Preparing for Graduate School >
March 31, 2021
As an ambassador, I have had the privilege of communicating with a large group of admitted Entry-Level Master’s students over the past few weeks. These students have expressed that they are both excited and nervous about what is to come. I definitely shared the same kind of emotions back when I was admitted. As an admitted student, you don’t know exactly what the future holds. For that reason, I have been receiving a lot of questions regarding how to best prepare for graduate school.
My biggest piece of advice is to forget about the idea of “preparing yourself” for the program in the typical way you may imagine.
Do not try to cram in as much reading about anatomy and physiology as possible before you enter into your summer session like I did. I promise you that it is not necessary (really…I’m not lying to you)! All I did by studying that material in my free time was tire myself out before I even sat down for my first day of class. Your professors have designed each course to cater to a wide range of prior knowledge levels, so don’t focus your time on studying material that will either be reviewed or is unnecessary to know.
Instead, take the next few months (or whatever time you have remaining before the start of the program) and relax as much as you can. Enjoy and appreciate every aspect of the life you are currently living and use the remaining hours you have in the day to participate in restorative occupations. Read that book you’ve always wanted to read, go on that hike you’ve been eyeing on the All Trails app, or watch that movie you’ve had saved on “your list” on Netflix because soon your life will become a lot busier. A lot of the free time you may have after work, on the weekends, or in between undergraduate classes will soon turn into time focused on finishing your homework, reviewing textbook readings, completing an essay or group project, or studying for the exam you have the next week.
The best way to prepare yourself for what is to come is by focusing on doing things you enjoy in your free time and acknowledging that the routine you are currently following will be drastically changed in a few short months.
So to all the admitted students out there reading this blog…know that it is OK to use this time to focus on taking care of yourself in order to be energized and mentally ready to take on whatever the next two years have in store for you. After you sit down for your first day of OT school, you can never go back to the place you are right now in your life. Take a deep breath and know that you will be able to tackle anything and overcome any hurdle that may come your way…but only if you focus on taking care of yourself before you start! I promise you’ll thank me later 😉
Mixed Status Families >
March 29, 2021
According to the National Immigration Law Center, “a mixed-status family is a family whose members include people with different citizenship or immigration statuses. One example of a mixed-status family is one in which the parents are undocumented, and the children are U.S. born citizens”. The state of California has the largest number of U.S. citizens in mixed status families filing taxes, at 1.5 million people. This is a topic I would like to bring more attention to because many people may come from or know someone from a mixed status family, this includes students at USC and clients seen during fieldwork or residency, and this may not be something that is often brought up in the classroom. Personally, I live in a mixed status family, which includes DACA recipients and people without any documentation, with some extended family having other statuses as well.
This past year has been really tough financially for my family and me. The multiple stimulus packages that were passed came with a lot of limitations for mixed status families. For example, as a USC student who is undocumented with DACA status, I was unable to apply to the CARES Act financial assistance for college students. After doing some research and waiting for the final relief bills to be amended and passed, I was fortunate to receive the stimulus check because I have a temporary work permit via DACA. However, not all undocumented students are DACA recipients, and many undocumented people did not qualify for anything, even though they pay taxes every year with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) number. In the last year, I saw many people be excluded from federal assistance simply because of their immigration status, personally at home, with friends, and at residency. My parents and many of my clients in primary care were impacted by the exclusions in the COVID-19 relief bills, including the most recent under the Biden administration.
During this time, many families continue to rely on food banks, are behind on rent, and are surviving on the little help they can get. For example, I helped my parents and some of my clients apply to local and state specific relief programs which provided some financial assistance, but not nearly enough. And for many it’s not an easy process due to technology access, literacy levels, social support, etc. Last fall, I helped my parents write a letter and email it to a rent relief program that provided $500. I was appreciative that non-profit organizations and certain school departments took it upon themselves to be more inclusive and provide some type of financial assistance for students that may have not qualified for the CARES Act. As a current student, I was able to apply for the USC Ostrow Emergency Fund, the USC Graduate Student Government Emergency Assistance, and Immigranted (non-profit organization) for financial assistance to get through the year. Most of that assistance and my stimulus checks went to home expenses that my parents were simply unable to cover.
