A Few (5) of My Favourite Things >
December 27, 2021
It’s the time of the year where time is on everyone’s mind. I mean, it’s kind of hard for it not to be when four days from now many of us will be watching a giant clock countdown to the Gregorian calendar new year. As I prepare for the year to come, I’d like to reflect on the years that have passed, specifically the past five years of the BS-MA program, and share with you all my favourite things from each year. I’ve already shared about my BS-MA cohort, so this will focus on the progressive degree experience itself. As I mentioned before, the program offers you a breadth of flexibility in designing your own experience while also being structured with prerequisite courses before you officially enter the graduate program. With that said, no two students’ journeys are alike.
Year 1: An Introduction to OT and OS
This is where the magic begins! The first year is where, at the very least, you take OT 250 and I cannot imagine a better start to the USC Chan journey. It’s a sort of an all-you-can-eat buffet of OT where you’re exposed to the breadth of what OT brings to the table. This course covers motivational interviewing to lifestyle redesign, flow to challenge-skill balance, stress management to sleep, habits and routines, and much, much more. As a testament to how much I enjoyed this class, I remember the final with Dr. Kate Crowley like it was yesterday. My group was assigned to present on the stress management module and we chose to recreate a traffic scenario one of my group members had experienced. We converted the wheely chairs in the classroom into cars and re-lived the experience in front of the class with classic movie voice-overs to narrate the scene and what was happening in the body. Now that’s how you end your first semester the right way!
Year 2: The Intercampus Shuttle
Depending on the specific way your cookie crumbles this moment may come sooner, but by year two you’re ready for the intercampus shuttle! USC has shuttles that go to many places, but the intercampus shuttle stops at the main campus (UPC), Union Station, and the health science campus (HSC). The shuttle runs about every 30 minutes or so and takes about as long. Believe me when I say, to this day I still love this bus. It’s the perfect time to catch up with your cohort, listen to some music, nap, or cram in some last-minute studying for anatomy or physiology. More than this, it made me feel like a ✨professional!✨ You’re commuting, you’re on a health science campus in the heart of OT at USC, and living the dream. Honestly, they might as well just hand you your degree right then and there (well, maybe not yet, but you’re definitely on your way)!
Year 3: Foundations
Although split between year three and year four, this is when you start taking the graduate-level foundational courses and it is designed in a way that makes the transition so smooth. This year is when you wrap up any double majors or minors so you’re still taking an interdisciplinary course load, but you’re starting to get into the bread and butter of OT at the same time. This time is precious because you take these foundation courses with your BS-OT cohort. Not only are you strengthening those relationships, but you’re also starting to build new relationships with the graduate faculty in a more intimate classroom setting. From the small group discussions and practical applications to the professor interactions, this experience brought everything I learned up until this point into focus and I felt prepared for the next chapter of the program.
Year 4: A Program Within a Program
And the time has finally arrived, you are a graduate student! If that isn’t exciting enough for you, you’ve now also expanded your network of OT-lovers to include 140 more people! Although this may feel intimidating at first, you will be split into a smaller immersion cohort with whom you will travel through the rest of the program. This program within a program includes Mental Health, Pediatrics, Adult Physical Rehabilitation, and the newly introduced Productive Aging and Geriatrics immersions. Year 4 will continue the building on Year 3’s foundations while also guiding you to be responsive, reflective, and engaged in your future practice and giving you a taste of what that practice could look like. This year is so exciting because you start to feel what it’s like to be a real-life OT!
Year 5: The Freedom to Choose
As I am still in my fifth year, I cannot capture it in 20/20 hindsight, but I can share something that I am sure will be my upcoming favourite. Sometimes you just don’t click with a required course which, I’m here to tell you, is not a bad thing! It’s a good sign that you are starting to hone in on the OT you want to be and in year five you get the chance to create your own adventure. When you reach this point in the program, you’re able to start selecting the electives you’d like to take before graduating. These courses can contribute to advanced certifications, enrich your knowledge in a particular practice area, or just help you strengthen your general skills as an OT and you get to choose them! It’s like being a first-year again, but this time you know what you’re looking for. The freedom to choose goes beyond electives, however, and also encompasses your next steps. What type of residency would you like? What practice area will you pursue? Will you seek out any additional degrees? Take some time to reflect on everything you’ve done so far and start asking yourself these questions. The future starts now!
