Your entire life is the sum of your relationships.
Think about it.
I didn’t realize how monumental relationships truly were. I knew that I loved my family and that was the most important relationship that I had up until this point. I never considered that my life can be wholly represented by the relationships I build, maintain, break off–it’s a reflection of my volatility, comfort levels and surroundings. It impacts my trajectory, how far I go, the things I enjoy, hobbies I do, food I eat, culture I consume. And among the most relevant to me now: it affects my research and the outcome of my degree. I am committing myself to an extended relationship that connects me with a multi-year experience, notoriety and respect from colleges, future jobs and potentially work that can change some small part of the world.
A relationship between advisor and advisee is absolutely critical. I wanted so much to rush the process as I often attempt to do. Enjoy the process of finding a good match research-wise and personally. It involves more than finding people that look good on paper, I realize now that the work I’m doing is not nearly as important as who I’m doing it with. My best experiences have come when I’ve had incredible and passionate people serving as my mentors. Time to resume the search!
Listening to your heart. You typically wouldn’t rush into a marriage with someone you barely know. You wouldn’t commit yourself to one passion without having explored other options and interests. Be wary of rushing into selecting an advisor. It’s a very important relationship that deserves time and careful consideration as well. If things don’t feel right, listen to that instinct!
‘Tis the season for putting one’s best foot forward and starting anew. I successfully completed my first quarter at Stanford and am gearing up for the excitement that this time of year brings. Right now, most people are riddled with new goals, for GPA, weight, personal growth, and development. I have spent the past several hours reflecting on 2015 and what it has brought to me. My 2015 was the year of difficult decisions. A year that challenged me to weigh multiple outcomes from disparate perspectives with various consequences. I have sought advice from some of the people I admire most and have received some of the warmest encouragement from lives that I have touched. All this is to say–life will always go on.While I fretted with the choices and obsessed on the future, I forgot that any decision I make was precisely the decision I was supposed to make.
This post’s title may be misleading, I am not here to advise you on how to make better decisions. Rather, to prepare you mentally for having to make tough decisions. You are exactly who you need to be and you are doing exactly what you were meant to do in this moment. Some decisions we cannot take back but less we forget that life continues to move forward. You’re in the driver’s seat. It’s your life. Take control over where you want to go and how you get there, just be sure to read the signs along the way and make sure it’s what you came there for.
New Year’s Resolution: Do not limit myself to waiting until January 1st to unlearn bad habits substitute them for positive changes.
Seek a lesson in every day and challenge the way that everything is done.
Blackout at Stanford University’s White Plaza on November 18, 2015
I wouldn’t feel like a responsible African American blogger unless I also took the time to address much of the hysteria sweeping college campuses. In light of recent situations, protests, rallies, and demonstrations have been orchestrated by colleges across the country in support of campus reforms. With each passing day, I find myself more disturbed by the horrific accounts from people of color and the distorted portrayals by media “officials.” Every YouTube comment, Facebook post, and Twitter hashtag addressing the issues is usually followed by trolling hate speech that makes me question, how far have we really come as a nation?
Not everyone will like me. I get that. Not everyone cares to get to know me. I’m fine with that too. Not everyone will acknowledge the enormous obstacles placed in front of marginalized people. I understand this as well. But I am still a person. I need to be loved, seen, heard, and understood. I yearn for compassion, empathy, success, and freedom. Our veins pump with the same ferocity and our minds solve the same algorithms. All I ask is for respect. For the black students at HLS who wake up to hate crimes. For the black students at Mizzou that are terrorized for going to class. For the black students in Spring Valley High School that are flung across the room like yesterday’s trash. I see you. I hear you. I stand with you in solidarity.
Stay Woke. Recognize the power that you hold when you are informed of the whole situation. Know what’s happening in the world around you–it’s a pretty small place. The things that happen here affect you far more than you may think.
June 12th, 2020: “Abisola Kusimo is hooded by Professor (Blank Blank) in receipt of the Doctoral Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University” (crowd cheers on senselessly)
THIS is where your graduate school thinking begins.
Okay, maybe it was a tad bit too dramatic, but this is where my mind often wanders when the pressure builds and my work piles. I want to be Abisola Kusimo, Ph.D. or Dr. Abisola Kusimo (if I like you) by 2020. This year is symbolic to me of the clear 20/20 vision I hope to achieve and communicate to others. It is my year of breathtaking clarity: an HD-image of how my future generations will be impacted by this accomplishment and the year that my last name will never be the same.
