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Preparing for Graduate School >

by Savi

Admissions Life Hacks

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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 >

by Daniel

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Admissions Classes Diversity Fieldwork Life Hacks

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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.

Source: Migration Policy Institute, “Mixed-Status Families Ineligible for CARES Act Federal Pandemic Stimulus Checks,” (May 2020), migrationpolicy.org/content/mixed-status-families-ineligible-pandemic-stimulus-checks

Source: Migration Policy Institute, “Vulnerable to COVID-19 and in Frontline Jobs, Immigrants Are Mostly Shut Out of U.S. Relief.” (April 24, 2020) migrationpolicy.org/article/covid19-immigrants-shut-out-federal-relief

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.

No matter your political views, from an occupational therapy lens, we all have a responsibility to promote occupational engagement and occupational justice. This may include supporting clients navigating access to resources. As I found myself doing with my family and clients in primary care, I was that person that supported their own resource seeking as a means for survival during the pandemic. The reality is that not everyone has access to OT services or a family member who can help them seek resources. This is a very complex topic and there are many layers to it, perhaps many terms you may not be familiar with. I am always available for any questions (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)). I ask you to be open minded and encourage you to have these uncomfortable conversations. It is never too late to start learning and getting involved in the discussion. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed and exacerbated many of the disparities and social inequalities that have been there for many people in the United States, especially the undocumented population. I want to leave you with the questions below to reflect on:

  1. As a current or future occupational therapist, how are you going to support clients experiencing occupational injustices due to their immigration status?
  2. 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!



Reframing Negativity >

by Liz

Admissions Life Hacks

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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!


You Don’t Need to Be Perfect, You’re Still Learning >

by Daniel

1 comment

Admissions Classes Fieldwork Life Hacks

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Over the last couple of weeks, I have been talking to students that find themselves at different points in their OT journey. This is a busy time as many wait for updates from admissions, some still deciding whether to pursue the OTD, and others wondering what field of OT to pursue as they find themselves in the final year of their program. Being able to connect with students from different backgrounds is my favorite part of this position and it is a privilege to learn all your stories. Around this time in 2018, I was waitlisted for the Entry-Level Master’s program, and to be honest I did not have high hopes that I would get in because of my GRE scores. At the same time, I was working a lot and still trying to finish my Bachelor’s degree while struggling to do well in Chemistry (I know, what a fun last semester!). When I have these conversations with students it takes me back to these days, the good and the bad times. This is a time in my life when I thought I had to be perfect in order to be successful. Whether you are waitlisted, deciding on an OT program, just discovering OT and not knowing if this is the right choice or feeling overwhelmed with the overload of information coming at you, remember that you are not perfect. None of us are.

Make sure you are taking the time to breathe and engage in things you love to do, even if it’s a few minutes of your day. Take those minutes to spend it with loved ones, call someone, and eat! Remember to practice what we preach and try to find a balance. You cannot control everything, so focus on the things you can and take care of yourself. We want you to be at your best during class, when studying, at fieldwork, and with clients. You should always strive to give it your best, but it’s okay to not be perfect. When you know you gave it your best despite the circumstances, I believe you can be at peace with the results. This way of thinking and restructuring my thoughts has helped me cope with the demands of grad school. Remember that part of learning is to fail and try it again. Dwelling on it will not change anything, but what you can do is learn from those shortcomings. Maybe you had a practical that didn’t go as planned, perhaps a rough fieldwork or residency day, you know, it happens! And often those are the times that stay with you the most, when you make a mistake, when you failed at something, or when you didn’t know what to do.

I recently read a quote from my assigned class reading about an immigrant woman that says, “I may not remember everything I have learned, but it has made me who I am today”.  This is the quote I needed last week as I found myself struggling through my busy days. The long days and nights, assignment deadlines that feel impossible to meet, back-to-back meetings, the endless information introduced every week, etc. At times, it may feel like you’re just on autopilot, going through the motions. We can get so caught up in not knowing enough for an upcoming exam, for fieldwork, or for your residency setting. And of course, I do not know every single thing that was ever taught to me in school, but I have learned lessons from it all along the way. The Master’s program and now the OTD program, they have both challenged me in different ways. They have both made me question my abilities and have tested my motivation.

If you are reading this now and find yourself with doubts about what to do next, remember that you don’t need to be perfect. As you proceed to the next step in your journey, remind yourself that perfection is an unrealistic expectation that should not be put on anyone, you are a person and student that is still LEARNING. Take the necessary steps to learn from the particular experience you find yourself in, and with a little perseverance just keep going. Use the resources available to you, reach out for help, and don’t ever be afraid to ask questions. Lastly my virtual door is always open for those that may relate to this notion of perfection or if you have questions about OT and higher education (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)). I also invite you to make comments below if you would like 😊


Dear MA1 Students, >

by Yna

Classes Diversity Getting Involved International Life Hacks

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How we were able to create an environment filled with nothing but love and support for each other with the challenges of distant learning is something that I don’t know but I sure am thankful of. It is truly amazing to think about it: how a lot of us haven’t even met each other in person — with some of us even having classes from across the globe — and yet, we are able to touch each other’s lives and share this journey together through shared Spotify playlists, after-class study sessions over Zoom, little fun facts about us that we share with each other, random comments over private chat, or even that simple “we got this, guys!” really goes a long way. Every once in a while, we find pleasant surprises from our little interactions with each other that gradually connect us altogether and make our experience nothing short of amazing. Today, here’s a surprise that would hopefully help you get through stressful times 😊