Although I advertised 5 favourite things, in the true spirit of looking forward, here is a bonus sixth favourite thing to celebrate the sixth year of the new BS-OTD!
Year 6: The Last Chapter
The fact that you have to say goodbye makes the journey up to that moment all the more special. Relish each year you have here and carry it, and the people you met along the way, with you as you move forward, but do move forward. You’ve put in the work and you are ready. Here’s to graduation (whenever that may be for you)!
10 tips from me to you >
December 20, 2021
My DM’s—and by DM’s, I mean email—have been poppin’ with variations of the same question: “Any advice/tips regarding the program or in relation to pursuing higher education?”
To be completely honest, I don’t know how I have made it this far. I guess it really is fake it till you make it, am I right? When you’re a first-gen student not only do you not have people to guide you through this journey, but you also don’t know what questions you should be asking to those that may be able to advise you. There’s a lot that I wish I would have known before romanticizing the idea of being the first in my family to go to college, pero no pasa nada oiga. Ya estamos aquí, y lo que me toca a mi is to share some of the things that have helped me thrive as a student and person. I’ll preface the rest of this blog by saying that these are general tips that I have put together as I look back on my academic career, but feel free to reach out for more specific advice if you need.
Okay so here we go, Blogmas day 10 = 10 tips from me to you 😊
10) Develop a morning routine
Morning routines are your friend. When I started the program, it was completely online, which made it easy to wake up minutes before class, roll over, grab my laptop, and log on from bed. It also made it easy to fall right back to sleep…oops. Needless to say, this was not a productive or effective start to my school day; I felt like I needed to do something to feel awake and alert for class in the mornings. One day I decided to wake up early to work out before class and let me tell you, it was life changing. I live by my morning routine and think we should all have one. Some one told me that there are two instances during which we can have the most control over our days—you can’t control what happens throughout your day, but you can decide how you start and end your day (for the most part). I choose to start my day with a morning routine because it sets the mood for the rest of my day and makes me feel accomplished from the get-go.
Silvia’s morning routine: wake up between 6:00 AM – 6:30 AM, do a 20-minute workout, drink a cup of water + coffee or tea, do my skincare.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been told to get a good night’s sleep before an exam because you’ll do better than if you stay up late trying to cram…but you still chose to stay up? I won’t raise my hand because I don’t believe in pulling all-nighters. In undergrad I may have pulled one or two, but since starting OT school, I don’t compromise my sleep. Listen to NPR’s Ted Radio Hour podcast “Maslow’s Human Needs” starting at 6:30– you can thank me later.
8) Take a mental health day
That’s it. That is the advice. Don’t go to school, don’t go to work. Take a mental health day.
7) You don’t have to be productive every day
The student urge to make a to-do list of everything they want to get a head start on/finish when they have a day off is real. It’s me, I’m student. Last semester I had class Monday-Wednesday and fieldwork on Fridays. Thursdays were my free days and when I tried to be as productive as I could by getting ahead on readings or finishing assignments, on top of doing ambassador work. Some days though, I was tired and didn’t want to do any schoolwork. At first, I would beat myself up for wasting my day doing “nothing,” thinking it wasn’t “productive.” Truth is, we’ve been conditioned to think that we must always be working or on-the-go, that giving our bodies a rest seems unacceptable. But, in the wise words of my friend Amy, “It’s ok. You don’t need to be productive every day.”
6) Set boundaries
I’m not sure that I do this too well, but Kim said I do so I’m listing it here. Basically, check in with yourself and be realistic of how much you can handle. If you need to say no to something, or push a commitment back, do it.
