Why I Chose to Attend USC >
February 17, 2021
During the past few weeks, a plethora of admitted and prospective students have reached out to get a student’s perspective on why we chose to complete our Master’s degree at USC. This simple question has made me reflect on all the wonderful reasons I have enjoyed my time in the program. I have decided to create a list of the reasons I chose to complete my Master’s degree at USC below. I hope this list helps admitted students reading with your decision during this overwhelming and exciting time! This list can also be a great resource for students deciding whether or not to apply to this program in the coming years.
- The USC community and connections: Going to USC immediately connects you to a very large group of OTs around the world. With around 130 OT students graduating from the Master’s program each year, the quantity of USC OT alumni is exuberant. This allows current USC students the opportunity to have resources and connections both within and outside the division. Whether you are looking to find a job after graduating or get advice about your career path, you have an extremely high chance of finding USC alumni in your field of choice. This can be really helpful since OTs can work in such a wide range of practice settings and it can get tricky deciding what path may be right for you. During your various fieldwork placements, you are also bound to run into or be mentored by USC alumni and it is great to make those connections with other trojans who understand the curriculum, program structure, etc.
- The faculty and resources: As a student, you get the opportunity to learn from some of the most amazing and world-renowned OTs. All of the faculty members have dedicated their lives to OT through clinical work, teaching, and research. These clinicians, researchers, and educators all have an open door policy and capitalize on any opportunity to chat with and get to know students. You can go to them for casual conversation, assistance with schoolwork, guidance in life and your career, and more. This team, along with all of the outstanding cutting-edge research being conducted within our division, gives us the unique opportunity to be some of the first to learn about the most up-and-coming techniques and discoveries. This environment encourages every student to challenge themselves, work hard, and become a leader in the OT field.
- The students: As mentioned before, USC admits around 130 students into their Master’s program. This larger class size has given me the opportunity to meet a plethora of different learners and future practitioners. After spending the first summer semester learning from all of these different perspectives in a larger class setting, everyone is split up into three different cohorts of about 40-50 students. The cohorts are small so you get to know everyone really well, but you also get the chance to socialize with the larger group of around 130 students outside of the classroom to learn about their experience in different practice immersions before you take them. The cohorts are further split into 2 groups to make lectures and labs even smaller. The two groups will switch off the order in which they attend lectures and labs, which allows for more individualized attention from the professors during class.
- Hands-on work: USC integrates fieldwork into each semester. As an extremely hands-on learner, I was really excited to discover that USC allows students to work at a fieldwork I site once a week during each practice immersion semester. We, therefore, get the chance to go into class three times a week and then apply what we learn in real-time with clients. We can come back each week and debrief with each other and our professors. By doing so, I didn’t feel like I was just a student sitting in class trying to absorb information. I really got the chance to take that knowledge and apply it every week. On top of that, we also are provided with the typical fieldwork II experience, in which we work as full-time OTs for 12-weeks during each summer in a setting of your choice. We have connections with over 950 fieldwork sites across the globe, so the opportunities to work in any field of your choice before graduating are endless. Students also have access to Keck Hospital of USC and USC Norris Cancer Hospital Occupational Therapy and the Faculty Practice, which is the birthplace of Lifestyle Redesign®. Students, therefore, have the opportunity to be mentored in a number of existing and developing practice areas at the outstanding USC hospitals and at the Faculty Practice in order to gain clinical experiences during their program of study.
- Los Angeles: Los Angeles is a city with endless OT opportunities. Whatever you may be passionate about in the OT realm…you can find it in LA. Outside of OT opportunities, LA is an amazing place to live. Anything you want to do, see, or eat is in this city. You can go hiking in the morning, sit on the beach in the afternoon, and grab a bite to eat in downtown all in one day! Comedy shows, outdoor adventures, etc…It is ALL here.