I believe this is an important discussion we need to have or at least consider in the academic setting and occupational therapy world. As I stated earlier, this impacts students at USC and in the OT programs, as well as clients being seen by occupational therapists/residents and/or fieldwork students. It’s important to consider how students may be navigating their own experience within a mixed-status family or perhaps have family/friends, clients, or colleagues that are experiencing this. As the Chan Division continues to push for more diversity and students from different backgrounds come in, it’s important to consider how prepared we are to support their education and clinical experience within the context discussed above.
- As a current or future occupational therapist, how are you going to support clients experiencing occupational injustices due to their immigration status?
- How are the needs of students within mixed-status families being met? How can we best support them in reaching their educational and professional goals?
Feel free to comment below as well!
- Chishti, M., & Bolter, J. (2020, December 11). Vulnerable to COVID-19 and in Frontline Jobs, Immigrants Are Mostly Shut Out of U.S. Relief. Migrationpolicy.Org. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/covid19-immigrants-shut-out-federal-relief
- Fact Sheet: Mixed Status Families and COVID-19 Economic Relief. (2020, August 13). National Immigration Forum. https://immigrationforum.org/article/mixed-status-families-and-covid-19-economic-relief/
- Mixed-Status Families Ineligible for CARES Act Federal Pandemic Stimulus Checks. (2020, December 9). Migrationpolicy.Org. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/content/mixed-status-families-ineligible-pandemic-stimulus-checks
- The Affordable Care Act & Mixed-Status Families. (2017, October 20). National Immigration Law Center. https://www.nilc.org/issues/health-care/aca_mixedstatusfams
The A-Z’s of USC OT: Part II >
March 22, 2021
In a previous post, I began The A-Z’s of USC OT: Part I. So continuing right where we left off…
Occupation — Occupation is, of course, the focus of our profession and one of the focuses of our schooling. We do not compare ourselves to other professions, but rather learn how to advocate for the inherent value of our distinct perspective as OTs.
Program interconnectivity — As a BS-MA student, we get to meet a lot of OS minors through classes and the Pre-OT club. We join up with Entry-Level students for the graduate level curriculum. We get to learn alongside Post-Professional Master’s students and OTD students in our electives, and have PhD students as our TAs. From my experience, students get to interact with OTs in all programs.
Questions and answers — Questions about fieldwork? Scheduling? Applying to the OTD after finishing the Master’s? Clinical experience? Our faculty and staff (and student ambassadors!) are responsive to all of our queries. We are also paired with faculty mentors, who are matched based on our interests.
Rehab lab — In the Center for Health Professions, we have a lab for Adult Physical Rehabilitation that includes a hospital setting, a bedroom, bathroom, and fully-functional. We can practice creating and implementing interventions in a real space. You can check out the room on our virtual tour!
Shuttle — There is free transportation between campuses! The shuttle is accessible to everyone, not just students. And shuttle time is great for conversations, naps, or watching shows on your phone. One of the previous ambassadors, Noelle, recorded her shuttle trip.
Trojan Family — Whether it be cheering our team on to victory, ending up at a fieldwork site with USC alumni, or of course networking through the Trojan Network site, the Trojan Family is inclusive, extensive, and supportive.
Undergraduate Study — USC is one of the few schools to offer an undergraduate degree in Occupational Therapy, which helped me claim my identity as an occupational therapy student and learn to advocate better for the field. We also offer a minor in Occupational Science.
Vibrant student life — Around campus, you will find a bustle of students, whether they be grabbing food at the farmers market or Trader Joe’s or going to football games amidst a sea of cardinal and gold.
Well-established — USC’s OT program lives up to its name. We were the first Master’s degree in OT and the first PhD in OS. We developed Lifestyle Redesign, and we continue to be a top-ranked OT school.
