Stand Out During Your Interviews >
November 20, 2020
Now that I have completed my OTD residency interviews, I want to reflect on that process and hopefully give some useful tips to those that are currently in an interview stage of their OT journey. This is not purely for residency interviews, but it is also applicable to job interviews and OT program interviews. In any interview, you want to put your best foot forward and show how much of an asset you are. But standing out is not about listing off all of your accomplishments. Despite the phrase of “standing out,” interviews are also about how well you fit in. From my personal experience with college interviews, job interviews, grad school interviews, and residency interviews, here are some important things to consider.
Why do you want to be there?
Biggest, most important question to ask yourself. Before you begin answering their question of “why should you be here?” is the question of “why do you want to be there?” I mean, why put yourself through the stressful process of interviewing if you have no reason to? When answering this question, it cannot stop at “because it pays the most” or “because it’s the top program.” That will not elicit any passion in your responses (unless you’re a really great actor). This is likely a place that you will stay for years so why pretend to like it.
When choosing places of interest, I would often ask myself these questions: What about this organization appeals to you? Where do you see yourself in the future and does this job or program align with that? Do you share similar values? Do you feel like you will be supported?
Once you answer these questions for yourself, you either get more excited about the idea of studying/working/training at that organization OR you lose interest. If you were excited, the next step is to show that enthusiasm and excitement during your interview. Being able to talk about why you value this place shows that you did your research and that you are serious about the opportunity. You should always have background on the place that you are interviewing for. Reading over their mission statement is a great place to start but it should go deeper than that. Did they hold any events that spoke to you? Is there a faculty member there that has done tremendous work to advance the field? What is this organization known for and how did that come about? Knowing more about a place will never hurt; it actually puts you at an advantage over the other applicants.
What can you bring to the table and what do you need to work on?
The famous “Strengths and Weaknesses” question. You knew it was coming! This is definitely a question that you should be prepared to answer *even if it is not explicitly asked. Whenever it is appropriate to do so, talk about your strengths. The interviewer wants to hear about how strong of a candidate you are. Yes, we are socialized to be humble (and in most instances, you should be) but now is not the time. What are your accomplishments and how do they fit into this role that you are applying for? This is your time to tastefully brag. Big emphasis on “tastefully” because you do not want to seem boastful. Afterall, you still need to show that you are collaborative and a good team-member. OTs do a lot of collaborating, you know.
If you are unsure about your strengths and weaknesses, performance evaluations from past supervisors can help you to determine this. During check-ins with teachers and bosses, there are some common themes that come up for me. This gave me insight to where I truly shine.
Something that we all probably know by now, but it does not hurt to say it again – your weaknesses should not be actual weaknesses. Do not self-sabotage! Yes, these are things that you need to work on but think of it as a strength in disguise. For example, one of my weaknesses is that I have a hard time delegating to others. I have difficulty in this area because I want to maximize everything to my standard. I would explain this to the interviewer and while it is a “weakness,” it indirectly says that I produce high-quality work.
You may be tired of hearing it. The idea of being yourself sounds so bleh. Like, is it really even a tip? But, it is! When you go into an interview, show your best SELF. Do not try to be someone else because it will become obvious. The only way to answer questions with authenticity, passion, and confidence is by being yourself and speaking to your OWN stories and experiences. Your values and what is meaningful to you should naturally pour out. They want to see your face light up when you talk about how you were introduced to OT, how your body language shifts when you discuss health disparities, or how your smile widens when you speak of your advocacy efforts. This is what they want to see. They want to see YOU—what matters to you, why are you the best addition to their team, what is special about you. You are very unique, and you bring your own unique skills. Make this known.
We focus a lot on getting an offer but not as much on deciding between multiple. It is good to be prepared for that possibility. Even before hearing back, I think that it is useful to rank the places that you are applying to. It helps you to organize your thoughts and gain a better sense of what you are seeking from this experience. Maybe one residency pays more but it is also further away, and you have to factor in the transportation cost. Maybe one program is closer to home but the other has a faculty member that you would be interested in doing research with. There are several things to consider when weighing your options. Ultimately, you have to decide what is most important to you. It helps to write it out or talk it through with someone else. When I was deciding between two residency offers, I spoke to someone about it and she made me address questions that I had not even considered. Having someone else’s brain to help you sort out your list of pros and cons can truly help. After speaking with her, I received almost instant clarity and was able to make my decision.
