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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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Leah Mary

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Leah Mary

Tips to Survive the #1 OT School >

by Leah Mary

Classes Life Hacks

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1. Study with friends at the library, café, or home
As they say, misery loves company! But in all seriousness, studying with my friends was the number one thing that helped motivate me to study. It was a great way for us to have hands-on practice for labs (like transfers or motor control), quiz each other, or ask questions. My favorite places to study are Dulce, Doheny Library, and the USC Village.

2. Visit office hours
Whenever I didn’t know something or was anxious about a test, I always went to open hours. Our professors want us to go to those office hours. They structure it in an engaging way, especially when there are multiple students. This is an excellent chance for you to answer other students’ questions with the confirmation of our professors.

3. Kahoot
I used Kahoot for every test in the Entry Level Master’s Program. Classes like OT501, OT538, OT534, and even the Comprehensive Exam, Kahoot was a great study tool to help me conceptualize topics, create questions, and understand big-picture ideas.

4. Microsoft OneNote for note taking
Imagine having multiple color-coded binders that classes, topics, and weeks can organize but all on your computer. I knew I was overwhelmed with the number of courses, PowerPoint slides, research articles, and loose papers we get during the program. Having one application to organize everything made it easier to study and later use during my fieldwork and residency.

5. PDF Expert for the iPad
During the program, there were some classes where I liked to type my notes and others that I wanted to handwrite. PDF Expert is a free application that allows you to download your PDF slides to your tablet, write directly on the slides, and save them on your computer.

6. Gym shoes
Especially for classes such as Adult Rehabilitation and Motor Control, gym shoes are a must for optimal ergonomic support. Both Adult Rehabilitation and Motor Control labs involve lifting and practicing transfers with patients and students. Therefore, wearing the proper shoes is essential for your overall physical health.

Leah Mary

Hidden Gems at USC >

by Leah Mary

Life Hacks Living in LA School/Life Balance

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I’ve been at USC since 2016 (WOW), and during my time here, I’ve found some fun places to hang out and events to participate in that I would love to share with you all!

Rock and Reilly’s or Study Hall (UPC)

Rock and Reilly’s or Study Hall are classic USC spots for a fun sit-down restaurant and bar to grab food with friends and watch USC and professional sports! I would always go with friends to hang out and celebrate good times!

USC Break On 2: Salsa Night (UPC)

The first Friday of every month, Break On 2 hosts a salsa night at Mudd Hall. The first hour is a workshop where they teach people tips and tricks, and then the rest of the night, you dance! Sometimes there is even a live band! It’s a 5 dollar entrance fee, but it is worth every penny.

Doheny Library (UPC)

This is the best Library to study at. Every time I study there, I feel like I am at Hogwarts. It is so beautiful.

Free gym memberships with fun open recreations

The perk of being a USC student is getting access to Lyon center, HSC Fitness Center, and Village Fitness center. At Lyon center, they have open recreation hours for badminton, indoor volleyball, Uytengsu outdoor pool, and the PED indoor pool.

Farmer’s market at McCarthy Quad (UPC) or Pappas Quad (HSC)

At UPC, there is a farmer’s market with fresh produce, boxed foods, and jewelry most Wednesdays 11am-3pm. I believe HSC also has a farmer’s market most Wednesdays. These are great places to relax and hammock!

Rose Garden (UPC)

Near the USC Colosseum is a beautiful rose garden where you can take pictures or have a nice picnic. Close to the rose garden, there is also the natural history museum!

Have fun exploring!

Leah Mary

External Residencies Are the Move >

by Leah Mary

Classes School/Life Balance

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During my 2nd year in the Entry-Level Master’s program, I felt enormous pressure to apply to the internal residency. I had my rose-colored glasses on. USC’s internal residencies are competitive, prestigious, and well-funded. Everyone was applying, so I felt compelled to apply. However, when I researched and learned about each residency site, I couldn’t see myself there. It wasn’t for me.

I didn’t think I was going to do the Post Professional OTD. It was expensive, and I didn’t want to pay for another year of school during a pandemic. I was very close to not applying until I talked to Dr. Bream. We explored the external residencies sites that suited my interests and could support me. I ended up committing to Hiller Therapy, where I am both the Occupational Therapy Resident AND a part-time employee, and I LOVE IT!

So here is a list of why I recommend getting excited about an external residency:

Schedule
You can create your own schedule! I am completing the Post-Professional OTD within a year and a half instead of one year to allow me to work part-time. In addition, you have the flexibility to defer for a semester or a full year.

Income
Oh yeah, you can work as an OT once you pass the NBCOT and obtain your license. That means you can make an income! 