X-amine yourself — Within our classes, we are given opportunities for introspection about how our own beliefs, communication styles, and backgrounds can affect how we come into a client-therapist relationship. For example, we complete a values checklist and share our results with our classmates, leading to (1) introspection, (2) learning to understand and listen to other perspectives, and (3) understanding the position of vulnerability we ask of our clients.
You’re not alone — Whenever I needed help, I had support from faculty. They worked with me to make sure I could participate in band for my senior year while taking classes. They looked at which fieldwork placements best suited my preferences and transportation needs. I’m happy to have resources to go to for anything I need in the program.
Zeal — One thing I have always admired about USC students is their passion. And now, I get to pursue my passion in occupational therapy alongside others who share that zeal to find ways to creatively help others do what they love.
Whew! 26 letters. Felt like a long list, but even so. It cannot sum up the passion for OT and the community that I found these past years. Regardless, I hope that I was able to give you a good glimpse into the program. 😊
The First Summer >
March 12, 2021
After acceptance letters went out, I have received lots and lots of questions about the first summer of the entry-level Master’s program. This is the time of a major transition — it may be your first time having a graduate school workload and you are wondering how to tackle it, perhaps you want to know if you can have a job during this period, or you are curious about how to maintain a social life. Before starting the program, I had these questions too. Now that I have completed that summer, I would like to talk about what it was like and answer some of those questions. Hopefully, this will ease some nerves! *note — this blog describes the layout of my summer but the program/your schedule may shift.
“How intense is the first summer?”
The initial summer is quite busy. I think it would be helpful to first explain what that summer looks like. For the first half of the summer, you will take Foundations: Kinesiology. This course reviews joint and muscle functions and teaches students how to apply biomechanical principles to everyday activities. For the second half of the summer, you will take Foundations: Neuroscience. Here, you will learn how to analyze daily living tasks through the lens of neural function. This course also reviews pathological conditions that interfere with performance. During the entire length of the summer, you will take Foundations: Occupation and Foundations: Creativity, Craft, and Activity Analysis. The Occupation course is an introduction to occupational therapy history and practice. During the Creativity course, you will have the opportunity to engage in craft projects, explore your creativity and analyze performance.
In total, you will be taking four courses in an 8 week timespan. Only three courses will happen at once due to Kinesiology and Neuroscience being split into first and second half. The class times are three hours long. Kinesiology and Neuroscience happens during the mornings while Occupation and Creativity takes place during the afternoons. In addition to the Kinesiology and Neuroscience lectures, there will be labs. This is where you will complete activities and worksheets as well as receive direct support from teaching assistants. This time is used to clear up any confusion you have about the material.
I explained the schedule to give a picture of what weeks will look like during the summer. As you can imagine, you will be frontloaded with a lot of information. These courses will serve as your foundation as you move through the program. Many classes will draw on the information that you learn here to introduce you to new and more in-depth concepts.
All in all, I would say that the initial summer is intense. Personally, I believe it is the busiest semester of the entire program. Not only are you learning a lot in your classes, you are navigating life as a graduate student which may come with new responsibilities, you are forming connections with professors, and you are creating new friendships. There are many things going on at once.
“Do you recommend working during this period?”
I chose not to work during my first summer. I made this decision because I did not want to overwhelm myself. I wanted to be sure that I had enough time to study AND rest. It helped me to review the material that we learned each day. I took an hour or two off once I got home to simply de-stress and relax. Then, I would review my notes. I know that I would feel exhausted if I did not take that time to rest and I would feel unprepared for the next class if I did not have the time to review my notes at the end of each day. I also needed my weekends to re-energize. Therefore, working was not feasible for me.
However, I would not say that it is impossible to work. My one piece of advice would be to limit your hours and, if you can, work some place that is flexible and might allow you to study.
“Am I expected to join student organizations during the summer semester?”
You are NOT expected to join any student organizations at this time. I received several emails from new students that were worried about how it would look if they were not “involved.” People typically begin to join student organizations during the Fall and I would say that most of my class did not join until the Spring. I did not know of anyone that was a part of a student organization during the summer. Maybe, the most that they did was get on the email list. Do not stress about this!
