University of Southern California
University of Southern California
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Student Ambassador Blog


How hard is graduate school?

, by Caroline

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Prospective students frequently ask: how hard is graduate school? What might I be getting myself into? Will I ever do anything other than study? Let’s jump in!

How many days per week do you have class?
The Entry-Level Masters program is full-time; I take up to 18 credit hours per semester, which means I spend 18 hours in the classroom each week. This is usually broken into 6 hours of class, 3 days per week. Most of the time, classes are 9AM-12PM and 1PM-4PM, with a break at noon for lunch. Professors also give us a break in the middle of class to get up, move around, and snack! Additionally, I have Level I fieldwork experiences one day per week. Total, that’s 4 full days per week devoted to schoolwork, with weekends and one weekday off.

For more information, check out our course sequence.

What are graduate school classes like?
Each course is organized differently, but I’ll describe some of the common course designs.

Some courses (OT 538: Current Issues in Practice: Adulthood and Aging or OT 534: Health Promotion and Wellness, for example) are held in a large lecture hall that fits my whole class. These courses are primarily lecture, with some group work mixed in. Often, we will have guest lecturers come in to speak about a particular area of expertise or lived experience, which is cool!

Other thread courses (OT 523: Communication Skills for Effective Practice or OT 518: Quantitative Research for Evidence-Based Practice, for example) are smaller, just with my cohort of about 45 students. These courses include time for lecture and instruction, but also time to work on group activities and semester-long projects.

The 3 practice immersion courses (OT 501: Adult Physical Rehabilitation, OT 502: Mental Health, and OT 503: Pediatrics) are unique in a few ways. Instead of meeting only once per week like the other courses, these courses meet 3 times per week, each time for 3 hours. Twice per week I have lecture for my immersion course with my cohort of about 45 students. I also have lab once per week, which is with just half of my cohort – about 22 students. The immersion courses utilize principles of team-based learning. Instead of sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture for 3 hours straight, a lot of time spent in class is active and interactive. I’m frequently working in groups and teams of classmates on case studies, application activities, discussions, and hands-on learning experiences. This means that my professors expect me to come to class having read the assigned textbook and articles, ready to ask questions about them and then apply what I’ve learned.

For more information, check out our course descriptions.

What about homework, projects, and exams?
Similarly, each course syllabus is structured differently. All courses require textbook and/or article readings each week. Some courses have weekly quizzes on the readings (sometimes taken individually, often taken with a group). Many courses have a midterm exam and a final exam (sometimes cumulative, sometimes not). A few of my classes have had large semester-long group projects, research papers, or presentations. Participation and professionalism are always a component of my final grades, so I always make sure I am in class, prepared for class, and ready to participate!

So…how hard is it all?

I’ve truly found graduate school to be quite manageable. When I think about what’s expected of me in the program, 3 things stand out:

1. Support
First, the program and the people in it are incredibly supportive; it’s far from a competitive environment. I share notes with my classmates and divide up study guide preparations with friends to make exam prep more manageable. I want my friends and classmates to be the best OTs they can be, so why wouldn’t we help each other out? Faculty and staff have been so relatable and understanding and always make themselves available to answer questions! They understand everything we have on our plates, and they never give us more than we can handle.

2. Knowing Myself
Second, it’s important to know yourself and how you work. I’ve learned that I work best under pressure. I like to juggle a lot of different things and stay busy, so when I do have time set aside to get work done, I know that I will be productive and efficient. I also very much value balance, and know that I won’t feel happy if I spend all of my time on schoolwork. I have a “No Homework Saturday” rule that I have not broken throughout my entire graduate school experience (I’m quite proud of this). I reserve Saturdays to get out of my apartment, explore LA, and spend time with friends. “No Homework Saturday” has become a mantra among my friends in the program, serving as a reminder that it’s OK to take a break even when the work is piling up. Everyone is different, however, so it’s important to figure out your style so that you can manage your time and responsibilities!

3. Passion for what I’m learning
Third, and finally, I’m in this program because I am pursuing my passion to become an Occupational Therapist. The curriculum and expectations of me in the program are designed to prepare me to be the best OT than I can be. As a result, I see the value in the courses I take, the assignments I’m turning in, and the pages of reading I complete. The time I spend on schoolwork is not time wasted. Sure, I sometimes have long hours studying, but I feel motivated to study, and not only because I want to do well in school or pass my national boards exam. I also understand that what I’m learning now is information I will continue to be tested on when practicing in the real world for the duration of my career as an OT. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed by school, I try and zoom out to see the big picture! It’s hard work, but will definitely be worth it!