A very special tip
About 10 minutes before an interview, I do this really corny thing where I stand in the mirror in a power pose and give myself a pep talk. It goes something like “Lamoni Lucas, you are so amazing! You are smart, dedicated, compassionate, etc. It shows because you did X,Y,Z. You are deserving of all great things! Don’t be nervous. This is an opportunity! An opportunity to show others how special you are.” I usually point at myself too. Words of affirmation is my love language, so this works especially well for me. If this is not enough and you need a daily reminder, you can write yourself a love letter and post it at your desk. Read it every morning or night. If your love language is physical touch, you can give yourself a big, tight hug. Maybe kiss the mirror. I don’t know. Whatever floats your boat, use it. Give yourself some extra love and remind yourself of how wonderful you are! Good luck to you all!
Being “First-Gen” >
November 9, 2020
This week is USC’s “First Generation Student Week.” USC defines a first-generation student as someone whose parents do not have four-year college degrees. At USC, roughly 20% of the students are considered “first-gen” and that includes me! Because this week is about highlighting first-generation students, I want to talk about what this experience (being the first person in my household to go to college) has been like for me. If I were to sum it up in a few words, I would say “challenging but rewarding.” I know how cliché and overused that phrase is, but it is true.
My mother was still in high school when she had me and though her and my dad regularly tell me how much joy I brought to their lives, they acknowledge the multiple challenges that come with being a young parent – one being completing higher education. Since I could remember, education, getting good grades, and going to college has been ingrained in my upbringing. After school, when my friends would play outside, I had to read “hooked on phonics” books first. Honestly, growing up in New Orleans with debilitating humidity, I was happy to stay indoors to read. My parents pushed education because they wanted me to have experiences that they did not. They instilled a hunger for learning because they figured it would keep me on the “right track.”
All my life, I strived for As. It started with getting incentives by the end of the week (a stop at Toys R’ US or extra money in my allowance) but then it was more long term – I wanted to get into a “good college” and make my family proud.
Before college, everything felt like a straight path. School had always been “easy.” I never had to think about financing my education or having a place to live alongside completing readings, meeting deadlines, studying for tests. What was expected of me had completely shifted. On top of that, I went to school out of state and had absolutely no family around me. I remember a couple of times when I would cry on the phone to my mom because I felt overwhelmed. The most difficult part was reaching out to my parents and them not being able to help me. As a child and sometimes as a teenager, your parents are your superheroes. In the past, I could reach out to them for anything and together, we could come up with a solution. But now, I had to figure out everything on my own. From difficulties in class, to being a student worker all the way to handling east coast winters. They had no answers. For the first time in life, I could only rely on myself. As someone that takes a while to open up to people and someone that does not like asking for help, there were moments when I truly struggled.
During those moments of confusion and exhaustion, what kept me determined was my family—specifically, my siblings. I did not know what I was doing but I was going to figure it out—for them. Because, then, they would know that it was possible. Though I always had what I needed (food, water, shelter), I was raised in a low socioeconomic class. I, and the rest of my neighborhood, grew up on food stamps. Though my parents sheltered me as much as they could, I saw a lot of violence growing up, I saw substance abuse, and I saw family members taken away to jail. I saw what happens when people are not exposed to better opportunities or lack proper support to obtain those opportunities. I did not want my loved ones to be in that position. My parents could talk about how college was the right route to go, but they could not show me. I could show my brothers and sister and I could make my parents proud along the way. This was an opportunity to pave the way.
Because I am the first to get my bachelor’s degree, I will also be the first to get my master’s and later, the first to get my doctorate. While I am immensely proud of myself, I am not the only person that I do it for. As mentioned, I do it for my family. But, I also do it for other first-generation students. It is very difficult to go through such an extreme transition without guidance from your guardians. People discuss college as something that everyone must do—like it is some sort of “no-brainer” but they do not talk about how hard it is, and the resources to get through it is not readily available.
I love that there is a First-Generation Student Week because it acknowledges the challenges that first-gen students experience, congratulates us on our triumphs and provides resources so that we can continue moving forward. To all of the first-generation students, I am so proud of you. You have accomplished so much and you will continue to accomplish so much more.
