Be Healthy & Spread Love Through Random Acts of Kindness

By: Shekeitha L. Jeffries, Assistant Director

The month of February marks the 2nd month of this decade as well as the start of the 3rd term for students at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Did you know that this month is known as Black History Month? All across the world the achievements of black people will be honored to commemorate the positive impact they’ve made through history.  This month is also dedicated to Heart Health, an initiative coined by the American Heart Association to encourage individuals to learn about risk factors for heart disease and to encourage healthy lifestyle.  We’ll also celebrate love on February 14th, and we’ll embrace Random Acts of Kindness day, on February 17th

Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels.

Random Acts of Kindness day, also known as RAK, started in 1995. It is celebrated by many individuals, groups and organizations worldwide to encourage acts of kindness.  Research shows that by being kind to others, increases your overall happiness, reduces stress and helps to improves heart health. Stay healthy this month and spread love through random acts of kindness, which can include:

  • Sending someone a handwritten note, thanking them for being in your life
  • Buying coffee/tea for the person ahead or behind you in line
  • Helping a classmate, colleague with a project or assignment
  • Making dinner for a family in need
  • Volunteering at a local food bank or shelter

To help you get started with your acts of kindness, print out the kindness bingo card. Mark off your act of kindness, by completing a line vertically, horizontally or diagonally – you choose. When you have completed four acts of kindness in a row, pat yourself on the back! You just made a difference in someone’s life!

Be sure to snap a photo of your acts of kindness, and tag the Office of Student Life on Instagram and use hashtag #RandomActsofKindnessDay.  

How to Manage Competing Priorities

By: Shekeitha L. Jeffries, Assistant Director

An article published in the US News & Report states that saving money is a great thing to do. However, according the article, if we save time, we may also save our health and sanity.

Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile from Pexels.

Graduate students may find it hard to manage their time, school work, as well as other personal commitments.  You may have other obligations in addition to your role as a graduate student – such as being a spouse, a parent, caregiver for a loved, teaching assistant or e-board member within a student/professional organization. These various roles can be very rewarding, yet stressful to manage, as you take on additional responsibilities. However, research shows that learning how to manage your time, activities, and commitments can make your life easier, less stressful, and more meaningful.

Here are 3 strategies to begin managing your priorities:

  • Strategy #1: Create SMART goals. Establishing SMART goals, will help you clarify your ideas and help focus your efforts more succinctly.  Your goals are is your personal road map and will help to ensure that you can accomplish what you want in life. To get started, use the goal setting worksheet and identify your personal, educational and career goals.
  • Strategy #2: Prioritize Commitments/Tasks. To prioritize your commitments and tasks, you must determine which things to tackle first.  In order to stay organized and accomplish all commitments/tasks at hand, you will need to arrange them by urgency and importance. Consider using the Eisenhower method, a task management tool, that will help you categorize your tasks/commitments more efficiently.
  • Strategy #3: Organize Your Digital Calendar. To organize your digital calendar, review your daily activities and break them into categories such as personal, family, school and work. Designate specific colors for each category, so that you can easily identify them in your calendar. By utilizing a digital calendar, you will be able to have access to your schedule at all times. To get started use this calendar template make a list of your reoccurring monthly, weekly, as well as your daily tasks/commitments and begin plugging them directly into your calendar.

Please keep in mind, that no matter which strategies you use, in order to be effective  – consistency is KEY. Don’t wait until you have a meltdown to begin managing your priorities, start TODAY!

Academic Guilt: Stay Out of the Trap


Graduate student guilt? Oh yeah, I am sure you’ve heard of it and even experienced it by now. It is the guilt that many of us experience when we are not constantly working on school related assignments, writing our thesis/dissertation, conducting experiments, reading articles, etc. It is the guilt that we feel when we are spending time with our friends instead of responding to those emails or working 24/7. 

I’m trying to relax but I know I could be working

Just this past weekend, I found myself feeling “guilty” for spending time with a friend I had not seen in a long time. I suggested going to a coffee shop so we could chat and afterwards I could work on my thesis while she read a book. Am I a bad friend for suggesting such activity? Maybe not. However, I realized that probably I deserved some time off after writing and working all week.

Why do we experience graduate student guilt? Perhaps, it has to do with the structure of graduate school. There is not a set line of instructions that tell you how much time is required for reading, writing, working – there is not a 40-hour work week or 9-5. In addition, flexibility really varies among the different degree programs and within each student individually. We are in a stage where we are responsible for the balance between being a student and being an adult. On top of that, we are faced with the expectation that academia comes with busyness, high demands, and the need to work 24/7. 