Advice for Incoming Occupational Therapy Students >
January 21, 2021
Before beginning my journey as a student in the Entry-Level Master’s program, I remember being extremely overwhelmed. I, therefore, wanted to dedicate this blog to giving incoming students some advice I wish I would’ve known. To those who will be receiving their acceptance letters soon…congratulations on this huge achievement! I hope you keep these pieces of advice with you throughout your time at USC.
- A’s aren’t everything. Although it may be ingrained in you that grades are what measure your level of success, you must now focus more on the learning process instead of the grade outcome. The deciding factor for whether you will get hired over another candidate is your ability to be personable, your experience in the field, and the skills you are equipped with. You made it here, so now you can breathe and just focus on passing and learning all that you can! I speak more about this in my blog An A+ Doesn’t Define You, so be sure to visit this blog for more information.
- Lean on your classmates. This master’s program is not a competition so do not try to make it one. Your fellow classmates are most likely struggling with the same or similar things as you, so reach out to them and be honest. You will find that developing a study group can be VERY beneficial for your mental wellbeing as well as your ability to retain information. By saying things out loud, explaining a concept to a classmate, or hearing your classmate explain a concept to you in their own words, you will find yourself memorizing everything you need or want to know without having to study alone. This is also good practice for the clinical setting as you will be required to work with a variety of colleagues who have different strengths and weaknesses than your own. You can learn how to not only work together but also uplift each other. Build that foundation of support so that studying becomes easier and your coursework has more meaning.
- Take all the time you need to decide what organizations you want to join. Time is valuable in this program and you must make the most of it. Although it may be tempting, try not to join every single organization that you may be slightly interested in. Take your time learning about each opportunity and commit yourself to one or two. Throughout your two years, a variety of opportunities will arise for you to take advantage of. For example, becoming an ambassador was an opportunity that presented itself at the end of my first year in the master’s program. You want to give yourself enough time to fully engage in the organizations you choose to join, while also leaving time for future opportunities that may become available later on. Pick things because you are passionate about them not because they will look good on a resume. To learn more about the student organization options check out my blog What Student Organization Should I Join?
- Get to know your professors. The faculty members in the Chan Division are unbelievable. Each professor or instructor you will have is passionate about a different topic. Learn and ask about their passions and their experience pursuing OT in their field of choice. Most of their journeys were not straightforward and many may surprise you. This is an incredible opportunity to learn from some of the most distinguished OTs in the world…so take advantage of it. Ask them questions both inside and outside of the classroom and build relationships with them. These professors can and will be your mentors for the rest of your life.
- Be open to any opportunity that may come your way. During your fieldwork I clinical experiences, you will get the chance to practice OT once a week in three different settings (mental health, pediatrics, and adult rehabilitation) throughout your two years in the master’s program. You will also have the chance to choose two of these settings to focus on for 12 weeks as a full-time fieldwork II student each summer. Although one or two of these settings may not be ones that you are extremely passionate about, you must take advantage of the learning opportunities you are given by the fieldwork team. Maybe the fieldwork placement will teach you how to deal with conflict, become an independent practitioner, listen more intently, or stay organized. You may even surprise yourself and fall in love with a practice setting you never expected to enjoy! Whether or not you can see yourself as a practicing OT in this setting, make sure to walk into each placement with an open mind and your best foot forward. If you do not do so, then you will not only waste your time but also the time and resources of the clinical setting that has allowed you to come and work with their patients. Instead, use these opportunities to build relationships with the practitioners around you and harness the skills needed to be successful in your future dream job.
- Schedule in time for revitalizing occupations. Whether these occupations are as exciting as going to the beach, hanging out with friends, or skateboarding, or as “simple” as showering and sleeping, be sure to find time for what makes you feel happy and more like yourself. You will not be able to succeed in this program unless you take care of yourself because you will quickly lose steam (take it from the girl who worked two jobs and barely slept for two semesters in a row). Your grades will begin to suffer but more importantly, your ability to retain important and valuable information, be present in class, and maintain your mental and physical health will most likely begin to deteriorate. If that means that you have to block off time in your schedule to shower, eat, go on a walk, or phone a friend to ensure that it is included in your daily routine…do it. You will thank me later!