In short, graduate school is challenging, but it should be! I’m learning so many new skills, theories, and ways of thinking that I constantly feel like my mind is stretching, but not to the point of feeling overwhelmed. It’s the right amount of challenge, and I always have time for my “No Homework Saturday” smile


I Can’t Sleep! What Do I Do?!

, by Erika

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You ever have a night where no matter how hard you try, you can’t sleep? A few weeks ago, I had one of those nights. My head was spinning a million miles an hour and any time I tried to relax, breathe, or picture myself on a tranquil beach, my mind just zoomed elsewhere and spun a million miles an hour at the next place it ended up! It was complete, and utter, torture.

Each night, whether it’s spawned from stress, depression, anxiety, diet, or physical conditions, millions of people struggle to stay asleep or fall asleep in America. MILLIONS! After my one interminable night, I can’t even imagine how people experience this as a nightly occurrence and somehow function the next day.

So of course, as an OT student would, I took account of my sleep hygiene for that evening. From assessing my memory of the day/night, it went like this:

9:00a - 5:00p: Last day of fieldwork! It was an incredibly busy day seeing patients, saying goodbye to patients, coworkers and CIs. While it was busy, it was full of adrenaline. I came out of fieldwork feeling very energetic!
6:00p: Went home, changed for yoga, drank some iced green tea.
7:15p: Yoga Class
8:30p: Visited a friend and had dinner.
10:30p: Watched an episode of “Stranger Things” S2 with my roommates.
12:00a: In bed, on my phone before bed (like a good Millennial).
4:00a: Tossing and turning in bed, completely awake.
6:30a: Finally fell asleep.
7:30a: Alarm clock rings! -__-

After learning about sleep hygiene and points of consideration that can affect sleep in our OT534: Health Promotion and Wellness class, there are a few things I would have done differently in order to potentially gain restful sleep.

1. Avoid caffeine after 3p. I truly believe the iced green tea was a main culprit in keeping me awake till the whee hours of the morning. It was only half a glass! So lethal!

2. Wind down. While Stranger Things S2 is SO HARD NOT TO BINGE, it wasn’t the best way to wind down before bed. Episode 4 made my energy and excitement rise up to my eyebrows that it took time for my heart, brain, and body to relax. For the future, knowing that STS2 is hella thrilling, perhaps I will make it a point to start watching it earlier in the night and avoid watching it right before bed!

3. Reduce phone activity before bed. As many people know, blue light (from your phone or laptop) stimulates your body similarly to it’s response to daylight and thus, can wake your body up more then prepare it for sleep. Therefore, it’s encouraged to either adjust your phone settings to night time mode and make sure to reduce the amount of phone time prior to going to sleep.

4. Don’t lie in bed awake. A good rule of thumb is that if you are awake in bed for more than 15-20 minutes, get up and do something. Refrain from highly stimulating activities like television or looking at your phone and try reading a boring book or magazine. Alternative activities can include stretching, breathing, or even utilizing a relaxation app like “Sleep Pillow Sounds” or “Sleep Time”.


Some Alternative Transportation

, by Bryan · 1 comment

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I thought this post might be useful for anyone considering applying/attending USC who lives outside the LA area! I currently live in Redondo Beach and driving to campus is definitely taxing. It takes a little over an hour each way and there are plenty of cohort members who commute all the way from the OC! For those who are looking for some alternative and cheaper forms of transportation/parking, here are a few.

1. Metrolink Trains. A number of my cohort members take this train from Fullerton/Irvine/OC area and it is a great option! The train has seats to sit on and study or sleep and also travels straight to Union Station, from which you can board a USC shuttle to take you to Health Science Campus. The downside with these trains is that the departure times are pretty limited so you will probably have to wake up pretty early and leave campus by specific times.

2. Metro Bus. I personally take the silver line 910/950 which goes straight from Gardena area/91 fwy entrance in the South Bay all the way to LA+USC Hospital which is close to the Health Science Campus! The commute consists of just one bus and takes about 1hr~ to get to HSC. A major benefit is that the Tap Card bus pass (which works for all other Metro lines as well!) is 107$/semester. You can purchase a Tap Card online through USC and pick up the sticker on HSC campus.

