D217: How Beyoncé’s Lemonade Motivated Me to Keep Pushing

I have to be honest: 1) 2016 has already earned its place as the most challenging year of my life  (I can’t believe it’s only April) and 2) I’ve never been a die-hard, know all the words, go to all the concerts, Beyoncé fan, and quite frankly I’m still not. But I have the utmost respect for both the year 2016 and Beyoncé. I woke up this morning tired from everything — the mantra “I came here to be a student,” replaying itself over and over again in my head. Every morning seemed to be a reminder that something else had gone wrong, or needed immediate attention, or was going to derail me yet again. A few minutes before I began spiraling back into a dark place, a GroupMe message appears on my phone from a friend with the link to Beyoncé’s Lemonade – Visual Album. An hour and 5 minutes later, I got out of bed believing that there was something in this world to look forward to. Her raw vulnerability reminded me of why I produce art and the impact that it can have on people’s lives.

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“I tried to make a home out of you…”

-W. Shire

Being black. And woman. And engineer. Is not easy. Most days, I’m not sure which identity is warranting the micro-aggression, or the feelings of not belonging. Today, I echo the sentiment that life gives everyone sour moments — but artists know how to turn them into something sweeter. I’ll emerge as the dust settles from this troubled year, even when gravity pushes me down, I must continue to stand back up. I must.


blender.pngShake Things Up: Saturdays have become my official day of relaxation. I challenge you to also make a day, or evening, or hour for yourself. Do something you’ve been putting off, talk to someone that makes you feel good, collect only reasons to smile on this day. Throw the lemons life hurls in the blender, add some mango nectar, and enjoy a good smoothie.

~ACK

D176: Asking for Help So You Actually Get It

 

The secret? Simply ask for what you want. Yeah…that’s it. It’s actually one of the few things we must rely on since mind reading is still generally unavailable.

need-help

Sometimes, we’re so afraid of being a burden to others that we shoulder the weight all by ourselves. However, asking for help is a sign of strength and maturitynot weakness. It’s even been proven that people enjoy helping others and that we like someone more after helping them. A Stanford 2008 GSB study found that “participants overestimated, sometimes by 50%, the number of people they’d have to ask to get someone to agree with each request.” Think about it, even if someone does say no, couldn’t it also mean you’re one person closer to someone who will say yes?

College has repeatedly given me crash-courses on this lesson: from learning to show up to every single Physics III professor office hour to speaking with Associate Deans about my worries of funding myself through graduate school while excelling. Life’s not meant to be traversed alone. In fact, as humans, we cannot clean, dress, or feed ourselves for several years. While life is arguably more difficult for some than for others it is a shared emotional journey nonetheless—and that’s what binds us together.


 

Squeaky WheelSqueeeeeeeeaky Wheel: Fellow women and POC, please go and ask for what you deserve! We are in school to learn—so go get better explanations at office hours. We are in a time when engineering programs are asking for diversity—so make these programs work to recruit you. We are in an age where you can search what ails you and find a community of support—so go reach out to someone who’s job it is to do something. There’s no need to suffer in silence, go find your ally.

Additional resources: A helpful Wikihow resource that helps you learn how to ask for help, hope it helps! (See what I did there??)

ACK

 

D169: Entrepreneurship Will NOT Be My Financial Salvation

I had long cherished the idea of entrepreneurship as a salvation; the thing I was meant to do that would lift me above the discontents of normal life. After industry internships, I longed for the flexibility and autonomy that being my own boss enabled. This past summer, I worked as a Technology Transfer Entrepreneur for DOE. Actually working as an entrepreneur changed how I thought about almost everything. Every person I met became a potential customer, investor, or brand crusader. My passion as a spoken word artist became something that I thought about less and less.

As the number of stakeholders increases, I foresee my induced stress, feelings of frustration, and levels of self-doubt, also increasing. My definition of “success” will become a volatile critique based on a myriad of other’s voices. My juvenile notion on great company culture, a vision of considerable growth, and a worthy exit is no longer controlled nor affects just me independently.

I empathize with James Freeman’s decision (Blue Bottle Founder and CEO) to pursue his business over his artistry. After scouring the Internet for statistics on professional clarinet players, the most optimistic estimate placed all independent musicians at ~1.4% of the total U.S. workforce. While it’s highly unlikely to reach the status of acclaim in either profession, the relentless believers ultimately surpass the rest.

 


Happy Brain.pngHealthy Brain Food for Thought: Luckily, the brain isn’t static. Rather, our environments and deep emotions constantly rewire it. Entrepreneurship is a creative endeavor that delves into our most intimate selves—and I’m sure his art heavily influences his leadership.

 

~ACK

D162: Why “Good” is Never Good Enough for a Black Woman.

As a black woman born to poor immigrants, I don’t have the luxury of relying on “good enough,” I know my work is often inspected more critically. Marginalized identities cannot settle for “good enough” because the sad truth is—we’re taught to aim low. Thus, I’ve committed to proofreading and attending every office hour to overcome generalizations every day. I’ve learned my new focus must be on not how to make it perfect but how to make it work.

We lose perspective on the quality of our creations immediately after creating them. And the more we scour over them in pursuit of fresh perspectives, the farther away they move. Combined with an obsession for perfection and often the result is paralysis. One can build a culture of excellence without the expectation that every employee needs to regularly deliver flawless results. Even Steve Jobs managed to temper his perfectionism by hiring people he trusted to uphold his caliber. This helped Apple tackle mass market and become less of a niche product company. Simply put, in the work world: good enough and done is better than perfect and never completed.


Happy Sun.png

Challenging the Status Quo: I’ve learned to lead by faith and work until I am content and have reached an excellence that’s both irrefutable to others and something I’m proud to claim.

~ACK

D155: Confronting the Awkward Truth – What Exactly is a PhD? And What Am I Getting Myself Into?

Stanford is a place of privilege. Quite the privilege at that. I am still learning how to navigate the breadth of resources, wealth, and influence, that I am surrounded by every day. I am still figuring out how to explain to my parents the people that I’m meeting and the opportunities that I now have–the kinds none of us knew would ever be possible.

I am also still discovering what a Ph.D. actually is and whether or not I still want one. I don’t have the luxury of asking my parents, or brother, or friends what it all means–I’m too busy reading ahead so I can attempt to explain it to them. Unfortunately, I have mixed up the aims of industry and research–I want a Ph.D. to create devices and build things that can be directly applied, research is about the underlying science, gradual incremental changes, and modeling the effects of certain factors. Research influences industry and eventually leads to applications but the road I’m embarking on is one of patience not necessarily action. *Sigh* lesson learned.

Nevertheless, I still want a Ph.D. and I want a start up. Nowhere in the rules am I prohibited from having both. For now, I’ll just have to accept my dreams of creating groundbreaking human-powered devices for the developing world as part of my research is a little bit further away than I thought.


Wise OwlWise Owl’s Mantra (aka what I learned from Cory Booker coming to campus on February 20th): Live as though you cannot fail. Love as though your heart was never broken. Laugh as though it could make you fly.

 

~ACK