Learning to Lean on Others >
December 23, 2020
I got a text last night from one of my best friends in the program stating, “If I ever come to you seeking advice and you don’t have the mental capacity just let me know! And I seriously am here whenever you need advice or to vent!” To give you context to this message, earlier that day my friend had overheard me sigh heavily after looking at my phone. She asked what was wrong, and I explained that sometimes I just get overwhelmed by the number of people I feel like rely on me, even if deep down I know that they will be alright if I don’t answer their text or don’t help them problem-solve a solution to an issue. If friends, acquaintances, or family reach out to me, I know they believe I can help them and I feel compelled to go above and beyond in order to make their lives a little bit easier. I felt weird saying this out loud and immediately felt a sense of shame about believing that there was a lot of pressure on me to fulfill a role no one actually expects me to fulfill.
As occupational therapists, we are tasked with making meaningful occupations more accessible to our clients. I love my job, but I do find it difficult to switch off my “OT” lens/brain when I leave work or school.
I sat and tried to process how I could prevent this from happening and I soon came to terms with the fact that I will never fully feel like me unless I am there to listen to my friends or assist with problem-solving a solution to an issue they are experiencing. I feel honored to be someone that people feel comfortable confiding in and I take great pride in being there to help them better understand their worth, capabilities, and strengths.
For that reason, I have decided to focus on the second part of my friend’s message: “I am here if you need me.” I am so willing to be there for others to help them overcome hurdles to participating in their meaningful occupations, but I rarely find myself reaching out to others when I need help myself. I immediately replied to my friend and told her that I will definitely take her up on her offer because I know she truly means it. I also know that every one of my friends and family would do the same and that I am not a nuisance to any of them. I am not myself without my meaningful occupations, and I typically refrain from participating in them if I am overwhelmed or stressed. If people in my life are willing to come and open up to me then I should be willing to do the same! That way we can all participate in the activities and occupations that make us feel whole again… I mean I am definitely not the best version of myself unless I go on a walk/run outside, take a warm shower, and get at least 7 hours of sleep.
So if you’re like me and you can’t seem to step away from the OT mindset even when you leave work, that is ok! Just know that you are surrounded by people who want to help you in the same way… even if they haven’t officially been trained to do it 😉. Know that you are not a burden and make sure that you are allowing yourself the opportunity to participate in the occupations that are most meaningful to you!
Overcoming Rejection and Feelings of Inadequecy >
December 9, 2020
As my last semester of classes has come to an end, I had anticipated feeling relieved. I now sit here, having passed all of the courses I need to graduate from this Master’s program, feeling immensely overwhelmed and discouraged. Up until this moment, everything had been mapped out for me. Each class that I would take and when I would take them were pre-determined. I knew that I just had to work hard and do my best in order to be successful academically.
I am currently studying for the COMPS (comprehensive exam) that I will be taking on December 15th with the rest of my graduating class and I am worrying about my future. This future is not pre-determined and it is scary, especially amidst a global pandemic. It is up to me to pave the way.
During this hectic time, I have also decided to pursue my OTD. After going through the interview process for the USC Chan Division residencies and being informed that I did not receive one, I felt extremely discouraged. I took this rejection as an indication that I was not good enough to get the opportunities I had been aiming for. I became anxious over the fact that I would have to find my own residency, especially because I was worried that my lack of experience in my field of choice would prevent me not only from getting a residency but also a fieldwork II experience.
This stress and feeling of inadequacy was something that was difficult to overcome. After sitting back and reflecting, I came to realize that I was letting one rejection skew my view of my self-worth and capabilities…just one rejection held that much power over me!
It wasn’t until I realized that if I didn’t believe in myself then who would!? I decided that if I didn’t try my best to go after the positions and experiences I feel like I deserve and want then I would regret it tremendously. I couldn’t let one rejection deplete my confidence and I knew that even if there were more rejections to come I would learn from them and keep moving forward.
