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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Leah Mary

Thank You, Occupational Therapy >

by Leah Mary

Classes Fieldwork What are OS/OT?

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The first time I heard about occupational therapy was during my Freshman Year (2016) in my seminar class with Dr. Jesús Díaz. One of our classes was dedicated to introducing us to occupational therapy. At the time, I was volunteering in different research labs studying the brain and thought I wanted to get my PhD in Neuroscience. I didn’t want to pursue occupational therapy (I know, what was I thinking!?).

Fast forward to the end of my Sophomore Year, I was pretty unhappy. While I found the research fascinating, something was missing. Most of the time, I was behind the computer, not interacting with individuals (and I’m a huge extrovert). I felt utterly lost. This was around the same time my grandmother was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer that impacted her overall well-being, requiring multiple brain surgeries and significant therapies.

My grandmother had a PhD in education, was a biology teacher, and my best friend. I was devastated seeing such an incredible person go through something so terrible. But my grandmother was determined and motivated to stay strong and healthy as long as possible. That summer, she went to inpatient and outpatient therapy at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. This was the second introduction I had to OT, however, this time in its most authentic form. I witnessed how OT positivity impacted her life. The therapist used meaningful occupations to motivate and connect with my grandma (she loved OT the most). And because the therapy was embedded into her daily life, she could continue at home when discharged. OT changed her life.

Right then, I knew that pursuing a career in OT was my calling. I loved the therapist’s interactions with their clients, the creativity involved in incorporating meaningful occupations, and their impact on people’s lives.

Fast forward again to now. I just completed my last II fieldwork at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab (on the same floor my grandmother was on) and graduated from the Entry Level Master Program. OT changed my life. It’s weird, but every time I engage in fieldwork or OT courses at school, I feel connected to her, so thank you OT.

Andrea

So What Now? >

by Andrea

Classes First-Gen Getting Involved What are OS/OT?

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So you just discovered OT. Maybe your overly excited roommate shared with you the major or you heard about the amazing occupational science minor classes, like Creativity Workshop from a classmate. No matter how you discovered OT, the field piqued your interest.

Now you may ask yourself, how can I learn more about OT and/or get involved at USC as an undergraduate student? Well, here are some ways you can do just that!

Pre-OT Club
The Pre-OT Club is a great way to learn more about OT through presentations, networking opportunities and guidance from current OT faculty members. The club is open to all USC undergraduate students interested in OT. From collaborations with other health profession clubs on campus to providing advisement for applying to OT graduate school, the Pre-OT club explores ways to dwell deeper into the field of OT.

OS Minor
Whether you have extra units, are ambitious to pick up a minor or are committed to applying to OT graduate school, pursuing an OS minor may be the right choice for you. Minoring in OS prepares you for the career of OT as well as exploring its uniqueness and versatility. Classes like Doing Social Justice and Creating a Sustainable Lifestyle are some examples of such versatility and how anyone can find their path to OT. I never miss an opportunity to recommend an OS class to my friends looking for a fulling class. One of my favorites to recommend is OT 100: THRIVE: Foundations of Well-Being. I took OT 100 online as a freshman and was able to foster vulnerability with my small group as we explored what it meant to thrive in all aspects of life. It’s a great course to learn more about well-being from an OT lens!

Volunteering
Getting hands-on experience is a great way to further your understanding of OT and the daily tasks of a therapist. Because of the many settings OTs can work in, consider volunteering at various sites and/or with different populations/communities. Click here to find a site!

Networking
The “Trojan Family” doesn’t just describe the relationships you build with other USC students, but also the relationships between faculty and students. Consider conducting an informational interview with a faculty member. After a coffee chat or zoom call, speaking with a current OT professional can provide you with relevant information about working in OT, expand your knowledge of the unique pathways, and provide guidance to your journey in OT. One of the ways I was able to network with USC Chan alumn was through the Trojan Network. During my time in the first-generation mentorship program, I was able to connect with current OTs who shared with me their journey to OT and her advice. Alum, Dr. Joyce Yoo, shared with me the importance of getting to know my colleagues and peers “as they are peers as they too are doors of future opportunities.”