  • “Dear MA1 Students — I was asked to provide some words of motivation for you, but I would like to THANK YOU for motivating and inspiring me!  I’m so impressed by the perseverance, creativity, and determination that you have demonstrated as post-professional master’s students.  You have accomplished so much already, and I’m confident you will continue to succeed both in the master’s program and beyond.  Remember to take some time to celebrate your achievements and use that as motivation to continue the hard work on your journey.”
    Dr. Emily Ochi
  • “When I was a graduate student, I found this quote that spoke to me and where I was at, at that time… in the midst of late-night study sessions, in-between messy relationships, or wrestling with self-doubt. The quote said: “Today my anthro professor said something kind of beautiful:
    ‘You all have a little bit of ‘I want to save the world’ in you, that’s why you’re here, in college. I want you to know that it’s okay if you only save one person, and it’s okay if that person is you.’
    I share this quote to give you permission (if you needed it today) to remember to take care of yourself at this time. Of course, we have big dreams for you and I deeply believe in this cohort. Each one of you are incredibly hard workers and I always appreciate the perspectives you bring to class, the work you put into being present (on a screen none-the-less!), and the ways you share your understandings of the class content… But! I will not encourage you to compromise yourself, in order to “save the world”. Let’s get rid of that notion. You matter, and let’s start there. So please take time for yourself, especially in the middle of the semester like we find ourselves in now, and let us know if or when you need support or just extra kindness that day. You are doing an extraordinary thing, having the bravery to study in a new place and challenging yourself with multiple courses. That is more than enough, and I hope this message finds you on a day where you are believing that you are more than enough too. Again, we believe in you and are behind you today!”
    Dr. Kelcie Kadowaki
  • “HI MA1! I know graduate school can be overwhelming but remember, you know more than you think you know and you are exactly where you are supposed to be at this moment in time. Give yourselves a pat on the back for all the hard work you are putting into your growth. Enjoy the process. Lean on each other for support. Be confident. Take a break and of course, stay safe. 😊”
    — Macy Peralta
  • “Dear MA 1 students—It has been such an honor to be your instructor this semester. I look forward to our class because I can sense your intrinsic interest in the material and the ways that you support one another. I love hearing your perspectives as we read qualitative research together! Karin Saric, our librarian, was also very impressed by your thoughtful questions and skillful database searching. I have been deeply impressed with your resilience, your ability to not only adapt to the remote learning environment but also thrive in this environment. When you had challenges with google drive, you viewed it as an opportunity to learn and grow. 😊 I love that. I hope I can embody this same resilience and adaptability in my own life as well. Thank you for being a part of this class as we learn and grow together.”
    Dr. Tessa Milman
  • “Do not underestimate a deep breath of fresh air from a place of serenity like from under your favorite tree or feeling the sense of comfort from having a warm bowl of your favorite soup. These kinds of simple activities, when feeling under a lot pressure can allow space for our minds to take a break and maybe even a chance to reinstate a positive attitude. Remember, sí se puede and that your Chan faculty believe in you!”
    Dr. Celso Delgado
  • “Life often gets overwhelming with so many things to do and so many situations out of our control - especially this year! When I get overwhelmed, I sometimes find it helpful to pause, take some deep breaths, and think about a few things I am grateful for and try to think of a things that I can control, even if it’s something as small as what to eat for dinner or watch on Netflix. And then, when I feel overwhelmed again, even if it’s just 5 minutes later, I try not to just acknowledge that sometimes, situations really are overwhelming! (And, around this time in spring semester is usually one of those times, pandemic or not!). As your professors, we want you to know that we are so proud of each one of you for taking the big step of being in this program, engaging and showing up for your classes, and doing your best during this hard time so that you can ultimate be the best OTs and help others as much as possible. We hope you take time to take care of yourselves, and hang in there — it will get better. 😊”
    Dr. Sook-Lei Liew
  • “Sometimes, it helps to remember that in the end, we write our own stories.  We can be crushed by some unfairness or a failure, or consider these to be the building blocks for future success, as opportunities to overcome, grow, and inspire others.  And if it is our reactions to our circumstances that define us, then any circumstance met with optimism, gratitude, and humility becomes a success story.  We are living through a time when our lives and occupations are especially disrupted.  Maybe this trial by fire could be what forges you into a uniquely exceptional generation of OTs, and one that is looked up to well into the future!”
    Dr. Christopher Laine
  • “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — Thomas Edison; “The expert in anything was once a beginner.” — Helen Hayes; “You don’t always get what you wish for, you get what you work for.” — Anonymous; “Some people dream of great accomplishments, while others stay awake and do them.” — Anonymous
    Dr. Sharon Cermak
  • “You’ve all worked so hard to get to this point! Think of all the steps you took to get to this program, including for some of you moving to a whole new country! Keep up the great work and when the road ahead looks difficult, don’t forget to look back and marvel at the road traveled to get here!”
    — Ty Kim

While these quotes are directed to MA1 students, I’m sure anyone who find themselves in need of a little bit of motivation could use these too. I hope you enjoyed, and as always, Fight On!

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