If you do end up driving and are looking for other potential parking options, there is metered parking available on campus that expire in 4 hour intervals (1$/hr) as well as free parking available on Valley Street right next to campus, across the train tracks. If you search “Lincoln Park” into your maps app, you can find free street parking around that area. Finding street parking along Valley gets tough, however, so definitely give yourself some time to find a spot and walk to class.

Hope this makes your commuting lives a little easier!


Benefits of Cohorts

, by Ali

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This is our last week of classes with our cohorts, and it has me reflecting on what a special experience it is to study at USC in the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. As some of the other blogs have talked about, our entire class of Entry-Level Professional Master of Arts degree students is divided into three cohorts. So our 130-140 person class is broken up into 40-45 person sections. Across the span of three semesters, each cohort takes one of the three immersions focused on Adult Rehabilitation, Mental Health, or Pediatrics. The cohorts will rotate through each of these immersion courses over the three semesters.

Although the immersion coursework is with your cohort, the other thread courses such as Therapeutic Use of Self and Clinical Reasoning are with these same individuals in your cohort. The nature of these courses lends cohorts to be very close knit. We explore different practice areas together as well as develop our own sense of self as therapists. We develop our understanding of occupational therapy and build our clinical reasoning together. These semesters are formative in building our professional identities, so each semester we become more and more bonded as classmates and future therapists.

Reflecting on this last week of a rigorous semester, our last lab in Adult Rehabilitation focused on creating a meal together as a class utilizing adaptive equipment in the functional kitchen where our lab class takes place. There was no better way to end three semesters of coursework with my classmates than creating a meal together. As someone who is shy to speak up in a group of 130 people, with my cohort of 45 students who I got to know on a personal level I always felt comfortable asking questions or seeking out help from whomever I happen to sit next to that day. As Bryan references in his post a week ago, our cohort is constantly lifting each other up and checking in with one another.

Here are some pictures of Cohort B in Adult Rehabilitation during our last lab!

Taco Tuesday

Cookie Creations!

Cohort B Ambassadors!


The 4 Thanksgiving F’s: Food, Friends, Football, and Family

, by Caroline

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It might not be Thanksgiving quite yet, but the Thanksgiving spirit is definitely in the air (can you tell from Bryan and Ali’s posts?). Well, you lucky readers, here comes one more Thanksgiving appreciation blog!

This past weekend was filled with three of my favorite Thanksgiving occupations: food, friends, and football.

On Friday night, I journeyed out to a classmate’s house a couple hours outside LA for an early Thanksgiving with friends. It was truly one of the highlights of my semester. Let me tell you – the air was so fresh and I could see stars in the sky! I’ve definitely gotten used to big city life (and all of its perks) but it was a breath of (literal) fresh air to get out of the city for a night! We had a huge buffet of food, a fire pit, and so many laughs. It was a great chance to get together with friends who aren’t in my cohort and catch up!

Thanksgiving dinner with friends from the program.

A food- and friendship-filled early Thanksgiving celebration with wonderful friends from the program.

On Saturday, I went to the USC vs. UCLA football game. Our OT programs were actually being recognized at the game, so a big group of us got to go onto the field for a photo op before warm ups. Definitely a different view than the one I’m used to from the student section! We were also featured on the screen during the game – how cool right?! After the photo op, I went to the OT and Physical Therapy tailgate (gotta love the interprofessional mixing!) before heading to the game (which we won!!). Go Trojans!

Our whole group out on the football field!

Here’s the picture of our whole group out on the field. Check out those V’s for victory!

Another picture from the field!

Another photo from our experience on the field!

Food, Friends, and Football -it was definitely a fun weekend. “And the last F?” my detail-oriented readers might ask. Family time is coming soon! In fact, I’m writing this from none other than LAX airport waiting to board my flight back home to North Carolina. As I was packing my sweaters and winter clothes and gearing up for colder weather back on the East Coast, I jokingly texted my mom that I’d rather stay in LA for 90 degree Thanksgiving weather. She knew exactly what would convince me to come home – pictures of my dogs that are (almost) as excited for me to come home as my human family. Guess I could add one more F to my list of Thanksgiving words: fluffy pups. Photos of the pups included to increase the cuteness factor of this blog post:

Sadie the dog!

Meet Sadie, who is very excited to lounge with me on the couch. Look at those needy eyes!

Gracie the dog!

Meet Gracie, who is excited to have another human at home to play with her!

Looking forward to a few days off from school before heading back for the last week of classes and final exams. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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