In short, your journey to OT doesn’t start at the graduate level! The opportunities here at USC allow you to pursue OT at any point in your undergraduate experience.

As an undergraduate student myself, a rising junior in the BS-OTD program, I love to talk to other students about my passion for OT and always pitch the idea of exploring OT for themselves. If you need any more convincing, let’s have a chat!

Alyssa

Eclectic Electives >

by Alyssa

Classes

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The Chan elective options are great for certification hours if you know you’re passionate about specialties like sensory integration or hand therapy. As someone who didn’t want to specialize just yet, I decided to register for a courseload that spanned a bunch of different topics. You can take 12-14 units of electives, and I took full advantage of that with 5 electives.

OT 560: School-Based
I was in the pediatrics immersion my first fall and it was entirely online, so I took this in the hopes of a general review of pediatrics essentials. I never really saw myself working in schools, but 560 has been so fun that now it’s looking pretty nice later down the line in my career. The class includes creative intervention projects, practice with assessments, and this semester we had an opportunity to volunteer with local high school students. This class inspired my externship experience working with high schoolers - more on that in my next blog 😉

OT 574: Motor Control
This class was so highly recommended to me by previous students and I’ll continue to recommend it to future Chan students - it is a must-take if you’re looking for more hands-on learning. We have been learning motor control techniques and applying them to weekly treatment sessions with real patients who have had a stroke. We develop treatment plans and execute them in small groups to help the patients achieve their goals. My group’s patient this semester has been an amazing teacher for us, and I look forward to working with him every week.

Beware though, the nighttime format is not for everyone - this class sometimes runs til almost 10pm! We’re lucky to have engaging professors Remy and Heidi to keep us engaged as best they can.

OT 575: Dysphagia Across the Lifespan
With my interest in working in the hospital setting, dysphagia seemed essential to take. Almost all of my patients in my first level II fieldwork had some form of dysphagia. In that specific hospital, this was handled entirely by SLPs, but I was interested in learning more about the role OT can play. This course only runs for the 1st 6 weeks of the semester, so we’re already done, and it was a whirlwind. Each week we went over assessment and treatment strategies for both pediatric and adult populations. One of my favorite assignments was the feeding lab, where we were given different textures of foods/liquids to test and analyze our own swallows.

OT 577: OS Seminar
If you’ve got NBCOT test anxiety, this is a super useful class. As we near the end of the program, we spend each class reviewing content and sample questions from each of the major topics that will be on the NBCOT. You’re probably fine to sit for the exam with just independent studying, but if you’re looking for more structured review - it’s both lowkey and helpful, 10/10.

OT 590: Directed Research
This class could really be anything you want it to. I have several friends doing research in one of our many amazing labs and getting course credit for it. Others, like myself, are working independently with a faculty member on a topic of interest. I’ve studied assistive technology for adults in courses for my previous degrees, and I wanted to do a deeper dive into AT for pediatrics. Dr. Linsey Grunes is my amazing faculty for this project who supports me as I work on literature reviews, expert interviews, and the development of an online AT catalog resource.


So this semester I’m all over the place, and I’m grateful that I get to do this before committing to one setting, at least for a while, after I graduate.

Teresa

My Enemies Are After Me >

by Teresa

Admissions Classes Fieldwork

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Recently, I watched the stuff on Netflix about fraudsters and all I could think was “Wow, what I wouldn’t give to have their confidence.” Not to get anyone to send me $50,000, but because sometimes, it does feel like my enemies are after me… and by ‘my enemies,’ I mean the little voice in my head otherwise known as the “imposter.”