To see what USC has in store for students this week, click here
Working with Real Clients (not actors) >
October 23, 2020
During your time in the Master’s Program and in the Adult Rehabilitation immersion, specifically, you will have several opportunities to work with actors that will serve as your client. This allows you to practice the techniques that your instructors and textbooks have been talking about. It is pretty nerve wrecking in the beginning because you do not want to “mess up.” But this is technically what they are there for. If you do it incorrectly the first, second, third time, it is okay. Each time that you practice, you get closer to using the correct form or using the correct language. The great thing is that the actors give you feedback too! You do not have to wait until your professor comes over. The actors will let you know if your directions were not clear or if your position was awkward and what you should try next time.
While it is great practice to have those actors as clients, it definitely does not compare to working with actual clients. During my Level I fieldwork at a hospital, I was presented with new challenges that I had not thought about. Clients would ask questions that I did not have the answers to, they would get off track and sometimes it was difficult to redirect them, and there were times when they said things that were a cause for worry. However, my clinical instructor was always right there to guide those situations. For the most part, I was observing and taking mental notes.
Due to COVID-19, the structure of the program has changed. Instead of doing my first Level II fieldwork during the summer, I will not be starting until the spring. That means that I went a couple of months without seeing a client (whether real or an actor). I was feeling rusty. However, I have had the perfect opportunity to work in the middle ground during this semester! My elective, Enhancing Motor Control for Occupations, has in-person sessions and involves volunteer clients!
We began this course by discussing what we would cover and how everything would be laid out. The purpose of the course is to provide an in depth understanding of “principles and methods for remediation of motor control problems following upper motor neuron lesions” (OT574 Syllabus, 2020). The perspective of the course is to examine the ways that occupations are impacted for adults with hemiplegia. Our first two classes covered pelvic and trunk assessment, scapular assessment, and shoulder alignment. We had practiced facilitations and mobilizations on our assigned partners which were other students in the class but because everyone had normal strength and movement (and none of us were trained actors), it felt rather… easy? It took some time to get the proper form but other than that, the client (ourselves) was simple.
After those first two classes, our volunteer clients arrived! The client that I was assigned to had a much different presentation than my classmate. While my partner is 5’6 and no more than 130 pounds, my client, Chuy, was 6’1 and over 300 pounds. He had a stroke a couple of years ago and presented with left side hemiplegia that caused weakness in his arm and flexion in his hand. He wanted to be able to tie his shoes and zip up his jacket independently. He had very functional goals and it was time to help him achieve them! Our interventions were completed through both in-person and Telehealth sessions. Every week, we had an entire two hours to work with our clients. Afterwards was the lecture portion by our instructor Remy Chu.
The last session with clients ended this week; we wrote discharge notes and gave them home exercise plans. Spending time with clients in this environment was an amazing opportunity. Everything we learned in lecture was being applied on the spot. And none of the clients had to pretend that they had weakness or impaired sensation or limited range of motion because it was actually the case. Therefore, by the end of our time with them, we were able to see real progress! We started and ended our time with clients by recording their movement and the how they performed their goal. We were able to compare them at discharge to how they were at baseline. In our last session which was through Telehealth, Chuy independently tied his shoes and with a big smile, asked “did you see that?!” It was such a rewarding feeling! I almost shed a tear. That feeling is not something that actors can provide. When working with clients, I am constantly reminded of why I chose this field.
Check In with Yourself >
September 25, 2020
Hi everyone, I simply want to check-in. This semester has been very busy and because the semester is squished into 12 weeks, we are already nearly halfway done. I feel like this week has been a particularly high stress week for individuals. Maybe it is stress about midterms, maybe it is stress because some of the half-semester electives are wrapping up, maybe it is stress about still feeling like you are trying to organize and plan for a semester that is already 42% done (points at self).
When attempting to check-in with my classmates, most of the responses that I receive are nervous chuckles (even in text form. You know the emoji). Honestly, when I check-in with myself, it is the same response. No matter the exact reason that you are stressed, it is valid. Being a graduate student is hard work, being a graduate student during times like this is several times harder. And, unfortunately, the other stressors in our lives continue to exist even while we are students.
I just want to take the time to emphasize that you are not alone in these emotions. Several students are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. But I also want to emphasize that just because several people are experiencing it does not mean that it is healthy. While being a student, there is always some level of stress. However, it should not be debilitating.