Low-stress
I did not feel overwhelmed after summer fieldwork. I was able to take a couple of OTD courses and have enough time to study for the NBCOT without the pressure of 20-30 hours/week of residency.

Location Location Location
If you don’t want to stay in the LA area, you can do your OTD anywhere (nationally or internationally). The OTD courses can either be in person or over Zoom.

Advocate for your needs
I was able to ADVOCATE for what I needed and wanted from my residency site.

Ultimately, do what you want to do. Advocate for your needs, and don’t let institutions or people pressure you into things you don’t want to do!

Leah Mary

Practice What You Preach (Seriously) >

by Leah Mary

Life Hacks Living in LA School/Life Balance

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In school, we are told that participating in meaningful occupations, such as playing music, dancing, hanging out with our friends, or eating, is critical for people’s physical, emotional, and mental health. However, as OTs and students, we SUCK at this! I don’t know about you, but my OT balance wheel was always filled with productive hours rather than leisure or play, and I was often burnt out by the middle of the semester.

So last year, I picked up a meaningful hobby . . . hiking! Growing up, I was always big into the outdoors. I would go camping, biking, and cannoning around the Midwest. But, in high school and college, I lost touch with that side because “I didn’t have time.” I often was studying or working and had to prioritize those occupations.

However, when COVID-19 happened, I prioritized my meaningful occupations for my well-being. During my second year in the Master’s Program, I overheard a couple of classmates talking about hiking in Santa Monica. I gravitated toward that conversation and said, “could I possibly join????” During that hike, we shared our love for the outdoors and how much hiking there is in California. We prioritized a hike every weekend and came up with the name “Trailmixers” for our hiking group. And that’s what we did. With intentional planning, we could hike almost every week and still finish our schoolwork. Because of this, I had some of the most meaningful experiences of my life with my best friends. We’ve hiked Mt Baldy, Cucamonga, San Fran, Santa Barbara, Sedona, Pinnacles National Park, Zion, camped in Big Sur, and backpacked in Catalina Island.

My “productive work” has gotten a bit busier now that I’m balancing courses, residency, and campus jobs. However, no matter what, I always make sure I have a hike planned for the weekend. I hope each and every one of you prioritize your meaningful occupations throughout this semester and in life. Because for us to be great OTs, we must practice what we preach and lead by example.

There are excellent resources to start your hiking journey. The AllTrails app can help you plan trips, Airbnb or Recreation.gov to book housing/campsites, the REI store to buy gear, and “Peaks and Professors,” an outdoors club at USC to find a community.

Leah Mary

SCHOLARSHIPS, SCHOLARSHIPS, SCHOLARSHIPS! >

by Leah Mary

Admissions Life Hacks School/Life Balance

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Congratulations! You made it into USC’s Occupational Therapy Program, you should feel incredibly proud of yourself. I have no doubt you will go on and do great things.

But . . . how the heck are you going to pay for this program??? Being a topic program doesn’t come cheap. I wish I had a handbook to guide me when I was first navigating this program. I was often confused from the website and overloaded with information. Because of that, I missed important deadlines for big scholarships. So I find this topic extremely important and I want to make sure that this information is easily digestible and available to students.

I’m going to highlight a couple of websites, scholarships, and strategies.

  • Scholarships and awards from USC and other bodies
    This link will take you to a comprehensive list of scholarships. It will tell you the amount the award is worth and the eligibility requirements. (I USED THIS SO MUCH.)
  • OT External Scholarship Opportunities, from Columbia University
    This is another website I used from Columbia University with another comprehensive list of scholarships.
  • Town and gown of USC Scholarship
    $15,000 for the academic year for graduate students and PP-OTD students and it is renewable! Deadline for the application is December 1st.
  • Division Internal Residencies
    If you decided to do the PP-OTD and an internal residency, those come with a scholarship of 2/3 tuition. The deadline for the internal residencies is the end of Oct 1st.
  • Merit-Based Scholarship
    If you decide to do the PP-OTD but do an external residency, students admitted to the program will be automatically considered for Merit-based scholarships which cover around 1/3 tuition.
  • Residencies External to the Chan Division
    If you are a licensed and registered therapist by the time of your residency, you can negotiate with the residency sites on paid positions. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions to your site because it is important that both your educational and financial needs are met.

My biggest advice is to apply to everything and ask questions. The famous Michael Scott once said “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take — Wayne Gretzky.” It’s a funny but very true quote. I know these scholarships take a long time to complete or asking for paid positions during your residency can be an awkward conversation, however if you don’t apply or ask, I can tell you 100% you won’t get them. So I urge you to take those shots.

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