Although graduate student guilt is very common in academic, below are some tips that may help you lower those guilt feelings:

1. “Busy” is not a merit badge: We often find ourselves being prideful of our busy life to measure up against others. We get it, we know everyone is smart and busy in graduate school. Instead, focus on taking a positive attitude towards those opportunities given to you and focus on those concrete goals.

2. Plan your breaks: My first year at JHSPH, a 5th year PhD student told me “Weekends are sacred and I don’t work during that time”. Although I have not been able to execute his advice, it is important to schedule breaks just like you schedule your class time. It will become part of your routine and you won’t feel as guilty. 

3. Ask for help: Some great advantages of graduate school are the collaborations and relationships you make with others. If you are having difficulties completing a task at a timely manner, ask for help. We understand people are usually busy but oftentimes they will help (or at least explain it to you).

4. Remember, you are a person: It is okay to take breaks. It is okay to take time for self-care. It is okay to spend time with friends and have a life outside of school. Your mental and physical health are important. Don’t take them for granted. 

Begin Again

By Jessica Harrington, Director

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Although no one can go back and make a brand-new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand-new ending.
-James Sherman, Rejection

Welcome to another term and a new year! Here are some tips for a good start (or to encourage you to keep going in case you’ve already started!):

  1. Simplify. Webster’s definition of simplify says, “to reduce to basic essentials… diminish complexity.” Author/blogger, Leo Babauta, offers another definition to consider for everyday life: “It [simplify] means getting rid of the clutter so you are left with only that which gives you value.”  Babauta’s post, Simple Living Manifesto: 72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life, elaborates on suggestions which may benefit busy grad students in particular. Some of my favorites from the list: learn to say no, limit media consumption, be present, learn to do nothing!  If you get a moment, take a long glance at the post and see what inspires you to declutter physically, mentally, and emotionally. When you find yourself overwhelmed this term, just take one moment to simplify.
  2. Show your body some love! Over the years, I’ve learned that while public health students value the public’s health, they are prone to forget to nourish their own bodies through exercise and nutrition.  Consider this list of workout apps and check out the PDF copy of The Good and Cheap Cookbook by Leanne Brown  (note: thank you to the JHSPHer who suggested the cookbook!!).  
  3. Make A Plan to Manage Distractions and Resume Work!  Focus is a necessary component in the academic journey and distractions are inevitable. One researcher suggests those who make a “ready-to-resume” plan may be able to bounce back from distractions and return to their work more efficiently. The plan doesn’t have to be a lengthy list. The article notes, “Even a minute’s work will do, to note where you left off, and where to resume, what challenges are left, and/or what actions (you) must postpone but resume later.”
  4. Learn to Think Fast and Slow. Given that students live at the pace of an eight week term, this interesting excerpt from Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, is a reminder to be deliberative in our thinking especially in problem solving. It’s important to know the difference between reacting and responding.
  5. Build in time to pause from technology. Most of us are aware of how detrimental it is to stare at our screens for hours on end.  The Time Out app (also suggested by a student) is another mechanism that provides prompts and reminders to pause. Give it a try.

Relax with a Good Book

By Jessica Harrington, Director

Image by Evgeni Tcherkasski from Pixabay

Some books leave us free and some books make us free.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Reading has been proven to help reduce stress.  During the academic year, students may forgo their love of reading due to hectic schedules. Winter break is a great opportunity to read something other than textbooks and articles. For ideas, visit NPR’s Book Concierge and Good Reads Best Books of 2019.

In addition, here are some of my favorite books: 

  • Self Help: I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough” (Brene Brown)
  • Motivational: Enjoy Every Sandwhich: Living Each Day as If It Were Your Last ( Lee Lipsenthal)
  • Memoir: Born Bright: A Young Girl’s Journey from Nothing to Something in America (C. Nicole Mason)
  • Suspense/Sci-Fi: Dark Matter (Blake Crouch)
  • Creativity Workbook: Hand Lettering for Relaxation: An Inspirational Workbook for Creating Beautiful Lettered Art (Amy Latta)

Whether you choose to relax through reading or some other means, we encourage you to make self-care a priority! We look forward to connecting with you in third term. 