It is important to cut out some time to check in with yourself.
- Take note of your current mood. What exactly is contributing to your stress? Not just “schoolwork” but what are the assignments? Create an organized action plan of how and at what time you will tackle each assignment. Organization requires some heavy lifting in the beginning but once you have found a schedule and planning routine that works for you, it helps a ton.
- What are some outside stressors that you can control? Are there some things that you are a part of but can cut back on?
- Now think about the last time you did something truly enjoyable. How long ago was that? How can you recreate that feeling sometime soon?
- Also think about the last time you engaged in self-care. What did you do and how long ago was that?
It may help to give yourself a visual by writing all of this out. If there is a large imbalance between stressors and enjoyable activities or coping strategies, you will eventually burn yourself out. Now is the time to create healthy habits and routines. Life, in general, comes with stress. Practicing healthy ways to handle it now will greatly benefit us in the future. You are a student, but you are a person first. Prioritize taking care of your mind and body. We only get one of each and it has to last.
So, You Have Submitted Your Application >
September 11, 2020
It is that time of the year when potential students are pressing that “submit” button! If that is you, congratulations! Completing applications is undoubtedly the most stressful part of applying to schools. You have completed all of your pre-requisites, spent several hours observing, gathered recommendation letters, wrote an impressive personal statement, sat 4 long hours to take the GRE, and maybe did a couple of interviews as well — CONGRATULATIONS! Please give yourself a pat on the back. Those are a lot of steps; You have already accomplished a lot.
But, nobody talks about the waiting game. This is also a very stressful time. I remember the big sigh of relief when I turned in all 9 of my OT school applications (Thank goodness for OTCAS am I right?). However, the feeling of relief was fleeting. Getting into OT school is a very competitive process and it only gets more competitive each year. The daunting question of “What if I don’t get in?” crossed my mind soon after submission.
I also had feelings of guilt because the number of things on my plate had significantly decreased. When applying, I was working, taking classes, observing, and studying. After, all I had to do was work. I was no longer extremely busy, and I felt weird about it. Was I doing enough? Should I be doing more?
I was also on OT blogs and OT reddit posts non-stop. Once people started posting their acceptances and rejections, the anxiety was unbearable. I started having dreams about checking my email!
It should not have been that stressful. That should have been my time to take a step back and breathe. If you are going through the same challenges that I went through, here is what you should do:
Create a Plan
Honestly, rejections happen. Sometimes it takes more than one try to do anything and that concept applies to getting into OT school. But it is not the end of the world. So, let’s not think of it that way. Instead, have a just-in-case plan ready. That way, if you are not accepted this time around, you will have action steps in your back pocket.During the wait, get the contact information for the directors of admissions at each of the schools you applied to. Most programs will allow you to reach out and ask about ways to strengthen your application. This way, you can have concrete suggestions on what to do instead of wondering where to start. For USC, the admissions team contact information can be found here.
Because we are all our biggest critic, you probably already have areas of your application that you would like to improve. For example, do you feel like you could have done better on the algebra section of the GRE? Do some practice algebra questions from time to time. Now that you have been through the process once, you have an idea of what you should focus on.
Stay (kind-of) Busy
Now that you have gotten into the routine of preparing your applications, it can be hard to break it. You don’t have to! Not all the way, at least. There’s no need to take more classes or revise your personal statement—that’s done. However, you can continue to observe and volunteer. It never hurts to increase your understanding of OT. See what the OTs in your area are doing in a variety of settings. Are most of your observation hours in pediatrics? Try mental health. Combine the two and try pediatric mental health. Did you mainly volunteer at camps? Try volunteering at a nursing home this time. This way, you are not only learning more about the profession, you are building your network. And continue to document these hours because..why not. Again, it doesn’t hurt.
Put Your Phone Down and Close Some of those Tabs
Why are you frantically checking your emails? It’s still September. They aren’t even sending out acceptance letters yet. Oh, and close all 6 of those forum tabs. The two YouTube videos named “how to get into OT school” is enough.
You spent more than enough time on your phone and computer during the application process. You have already seen and noted what’s on these forums and in these videos. Take a bit of a break.
Waiting is tough. Feeling like you are in lingo is challenging. But you have already done what needs to be done. Be patient with yourself and patient with the process. Add some time to your sigh of relief.