Enough of the mumbo-jumbo, touchy-feely, super dreamy future. Now for the strategies that will allow you to also make the jump from thinking in the present to visualizing your future.
- Set your goal. Why do you want a Ph.D.? Know it, write it, and speak it into existence.
- Talk with your advisor. When do you want a Ph.D.? Is it feasible? What does it take to graduate? What are both of your expectations from each other?
- Build a network. How do you want a Ph.D.? (Hint: It won’t be on your own) Meet your cohort and learn from students across the university. These will be your colleagues in a few years and possibly co-authors on future grant proposals and research articles!
- Ask for help. How badly do you want a Ph.D.? It cannot be done alone. The nature of the degree requires that you interact with committee members, advisors, and other researchers (or at least their papers). If you’re like me, and a first gen grad student: don’t shoulder the burden, take time for yourself and seek out resources. Remember self care. Self care. And…oh yeah! Self care!
- Do not give up. Seriously, how badly do you want a Ph.D.? Brace yourself. This journey will not be easy. But it will be rewarding. This degree is not yours–it is received on the backs and beads of sweat of those that trail blazed before you. Marinate in that and use it as a light to cast away your doubts.
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). Applying for outside funding and fellowships may as well be a 3-credit course all on its own. This is reflective not only of the time commitment, but of the cognitive capacity one needs to attain the level of depth and breadth reviewers expect to see in your application package. Even just figuring out where to start might as well be a 1-credit seminar. With each university having its own funding webpage in addition to the hundreds of websites that pop up each year, all with the perfect algorithm for helping you go to school for free. Unfortunately, it’s just not that intuitive of a process. Personally, I’ve spent hours scouring the internet for scholarships and fellowships that I’m eligible for and every time I look, I find a couple more that I’d never heard of. Eventually, I put a hard cap at 10 fellowships and 7 scholarships that I would be able to apply to during the quarter without spontaneously combusting…so far, so good.
Food for Thought: There is A LOT of money wandering in the world to support your education, it’s true. What they don’t tell you is how hard you will work to find it and set aside time to earn it. There is a world that awaits you should you set off to take advantage of it. Arm yourself with good resources, good friends, and…a good therapist–it will be a long ride.
P.S. If you’re an underrepresented student looking for fellowships/scholarships in Engineering (what I tend to look for) try perusing: NSBE, Million Dollar Scholar, SWE, AAUW (women), NASA, Hertz Foundation Fellowship (limited to certain universities), Paul & Daisy Soros Foundation Fellowships for New Americans (international students/parents), Ford Foundation Fellowship, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (that acronym up above), GEM Consortium Fellowship, National Physical Sciences Consortium Graduate Fellowships (limited to certain universities), and also contact your local department, individual college, and school diversity officer for more leads. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but it gave me great places to search when I had no idea how to start. Happy searching!
I can hear it every evening from my second floor window. It’s out in the sun whenever I’m hunched over a computer cranking out a huge assignment. It’s in every hallway while I’m grinding through linear algebra proofs in office hours.
And everyone else is having it.
So you’ve probably experienced this before. That everyone else is spending this weekend ending world hunger or partying in Vegas or having the time of their lives and you’re just doing homework. Again. Just like yesterday and the day before. F.O.M.O., also known as “Fear of Missing Out” is merely a side effect of the Duck Syndrome–everyone looks calm on the surface but they’ve got to make up for all the time they didn’t spend working as diligently as you.
I often find myself struggling with a competing aspect of F.O.M.O. which is that I’m missing out on opportunities. In undergrad, I busied myself with numerous student organizations, 3 minors, 2 abroad service learning trips, 2 study abroad classes, 5 years of spoken word, several leadership positions and anything else that I could get my hands on. There was a perpetual fear that I would reflect on my experience and see that I had missed out.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, both represent common anxieties that twenty-somethings are facing. We are generally unsure about our future and insecure about making big decisions. I am taking a stand to live more consciously, fully, and intentionally every day. To take on what I can handle and no more. To do what I came here to do and no less. I want a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering and I want to have an amazing time along the way. I’ve just got to let life run its course.