I felt like the biggest imposter ever when I was applying to OT school and when I started this program. If I had to rate my imposter syndrome on a scale of 0 (none) to 10 (worst) around this time, I’d put it at a 10. It was exacerbated both by being waitlisted and being fully remote. As I read the student ambassadors’ blogs, started meeting my classmates on Zoom, and learned from our amazing professors, I was simultaneously romanticizing this image of them in my head – that everyone else was so incredible and had it all figured out while I knew I always felt lost. I’d say I felt this way intermittently throughout my entire first year in the program.

In the past year, it’s resolved a lot. After 12 weeks of level 2 fieldwork, I felt my confidence increase as my competency in skills grew. Once we fully returned to campus last semester, I was comforted by hushed whispers from my peers who shared my confusion during classes. And then came two pivotal experiences this semester which mitigated my imposter syndrome significantly:

  1. An esteemed faculty member spoke to our class and shared that she still experiences imposter syndrome. That was just mind-blowing to me. There… was simply… no way? Not with all her achievements, success, and publications. Anyways, in OT, we love evidence-based practice, right? This individual urged us to search in our own history for evidence that we are indeed imposters in order to support the voice telling us we’re not good enough, don’t belong, or not ready for something. Here’s the punch line–you won’t find anything. You’re here at USC, doing the thing you set out to do, against all odds that might have stood in your way. The evidence speaks for itself.
  2. I heard this advice when I needed it most because it came at a time when I felt like other people were doing the romanticizing thing to me which I had been guilty of doing to others in the past. I had never seen myself as someone worthy enough to be looked up to, so to be placed in those situations felt… weird. Anyone who knows me knows that words of affirmation make me uncomfortable, which is something I am actively working on receiving better because it’s not me rejecting kind words, it’s the imposter. I want to see myself the way others see I have the potential to be, not in the distorted way the imposter tries to convince me of.

Going back to the baseline established at the start of this blog (which – you guessed it – we LOVE in OT), I’d say I now teeter around maybe 2 or 3. I entered “imposter” into the search bar on our website out of curiosity to see how I should frame this blog post and it returned ten blog hits from ambassadors past and present. They each approach it from a different perspective, which shows how pervasive imposter syndrome can be when you find yourself in a new or different environment that you’re not used to. But I think this also means you’re putting yourself in situations that challenge you to learn things you didn’t know before, experience growth throughout your life, and continue to prove people wrong, including that imposter telling you you’re a fraud. Sometimes, I hope I never rate my imposter syndrome at a 0 out of fear that it will indicate I’ve reached a threshold in my learning. Anyways, what I’m trying to say is you aren’t alone in this feeling. It can be difficult, but try not to compare yourself and your journey to others because we are only able to see what they choose to present to the world. Just give it some time. Both your confidence and competence will increase and with that, maybe you’ll learn to befriend your ‘enemies.’

Seth

Welcome to Procrastination Nation! >

by Seth

Classes Life Hacks

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Hi, my name is Seth, and I am a chronic procrastinator. If you know me at all, this is probably no shock to you, and if you don’t know me that well, please say hello to what should be my hamartia! While I’m laying all of my cards on the table, I should also confess that I’ve procrastinated writing this blog. To be clear, it’s not because I don’t want to write this blog or that I’m so busy that I have so many other things to take care of, it’s that I just live for a deadline. I’ll explain more on that in a sec, but first, we need to dig into the realities of procrastination first.

Procrastination is often only portrayed as this debilitating habit that we must overcome to become masters of time management and there is truth to this! I’m sure many of us are too familiar with procrastination that has been taken too far. Who can’t recall the time they cut things too close or ended up not showcasing our best work? This is a reality of procrastination, but it is not the only reality. Real-life is rarely this black and white and there are some theories to back this up! The Yerkes-Dodson Model (1908) details a quadratic relationship between arousal and performance where there is a range of optimality. Another way to talk about this in occupational therapy is a challenge-skill relationship where that optimal range results in a flow experience; one of complete immersion in the task at hand.