“Did you have time for a social life?”
This is probably the most common question that I received as it relates to the first summer. I would answer this by saying — You will have time for a social life if you make time for a social life. We often push leisure and pleasure off to the side and start to focus only on the work that we need to get done. That will easily set yourself up for burnout.
Did I take weekend trips out of state without ever looking at my notebook? No. But, did I have movie nights, go out for dinner, participate in game nights, and meet up with friends? Yes! It is so important to do this! You are human and you are not meant to work, work, work. Do not deprive yourself of simple pleasures. Even if you cannot take an entire day off to relax, fit it in at some point. You can set aside time to meet with your study group on Sunday morning and as a reward, you all can all head to the beach afterwards. You can study chapters 16-18 then go watch an episode of something with your roommate then return to chapter 19 when you are done. Do not feel guilty about taking a break. I promise that it is beneficial. Time to rest and/or socialize is productive too!
I hope that this blog post gave you a better idea of what the summer will look like and what you can expect. Yes, it is very busy. But, it doesn’t have to take over all facets of your life. There will still be time for play as long as you make it a priority (and you absolutely should)!
Reframing Negativity >
March 4, 2021
After receiving my acceptance letter into the program I was super excited. I remember being out having a burger with a friend and getting an email notification from the department. I instantly felt my heart drop. At first, I didn’t even read the entire email — I literally saw the “congratulations” and felt so much joy. After actually reading the entire email (I had to make sure it was real), I called my parents, my sister, and my boyfriend to let them know the good news! They were so excited for me as they knew how much I wanted to get into the program. As weeks went by I continued to share the news with friends and family when I spent time with them. Being admitted to USC is a huge accomplishment and worth celebrating. We have the number one OT program — I mean, come on!
I was happy that everyone I love and care about was celebrating with me. But, on the road to starting the program (and still to this day), I get some really annoying comments about being a part of this program. After chatting with so many of you these past couple of weeks, I wanted to share the top 2 annoying comments that seem to pop up for so many of us. I want to share how I’ve reframed those two comments into something more positive.
Annoying comment #1: You’re spending THAT much money???
This also includes comments like “how much are you paying?”, “You’re going to be in debt”, “That’s so much money I could never do that”. I was once enjoying a night out with a group of friends and I remember ordering a brussels sprouts taco. A friend of a friend was there and asked me how much it was and I responded “$5”. He literally said “You shouldn’t be spending that much money on a taco when you’re in such heavy debt with your Master’s program”. My first instinct was to be like “what’s it to you???”. It was pretty annoying. It’s so hard to ignore comments that are constantly reminding you about things like this. I feel you guys when you share your concerns about the finances.
I have started reframing the way I think/feel about comments regarding money. First, it’s my dream!!! I really really want to be an OT. I am learning from the absolute best. And honestly, it’s really no one’s business how much money you or I are spending on it. Another plus: occupational therapy is recession proof! I am doing this for me.
Annoying comment #2: USC stands for — University of Spoiled Children
One time I was at the supermarket wearing my USC t-shirt and as I was shopping a man felt the need to say “Ha, university of spoiled children”. Sir, I am a brown woman that worked HARD to get here!!! Now, whether or not you’re a person of color and you get this comment — you worked hard.
I’ve reframed this by repeating a list of things I had to do to get here. I worked two jobs as an undergrad, I paid for summer sessions out of pocket to work on prerequisites, I stayed up numerous nights studying for school/the GRE, I spent countless hours at coffee shops working on personal statements. Another thing that helps is reminding myself that my parents are counting on me. They’ve worked far too much to support my goal of obtaining a higher education. They never ask for a single thing, but I am their retirement. So, no being spoiled did not get me here. It was my dedication and the support that I had from my family, friends, mentors, and professors.
So, yes there’s so many great things about being a USC student. But, let’s be real — someone always has something to say. Don’t let those things get to you. I cannot imagine anyone ever saying “Ugh, great. Got into USC”. You did this. So, reframe those comments. Wear your USC merch proudly, be excited, and fight on!