Drake’s New New Motto: Y.O.L.O. was so 2011, the new motto on the street is F.O.M.O. and you’re not alone. To whom much is given, much is tested. Part of this test involves sacrificing some aspects of your old life to make room for the new parts of you that need to burgeon. Give yourself permission to relax. Do things you love once in a while–that’s okay. We constantly feel like we’re missing out on life when it’s the very thing that we’re creating.
P.S. I’ve seen the other side, trust me, you’re not missing much. Keep up the grind and take care of that brain of yours!
Confession: I came into grad school with absolutely no funding…not a dime to my name…you could hear echoes in my bank account (if you were small enough to fit inside of it in the first place).
Now, my story is not unique by any means. I had heard of all the fairytales about how STEM students don’t pay for advanced degrees (especially women and certainly minorities). Whelp, here I was! Sure that I had done something wrong, or wasn’t smart enough, or “special” enough, or thinking critically enough, etc. I could have remained defeated, in fact, I threw myself a pity party for a few weeks as I toiled with how I would manage acquiring over $60K worth of debt my first year. Needless to say, the title is “Stay HUNGRY!” for a reason. I did not give up. More importantly, I made sure that I talked with as many people as I could about the issue. Many were nonchalant–“it happens to a majority of students their first year,” some were sympathetic–“it will all work out in the end,” and a few were touched, truly touched. The next thing I knew, I was staring in the face of what seemed to be a miracle. Funding came in the form of a fall quarter fellowship +stipend, and I received assistantships for winter and spring. This meant my mom didn’t have to borrow money against her retirement fund at work (essentially her life savings) to see me live out my dream. This has given me a few more people to make proud and several more prayers to say in “thank you’s” every day. Follow your heart and be sure to speak it as well. Don’t be satisfied with settling, be overjoyed by overcoming!
A Dash of Inspiration: Stay Hungry! School is your JOB. You must take this seriously to be taken seriously. If there’s something in your way, figure out what it is, and ponder strategies you can employ to overcome it. Grad school is a marathon, not a sprint. Remember, other people have made it through this process before. You can and will do it too!
Important Syndromes to get familiar with as a graduate student should you ever have to diagnose yourself: Barbie (see first post), Impostor, and Duck…”what’s ‘Duck Syndrome,'” you say? Ever seen a duck floating serenely on the water and wondered how it was able to remain so peaceful? Turns out, that poor little duck is probably paddling its heart away. This is the humbling reality for many of our colleagues as well. We rarely see them break a sweat, it seems like everything just goes their way, when in fact they just work extremely hard. Moral of the story, it’s easy to fall victim to Duck Syndrome–but remember that we all must GRIND for what we truly want!
Advice from Sarcastic Penguin: “Two things every student should know about graduate school: (1) Everybody lies–i.e. that life plan your classmate has had since they were two, hah, probably not the final draft and (2) Nobody cares about you–if you want something then you have to make a way for yourself and not wait for it to be handed to you.”
So…I’ve successfully completed Day 1 as a Mechanical Engineering graduate student without spontaneously combusting–I don’t know about you, but that’s progress. The title may seem a bit mysterious to those not familiar with me or my alter ego (cleverly disguised with the same name) “Abisola,” a competitive spoken word poet. “Barbie Syndrome” is a poem that I wrote a few years ago tackling the daunting psychological effects of growing up as a dark-skinned black woman amidst America’s long-held notions of beauty (watch me perform Barbie Syndrome). The Impostor Syndrome, however, is a well-documented psychological phenomenon that occurs when we find ourselves in an environment where we don’t believe in ourselves. The two definitely have overlap, and as a sufferer from both, knowing that I’m not alone makes it a smidgen more manageable. A fellow engineering student here at Stanford commented that the Impostor Syndrome is a very passive experience–no one is directly telling you that you are inadequate, however you inherit those feelings of doubt nonetheless. Marginalized identities tend to receive the worst of the effects. Sometimes experiencing it’s more aggressive form, the “Intruder Syndrome,” don’t worry a poem on that one is coming soon.
Words of Encouragement: You BELONG here. Everything in life happens for a reason, even the chaos in our lives turns out to have ordered repercussions. Embrace your current moment and shake off the negative feelings. If you don’t believe in yourself, who else will?