5) What works for you, works for you
One thing about my cohort is that we help each other out. Everyone shares their study materials—whether it is a Quizlet or a study guide—and I love them for this. However, I can’t stress how important it is to know that what works for them may not work for you and vice versa. When my friends started sharing their study materials for an exam that I hadn’t even thought of, I became anxious, and the impostor syndrome kicked in. Was I smart enough or competitive enough to be in this program? I had to give myself a pep-talk to remind myself that we have all gotten here doing things differently and what works for me, works for me, anything beyond that can be used to supplement my study skills and habits. Let me know if you need a pep-talk.
4) Plan your days
I use my planner religiously. Even if my days look the same every day, I write down my schedule to a T, and try to stick to it as much as possible. Similar to my morning routine, this gives me a sense of control over my day, and there’s just something so satisfying about crossing things off as you go through your day.
3) “Not my best work” is good enough
If I had a dollar for every time I turned something in last semester and said, “that was not my best work,” I would have a lot of money, still not enough to pay my tuition, but enough to kick off my last semester of grad school with a girls trip.
For real though, doing the bare minimum is good enough sometimes. If you want to have a life outside of school, while still being a “good student,” you’re going to have to learn to prioritize which assignments need to be your best work, and which don’t. If it is a credit/no credit assignment do not spend more than an hour on it (and that’s pushing it).
2) Fake it till you make it
Pretty self-explanatory, I think.
1) Grades don’t matter
Ok, the do…but not really. All I can tell you is that if you’re debating between 1) depriving yourself of your favorite and restorative occupations to stress over studying to get an A, or 2) studying modestly while also balancing your other occupations and getting a B, do the latter. There’s more to life than school. You’re still going to graduate and become a great occupational therapist.
Alright friends, that’s it. I have to get back to babysitting but I’ll be back for Blogmas day 2!
Fight, Fight, Fight On! >
November 19, 2021
Tomorrow is the big game and with it comes the long-standing question of Los Angeles: “USC or UCLA?” Forget sideline reporters, say goodbye to sports commentators, play-by-play who? I believe I am the most qualified individual to provide an answer for these reasons:
- I went to UCLA
- I go to USC
- Refer back to reasons 1 and 2
All jokes aside, when I committed to USC for graduate school, I had some concerns about how I would transition from the nation’s #1 public university into the #1 occupational therapy program. Without further ado, here is one Brojan (Bruin turned Trojan, or vice versa)’s totally impartial, and absolutely not at all biased, take on my experiences at both schools.
Quarter System vs. Semester System
At UCLA, we followed a quarter system, meaning each term was 10 weeks long, three terms each academic year. Because of how fast-paced this was, I thought a semester system would be an easy adjustment but sometimes, it still feels like my mind functions on 10 weeks’ time. Kind of like when you return from traveling somewhere really far and have to readjust to the time difference. Yeah — just like that, but for a much longer period of time. For example, I am currently entering week 14 out of 16 and my mind is saying to the semester, “...You’re done. You’re done. You should be three weeks into the next term already.” Because 16 weeks and NOT 10? The math is just not mathing for me. What does make sense for me, however, is how nice it feels to have time to sit with content, follow up about anything I need clarification on, and really feel like I’m learning and not just regurgitating. And it doesn’t hurt that with the longer terms come longer breaks!
Public University vs. Private University
Growing up, the words “private school” sounded so elite and since public school was all I had known, attending a public university like UCLA after high school felt like the natural progression, so I didn’t even bother applying to USC.
When applying to OT school, a part of me still held the notion that private = elite and public = diversity, but that myth was quickly dispelled when I met my classmates, who are each so different and unique in their backgrounds, life perspectives, age, appearance, and interests, thanks to the holistic admissions process implemented at USC Chan. The insights shared by my classmates both in and out of the classroom have been quintessential to facilitate my learning as I continue to develop my clinical identity. I feel an immense sense of pride knowing that my classmates will be entering practice as some of the most culturally responsive clinicians this field has to offer and that their clients and future generations will be able to see themselves in their providers.