I spent the coming weeks being polite and persistent. I began communicating with people who could help me develop the residency position of my dreams. Putting all the pieces together was tricky, and it took a lot of persistence to progress things further. Advocating for myself and my worth was key in progressing things forward, as well as acknowledging the work and effort the people communicating with me were putting in.
Your future is what you make of it. Be persistent, confident, understanding, and kind. Know that the person you are talking to will never know the mark you can make if you don’t advocate for yourself and your worth. Don’t let rejection take a toll on you. Sometimes putting in the extra work to make things happen really pays off! Advocate for yourself and believe in yourself because no one can do it better than you.
Will I Have Time to Work During the Master’s Program? >
November 4, 2020
As the Nov. 1 application deadline has just passed, I have been receiving many questions from prospective students about balancing a job and graduate school. Although this experience will vary from person to person, I thought it could be helpful to give you all a bit of insight into my experience balancing work and graduate school!
The Entry-Level Professional Master’s program begins with a jampacked 8-week summer semester in which you complete foundation-based courses like Kinesiology and Neuroscience in an extremely short amount of time. This makes for a high intensity and fast-paced semester with class from Monday-Friday 8:00 am-4:00 pm and a few hours studying upon your return home each afternoon. I, therefore, chose not to work during the first summer. I had also just completed my undergraduate degree a week before beginning the Master’s program and hadn’t even found a place in LA to live yet! I was grateful to have a few hours on the weekend or on Friday evenings to apartment search, find a job for the fall semester in my new neighborhood, and get to know the fun city I was living in.
During my Fall semester in the Mental Health Immersion, I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I was in class three days a week, completing my Fieldwork I one day a week, and had my Friday’s completely free! This allowed me more time to take on a part-time job as a gym receptionist and sales associate at a gym near my apartment. They allowed me to work extremely flexible hours, as they understood I was not available during most of the week. I worked the evening shift after school one night a week, the Friday afternoon shift, and a weekend shift, which all combined to approximately 20 hours a week of work on top of graduate school. Was this easy? No…it was really overwhelming at times and I did not have much time to participate in social or revitalizing occupations (such as sleeping a sufficient amount of hours every night!). I am very thankful that I was able to fit in some studying or homework during my work hours if we were having a slow day, that I loved spending time with my co-workers, and that I was allowed to take a free workout class during each shift. If this wasn’t the case, I do not think I would be able to commit 20+ hours a week to a job while completing my Master’s degree (also I wouldn’t recommend it regardless because it was TOUGH). I continued this workload during the following Spring Semester in the Pediatrics Immersion. It was nice to make some money and work on applicable skillsets for the OT field, such as adjusting your communication style depending on the customer, giving clear and concise directions, or staying organized and calm during chaotic or unforeseen situations.
At the end of my Spring semester, I was exhausted and I needed a change. I knew the Adult Rehabilitation Immersion was coming next and as a student interested in working in an inpatient hospital setting with adults in the future, I wanted to have more time to focus on all the valuable coursework. The Student Ambassador position became available and as a previous college tour guide, I was thrilled by the opportunity to step into a similar role for a program I love dearly. After applying and interviewing, I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the Student Ambassadors and was extremely thankful for the expectation that we were to work 10 hrs/week. On top of that, working for the Chan Division allows you a lot more flexibility with your hours, as the faculty you are working for understand the workload you are trying to balance. Thank you to Kimberly Kho, our AMAZING supervisor/boss, for being so flexible, understanding, and respectful of our busy and ever-changing graduate school schedules. Kim has always reinforced that academics takes priority and has allowed us to adjust our schedules to provide more time on particular weeks to study for exams, write big papers, etc. Visit Yna’s blog to learn more about what we do as student ambassadors!
From my experiences, you may have noticed a trend. Can you work in grad school…yes! It is doable depending on what job it is and how much flexibility it allows you. I am grateful to have had understanding bosses and incredible, fun, and kind co-workers in both of my jobs! Be sure to weigh the pros and cons of the job before you commit to it and make sure that you are prioritizing your physical and mental health! As Kim says…you are a student first.