A schematic showcasing an upside U on a graph where the x-axis is arousal and the y-axis is performance. In the middle of the U is a star showing the point of optimal performance and optimal arousal

Here’s a visual of the Yerkes-Dodson Model! Everyone’s graph looks different depending on their own internal relationship to arousal and performance.

This is to say that eustress, or good stress, can improve the work you have just as much as the other ranges in this relationship can negatively impact your work. While operating under this perspective I have come to find that, for me, procrastination is less about time management and more about emotional management. Earlier I mentioned that I live for a deadline and this is why! I manufactured the perfect challenge for what I perceive to be my skill and viola! I finally get to the work at hand. By now you’re probably thinking, “This is great news, Seth! I feel so validated, but knowing this doesn’t change the feeling in my gut when I’m procrastinating.” And I’m right there with you, so here are some of the thing’s I’ve found that help me work through that feeling:

Using an Eisenhower Box
The strategy I always have in my back pocket and my first line of defense is the Eisenhower Box. This tool is essentially a way to organize tasks into four quadrants based on urgency and importance. Although I’ve found this is a great way to strategize, I always let my gut feeling play a role in the decision-making process, and I encourage you to do the same.

A box with four quadrants with the x-axis being urgency and the y-axis being importance. An example of in the urgent and important quadrant is writing this blog while and example of not urgent and not important is taking out the recycling

Here’s am example of my Eisenhower box at the moment! It’s constantly changing and even the tasks showed here can switch quadrants depending on when I re-evaluate my box.

Productive Procrastination
Maybe the best strategy I’ve used to generate enough stress to reach my optimal level is to productively procrastinate. This may mean tackling some of the more non-urgent and less important tasks in your Eisenhower box. This often manifests in cleaning your entire living area before starting your readings or just absolutely having to run that errand before writing that paper. This allows you to get other things done while slowly restricting the avenues you have to procrastinate. This leads me to my next point!

Removing Distractions
This is a natural extension of productive procrastination but goes beyond the things that are also on our to-do lists. I’m talking about our phones, the show we’re binge-watching, or the roommate who decided to invite company over right before that first big assignment is due. For me, this means putting my phone in some random drawer in the kitchen, sitting in a place that is not my bed, and either having absolute silence or music that drowns out whatever other noise is around. Take a look at the things that usually distract you and brainstorm ways to work around them.

Diaphragmatic Breathing
Whenever I think about this strategy, I laugh because breathing exercises have always ended up stressing me out more, but this one is a game-changer. Breathing from the abdomen (as opposed to the chest) is a quick way to elicit relaxation. It can release muscle tension, slow the heart rate, and lead to a hearty supply of oxygen to the blood. Try breathing from your chest and then your abdomen, then take note of any difference. If you’re procrastinating and find yourself starting to breathe from the chest, switch the style up.

Knowing Yourself and the Resources Available
I gave a couple of suggestions that have worked for me, but what it all comes down to is knowing yourself! Reflect on how long things have taken you before, your performance on these tasks, and what strategies work for you in managing your stress and procrastination. If you’re trying to find your optimal performance-arousal range, take note of the stress signs that start manifesting for yourself. Figure out when you’re most productive and take advantage of that time (but don’t be afraid to dedicate it to more meaningful occupations too). If you need some help, don’t be afraid to ask! The USC Kortschak Center, an occupational therapy collaborative resource center, has plenty of strategies and consultations that can get you on the best path for you.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not necessarily endorsing procrastination. All, some, or none of this may resonate with you, but I hope that it encourages you to reflect on your procrastination habits. As we head into the third week of the spring semester, I invite everyone to give themselves a little more grace around their habits. Coming around to see that there can be ambivalence around procrastination is a great step in making positive change. It helps us shift the narrative from thinking “I should stop procrastinating” to “I could do XYZ” to make that change more manageable, intentional, and personalized. So get out there and make the change, or put it off until tomorrow! Either way, I hope you’ve enjoyed your stay in Procrastination Nation.

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