My family always emphasized that education is an investment to give myself the best chance at life, so when deciding which program to attend, what better is there than the best? I could think of no better place to invest in myself than at USC Chan, which, in case you forgot, is the #1 occupational therapy program in the nation, and it shows. It’s pretty surreal to walk the halls of the Center for Health Professions (CHP) and know that it’s the birthplace of sensory integration, occupational science, Lifestyle Redesign, and so much more. Occupational therapy students all over the world are learning through textbooks written by the same professors you get to see face-to-face everyday. Since starting this program, it’s been clear that our faculty, staff, ambassadors, student leaders, and alumni are committed to fostering a space where the next generation of occupational therapists can both advocate for our profession while challenging it to change to meet client needs.
Undergraduate Degree vs. Graduate Degree
The pursuit of my undergraduate degree was filled with twists and turns regarding what career I wanted that degree to lead to — pediatrician, lawyer, software engineer, teacher, and at one point, even paleontologist! I am always amazed (and slightly jealous) when I hear Bachelor’s to Master’s students share why they chose to pursue OT when they were a senior in high school, because I didn’t know about OT until I was 20. While I don’t regret my journey because it’s what led me here today, I will say school was so much harder when I didn’t know what I was meant to do. It was also so much harder when I couldn’t imagine myself ever using organic chemistry or multivariable calculus in my career, yet still had to take those classes in order to get my degree. To this day, the fact that I know how to draw molecular structures using benzene rings or chair conformations has not served me. Not once!
Entering graduate school provided an opportunity for a clean slate. I was able to start over as a student at a new school but this time, as a student with a strong understanding of what I wanted while taking courses focused on what I was interested in. By acknowledging that all of the content I learn in the classroom could be applied to practice, being a student has become a more engaging and meaningful experience.
So, USC or UCLA?
This question is hard to answer because ultimately, I am so thankful to both. My experiences at UCLA led me here to USC, where I find myself growing professionally and personally everyday. Both allowed me to be close to home and near my family, who I wouldn’t be here without. At one, I was able to identify my weaknesses and at the other, take a strengths-based approach. This past weekend, I showed my friends Silvia and Vanessa around UCLA, where we sat next to Janss Steps and talked for hours.
While walking the same paths I used to take to class, I remembered how I felt there when the thought of becoming an occupational therapist seemed like a distant, unattainable dream because I couldn’t see past who I was on paper — just another GPA, GRE score, and 1000 words. And becoming a USC Chan occupational therapist? Dream on.
Look at you now. Fight, fight, fight on. 💙🐻💛✌️❤️
OT Dance Party >
November 17, 2021
I’ve been teaching Zumba at the USC Village Gym since Fall 2018. As an extrovert who struggles to prioritize exercising, it has been a win-win. I am obligated to get myself to the gym and energized from both the exercise and the social time. Especially with how challenging graduate classes can be, it is a much needed reset to my week every Tuesday.
So, what does this have to do with OT?
This week in OT 534 Health Promotion & Wellness we had a “wellness workshop” day where students got to facilitate and attend different occupation-based activity groups to promote personal wellness. When we got the sign-ups to facilitate a group, I signed up right away. Bringing Zumba to OT school!
My fellow students submitted their preferences and were assigned to different workshops to attend during class time (some of the other options were cookie baking, songwriting, and vision boarding 😮).
Given that dancing in classrooms filled with tables and chairs would not be ideal, we had to improvise for the space. We were out facing the elements on the lawn (muddy uneven grass, an unexpectedly hot November day) with a small speaker and a lot of funny looks from people walking by. But still, I had a blast, and based on all the laughing at/with me & each other, I think the participants did too. It was such a fun chance to share one of my favorite occupations with my friends, especially those who have never done it before. Dr. Cox stopped by during the workshop and thought I was putting up a “fight on ✌️” while dancing… truthfully I was just indicating that the move should be done twice, but hey — two birds one stone.