Navigate Holiday Stress

Sheila Brown has released this “Happy Holidays Christmas Ornament 3” image under Public Domain license.

Congrats! You made it through the first two terms and now it’s time to celebrate. It is that wonderful time of the year where you may get to spend time at home with loved ones, eat delicious food, and hang out with old friends. It is also that time of the year when people around ask, “How is your research going?” and “What’s next after you graduate” or “Why don’t you visit more often?” And so it begins… Trust me, you are not the only one feeling overwhelmed with all these questions. Although most of the time we appreciate family members and friends caring about our progress, there are times when we appreciate having a physical and mental break from school. Some of us are still working on an answer to, “What is next after you graduate?” It’s ok not to have all the answers. We may want to make our friends and family proud, but it’s important to take care of our mental well-being. Here are some recommendations on how to navigate and handle holiday stress:

1. If you are experiencing grad school guilt: It is okay to take time away from work. We understand some things need to be done such as working on your thesis, applying for fellowships/grants, working on a publication. Yet, taking a break is okay. Whether it is a few hours, days, or even more than a week. You deserve it. You have worked non-stop for two entire terms. Enjoy your time off. 

2. If you are experiencing stress from overwhelming questions: Maybe some of your loved ones do not understand your research and/or the process of graduate school. However, you do know that they care about you and want to know how you are doing. While it can be difficult to not find those questions annoying or hard to answer, try to remain calm. Most of the time they are trying their best to connect with you and understand your life as a graduate student. Be patient and don’t take your stress on those you love the most. 

3. If you are experiencing stress from doing “too much”: Set time aside for yourself. Yes, we understand this is the time your family and friends want to do everything with you and include you in all the plans. However, it is okay to say “no” to an invitation. The holidays are a great opportunity to enjoy quality time with others but also time with yourself. Please remember to relax, recharge, refocus. 

Try to enjoy your holiday and destress. There will always be work that needs to be done and questions that need to be answered. Enjoy your time off, don’t feel guilty, and take care of your wellbeing. For additional suggestions, check out JHSAP’s 10 tips for holiday stress management.


Intersectionality: Advocating and Embracing Your Whole Self and Others


Have you ever considered the multiple identities you have? If you haven’t, think about how you identify on a daily basis and how some of those identities may be stronger during specific situations. Those may include but are not limited to your education, profession, race/ethnicity, gender, age religion, etc. 

The term “Intersectionality” was first introduced by scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions are interconnected and can’t be studied separately from one another. She focused on the operation of systems of power and experiences of oppression against Black women, who because of their multiple identities, were left out of anti-discrimination laws. 

“If I’m a black woman, I have some disadvantages because I’m a woman and some disadvantages because I’m black. But I also have some disadvantages specifically because I’m [a] black woman, which neither black men nor white women have to deal with. That’s intersectionality; race, gender, and every other way to be disadvantaged interact with each other.” –(u/Amarkov)

Our individual identities are complex. If you look around the room, you may find colleagues that look like you and share many similarities. On the other hand, you might find yourself as the “only” or the “first” in the room to do something. It is okay. What is important is that you recognize that identities are valued differently and as a result, each person’s experiences are different. 

What is the importance of intersectionality in public health?

Intersectionality can serve as a useful framework to understand social determinants of health and the multi-dimensional overlapping factors that influence health outcomes. When it comes to social inequalities, there are many factors that work together and shape people’s lives differently. It is important to understand the multiple systems of oppression such as structural racism, colorism, ethnocentrism, and the intersection of other systemic oppressors that shape social determinants of health.

“…The study of intersectionality . . . has the potential to provide critical guidance for policies and programs. It enables policies and programs to identify whom to focus on, whom to protect, what exactly to promote and why. It also provides a simple way to monitor and evaluate the impact of policies and programs on different sub-groups from the most disadvantaged through the middle layers to those with particular advantages.” –Sen G.

Knowing our own identities are important to advocate for ourselves. When we bring these to the table, we are bringing a different perspective, new ideas, and diverse experiences. As public health leaders, knowing how different identities of the population of study intersect, is essential to better understand those social determinants of health. Thus, intersectionality gives us a unique health equity lens where we can draw from our own personal experiences to advance as public health leaders in the field. 

