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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Calvin’s Declassified Chan Division Survival Guide


July 10, 2020

Life Hacks

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As much as I’ve been enjoying my time spent in grad school so far, I confess that there have been, and definitely still are, moments when I struggle to keep up. Back when I had just started the program, I felt a daunting amount of pressure to be that student who had good grades, who was getting involved, and so on. I didn’t want my peers to think that I was falling behind or that I wasn’t as passionate as them. I had put up a front as if everything in my life was balancing out perfectly. In reality, though, all of my self-doubt and imposter feelings had knocked me down to a low point where I felt undeserving of being here.

I needed to pause and reflect in order to understand why I was experiencing these feelings. As I collected my thoughts, I realized that my reasons weren’t aligned with my values. I associated an “A” grade with the incentive of validation and I connected heavy involvement as the only method of gaining opportunities. However, the truth of the matter is that I don’t need to be reaffirmed by letter grades to know that I’ve worked hard, and there are multiple avenues to finding opportunities and getting involved. We’re all here to become occupational scientists and occupational therapists! How we get there is up to us, so let’s live our lives to our fullest!

I wish I had guidance on this earlier on, so I want to provide some tips and reminders that I think will help with treading the waters of graduate school:

Your health comes first:

  • Being a student means keeping ourselves academically accountable, but we should also be prioritizing our wellness. I’ve found that setting boundaries and understanding my own mental and physical capacities have enabled me to excel in so many ways!

Get involved for you:

  • Last week, I co-presented at the Student Organization Fair on behalf of the Occupational Therapy and Science Council (OTSC). During the Q&A portion, first-year students expressed their concerns about getting involved in terms of time management, overcommitment, and staying on top of school. In response, we second-year students, along with Dr. Rafeedie, echoed sentiments of doing what you can and how your experiences are what you make of it. However you choose to get involved will ultimately help you and respective organizations move forward in leadership!

It’s okay to say “no”:

  • You may feel like turning down opportunities will hurt your chances of getting more in the future, but really, sometimes we just have to say “no”. There are moments when I feel so overwhelmed and unsure about taking on more responsibilities, that saying “yes” may only exacerbate the outcome. By giving myself options, I’ve become a more effective communicator and a better manager of my time.

Reach out and check in:

  • Now more than ever, getting in touch with peers, faculty, and staff, has proven to be an essential aspect of my life. Feeling sensitive, vulnerable, and in need of support, is natural. When I allow myself to open up, I feel a sense of relief and find that others may even connect with my feelings on a mutual level.

You don’t have to have all the answers:

  • As a second-year student, I’ve been feeling the pressure of having to provide the best responses to questions that come my way. Realistically though, I don’t know everything, and that’s okay. There is beauty in not knowing and even more so in the adventure of learning and being curious!

Embrace your qualities:

  • I am a huge overthinker! I had always seen this as a weakness, but more recently, I’ve redefined it into a quality that I cherish. Now, I see it more like thinking thoughtfully and putting in the effort to understand. We all have our own unique set of qualities, so let’s appreciate and celebrate them!

Be real with yourself:

  • I used to be such a people pleaser, but I realized that I can’t give everyone what they want. It’s still hard, but being more realistic with myself has helped me cope with my struggles and it’s reminded me that I should be doing things for me. Stay true to yourself because you are the only you and no one else knows you better than you do!

This journey of self-discovery is never-ending. I’m growing and learning more about myself every day and, although graduate school can get tough at times, it has taught me valuable lessons that I will carry on throughout life. So, to all of you prospective students, current students, and anyone else: we are in this together and you are not alone!