Even though I did not get to participate in the other activities, I loved how Wellness Workshop day highlighted how seemingly random skills could be an asset for OT’s role in health promotion. What other career path has a place for backgrounds in dance and martial arts and songwriting and cooking and crafting? I mean, OTD Resident John J. Lee even facilitated a Squid Games competition. Opportunities for wellness are everywhere — you never know what skills your colleagues will bring to the table!
A Love Letter to the OS Minor >
October 27, 2021
With USC course registration coming up, let’s chat about the occupational science (OS) minor and why it’s the best dang minor ever (Let’s be real — it’s part of my job to promote our programs… but I promise this is my honest opinion and I’d say all of this for free).
Undergrad was a very stressful time for me. My major courses involved many overlapping creatively-demanding projects, and I spent plenty of late nights glued to my computer to keep up with it all. For me, and for many others, the OS minor was a refuge. Beyond their obvious application to OT school and life in general, I thought they were all really fun and often were a stress-free few hours of my week. AND I actually remember what I learned in them. Here’s what I took & my favorite project from each class:
- OT 250 (4 units): Introduction to Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
- What is it? The only class required for the minor. It was like a sampler of everything OT has to offer — we learned about healthy habits and routines, flow, motivational interviewing, lifestyle redesign, OS research, neuroscience, stress management, sleep hygiene, creativity, exercise, sensory systems, and (still somehow) more!
- My favorite project: We wrote a paper to reflect on occupations that bring us into a flow state — I wrote mine about Zumba. 💃
- OT 251 (4 units): Across the Lifespan: Occupations, Health and Disability*
- What is it? The OT department’s lifespan development class. This class was great preparation for the Team-Based Learning format used in several of the OT graduate classes. *(Bonus: it covers a prerequisite for the graduate program so it’s like a 2-for-1 deal)
- My favorite project: Individually, our final assignment was to read a memoir by a person with a disability and relate it to the course — I applied the person-environment-occupation model to Tara Westover’s Educated and it was the first time I got to practice this kind of analysis.
- OT 330 (4 units): Perspectives on the Daily Life of Families
- What is it? A class dedicated to the roles within and occupational impact of family life.
- My favorite project: A family tree diagram to identify occupational connections within our families. We could make it as extensive as we wanted, and I had a blast. My final tree was 23 pages wide 😮
- OT 350 (4 units): Disability, Occupation, and the Health Care System
- What is it? Amazing guest speakers and meaningful discussions surrounding the varied experiences of living with a disability and navigating the health care system.
- My favorite project: We had weekly journals to reflect on our developing understanding of disability — my favorite journal activity was an accessibility scavenger hunt around USC’s main campus.
- OT 370 (4 units): Understanding Autism: Participation Across the Lifespan
- What is it? This class was so different from psychology classes I had taken that included content about ASD. We focused on neurodiversity, lived experiences, and advocacy.
- My favorite project: My ‘media representation of ASD’ group project. I got to illustrate a children’s book and explore ways to help typically developing children understand their peers with ASD.
If I could have fit more in my schedule, I would have. Specifically, the human-animal interaction class. A few weeks ago, my friend’s dog was a guest speaker in that class — he was excellent.
As a student ambassador, I recently got to go back and give brief presentations to some of this semester’s OS minor courses, and it made me really nostalgic. When I feel nostalgic, I get emotional. When I get emotional, I write letters and never send them (usually because they are addressed to real people. Since this one is addressed to a non-sentient academic program, I’m ok with publishing it on the internet. So, here we go).
To my beloved OS minor,
I wish we could have spent more time together. I miss a lot about being an undergrad at USC, and your classes are no exception.
Thank you for classes that brightened my afternoons when I’d usually be needing a nap. Thank you for faculty mentors who have supported me through ups and downs both academically and personally (shout-outs to Linsey, Kate, & Kristy). Thank you for literally assigning some of my closest friends, Leah and Dakotah, to me as part of my group for OT 251 — they’ve stuck with me all the way til the MA-II program, and now they’re stuck with me for life.
Thank you for guiding me into the best career in the world.