Cultivating Gratitude

By: Shekeitha L. Jeffries, Assistant Director of Student Life

Gratitude is having a deep appreciation for the people and things in our lives. It allows us to intentionally focus on the positive aspects of our lives, even in the midst of challenging circumstances.  When was the last time you paused to celebrate your recent accomplishments? When was the last time you reflected upon the relationships you have with your family, friends and colleagues?  When was the last time you stepped away from your computer and cell phone to appreciate nature’s beauty?

As a student at JHSPH, you may have a busy schedule with a demanding class load, infused with other pertinent school and personal matters such as a teaching assistant position, an internship, and/or family commitments. However, it is important to find time to express gratitude, by appreciating the people and things in your life. Research suggests that those who experience gratitude, encounter more happiness and love. Additionally, those who practice gratitude, can reduce their lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. 

To help cultivate an environment filled with gratitude, consider these three tips:

  • Create a gratitude journal. Grab a notebook or download the Penzu app and begin keeping a log of things you are grateful for each day.
  • Listen to a podcast. Download the JHU calm app for free and check out Tamara Levitt’s Masterclass on Gratitude.
  • Mediate. Take 10-15 minutes before you start your day to mediate. Mindfulness mediation helps you to focus on the present as well as gratefulness.

For additional tips to help you on your gratitude journey, click here.  

Start the Day with a “Productive Mood Anchor”

By Jessica Harrington, Director
Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

One of our doctoral students forwarded me an interesting article. In it, the author explained the concept of a productive mood anchor. Specifically, a productive mood anchor is “a joyful action that primes your brain to tackle the day. It lets you set the mood for your work rather than seeing which mood just happens to pop up.” As someone with competing deadlines, I appreciate how this initiates a pause for me to plan my day in an intentional way while also engaging in self-reflection.  Here are some suggestions to get started: 

  1. Identify small actions that bring you joy, foster a sense of calm and/or optimism. The author suggests focusing on something that is unrelated to work/academics. For me, it’s music and art. It’s often helpful to start my days listening to music and reflecting on a piece of art.
  2. Plan to start with just a few minutes at the beginning of your day (whether your day starts at 6am or noon). For some 5 minutes might be easiest to start with. Try what works for your lifestyle.
  3. Return to your mood anchor throughout the day. The author encourages using this technique as a mental reset when needed.
  4. This isn’t in the article, but for those who crave variety, try focusing on one type of mood anchor for the week and then switching to another the following week.
  5. Last, be patient with yourself. I’ve heard students say they cant remember that last time they did something for pure enjoyment without guilt. This is an invitation to remember other facets of yourself in order to be more productive personally and professionally.  

Making the most out of conferences: It’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay 

Do you remember your first academic conference and how nervous you were when you approached that presenter? What pushed you to introduce yourself? Was it your interest in their research or was it a friend that insisted you to go for it? 

For many academics, conferences are one of the main ways to network and make connections with others in their field. However, conferences can be very overwhelming and intimidating when you’re in a room full of experts. It’s very easy to only socialize with the people you know instead of stepping outside of your comfort zone. We’ve all been there. Approaching someone can be very be intimidating, especially if you want them to remember you. Yet, making meaningful connections at conferences doesn’t have to be a nightmare. 

Here are some useful tips to make an impactful networking experience:

1. Check the conference agenda in advance: It’s important to look at the programming days in advance to know which workshops and talks you want to attend. If there’s a presentation you’re interested in, look into the speaker and their research so you feel more comfortable approaching them after their talk.

2. Be intentional about your approach: Remember that collecting personal cards is not the goal. Most presenters and attendees have some networking experience so they will know if you’re just collecting their card to add it to your pile. Be genuine about your interest and be intentional. Always make eye contact so they know you’re actually paying attention. 

3. You want them to see you as future colleagues: The presenters are also there to make a good impression on the audience. When you introduce yourself to them and explain how your research aligns with theirs, you want them to see you as someone whom they could work with in the future. 

4. Don’t skip the poster session: People often skip the poster session to go relax and take a break from the conference. Do not skip the poster session. During this time, you will have the chance to have a 1-1 conversation and ask those questions you’re eager to ask. 

5. Use social media to your advantage: Academic Twitter can be a useful resource for you to meet those in your field that are attending the conference. Connect with them, invite them to your talk, and attend their talk. 

6. Last but not least: FOLLOW UP. The general rule of thumb is to give at least a week before following up. Write a clear email and mention a conversation you had with that person while at the conference. 

Best of luck during your next conference and remember, it’s not about who you know but about who knows you!