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!

From Adversity to Opportunity (Part 1 of 2)

By Jessica Harrington, Director of Student Life

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records. 
William Arthur Ward

James Kouzes and Barry Posner’s 2014 book, Turning Adversity into Opportunity (JHU login required) is an encouraging short read (64 pages). Geared toward aspiring leaders, the book also presents concepts applicable to the graduate student experience.  Below are a few highlights which may provide some perspective today.

1.    Accept the new normal. The authors assert that normal used to mean calm and stable but normal now means frequent turbulent change and disruptions.  It takes time and skill to learn to adequately shift priorities in  life and throughout the day as needs arise. Sometimes concentration means disconnecting (from technology, social settings, etc.) temporarily to refocus.  What are the frequent disruptions that interrupt your day? How do you typically respond? Do you recover from the interruptions and if so, how?

2.    Look at your situation from a broader perspective. When feeling overwhelmed, it’s hard, yet still important to see issues in a broader context. Some questions to ask yourself: Have others faced the issue I am facing and how did they work through this? Will this situation/issue be important to me an hour, day, or years from now? What are the various internal and external factors that impact my current issue?  

3.    Accept the diagnosis without accepting defeat.  It’s healthy to admit faults, mistakes, failures, and deficits however it’s unhealthy to remain stuck in them. The questions to keep asking:  how do I continue to move forward in spite of the failure/mistake and/or what does progress look like for me? I often ask this of students particularly if a course or term didn’t go as planned.

If you find that you need some support in working through current adversities, don’t forget that JHSAP and Student Life are here for you! 

Resilience Tips for Doctoral Students

By Jessica Harrington, Director of Student Life

Doctoral students face unique challenges while navigating the journey from first year student to doctoral scholar. My experience is that students often carry high expectations, both for themselves and their programs. Students are sometimes met with unexpected challenges which may threaten to derail their initial goals. My role is to remind them of their ability to meet challenges with resilience.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stressful events. One comprehensive resource on this fascinating (and encouraging) subject suggests a model with three stages:

  1. Acknowledge the stressor. Examples of doctoral student stress may include strained relationships with faculty, research interest conflicts, pressure around publishing, and time management. Take a moment and ask, what is it that is actually stressing me out? It’s ok to admit everything isn’t fine.
  2. Orient toward a positive outcome. Consider the outcome you’re hoping for. Is it realistic? Despite this current stressor, is success still possible? What can be learned from this experience? Linda Graham, a therapist who focuses on resilience, offers an in-depth exercise on envisioning outcomes.
  3. Actively cope with the stressor through means of support. Disengagement and avoidance (cute kittens anyone?) may feel like the most comfortable responses. Sometimes, for the sake of one’s mental health, disengagement is necessary. Active coping includes taking a temporary break from focusing on the issue and then making a plan to respond. Engage with your support system as needed. In addition to family, peers, and mentors, please know that JHSAP and the Office of Student Life are here to help you actively cope.

 As a doctoral students, challenges are inevitable. However, remember you are resilient, and you have support!

Designing Your Life Part 3

By Shekeitha L. Jeffries, Assistant Director of Student Life

“Designers don’t think their way forward. Designers build their way forward.”  – Design Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

This is the final segment of this series. In the previous post, we discussed five design thinking ideas on how to increase self-efficacy from the TEDx Talk, Designing Your Life. Today, we will dive deeper into design thinking idea #3 and you will learn how to create an odyssey plan. By designing an odyssey plan, you map out three different versions for your life, for the next five years.  

Outlined below is the rubric that Bill Burnett recommends to design your odyssey plan:

  • Alternative Plan #1: Your first odyssey plan is your life as it is now. What are you currently doing?  What can you do to improve your life over the next five years?
  • Alternative Plan #2: This plan is your back up plan to your first plan. What if you the thing you’re currently doing suddenly ends? What happens if you experience a financial hardship and you’re no longer able to attend school? What will you do if your job is suddenly eliminated? What side hustle do you have, to make this plan work?
  • Alternative Plan #3: Your final plan is your wild card – it’s a plan that allows you to step out of your comfort zone and do something completely different.  What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about money? What you do if you didn’t care what people thought? What would you do if you knew no one would laugh at you?

To get started with your odyssey plan, click here for the worksheet and follow these directions below (Burnett and Evans, 2016, p. 105):  

  1. Create three alternative five year-plans, using the worksheet provided.
  2. Give each alternative plan a descriptive six-word title and write down three questions that arise out of each version of you.
  3. Complete each gauge on the dashboard – ranking each alternative for resources likeability, confidence, and coherence.
  4. Present your plan to another person, a group, or your Life Design Team.  Note how each alternative energizes you.

Move forward in the design thinking process, by prototyping each of your alternative plans and make adjustments as needed. Choose the alternative plan that works best for you and according to Bill Burnett, you will design a well lived and joyful life!

Find Your Learning Style

 By Jessica Harrington, Director, Student Life

A common challenge for JHSPH students is adjusting their study habits for an eight-week term. What may have worked in other learning environments or during undergraduate studies, may not work as well for the JHSPH term system; but fear not! Below are some insightful study tips.

Learn how you learn. Are you a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic (hands on) learner? To find out, take this short quiz by the authors of Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking With People Who Think Differently. Understanding how your mind works is important both for studying alone and when working in groups.

Try new techniques. Consider trying various techniques that complement your learning style. It’s also possible that one’s learning style may vary depending on the kind of material presented or one could prefer a combination of styles. Adjust as needed!

Don’t just reread. Check out this animated summary of Make it Stick (Brown, McDaniel, & Roediger) as presented by Productivity Game. See why the authors (who are cognitive scientists) say rereading alone is an ineffective strategy.

Reflect on your habits. If your study habits didn’t quite produce ideal results in first term, check out the 10 Rules of Studying by Dr. Barbara Oakley. Her Tedx talk is also very inspiring given the amount of academic failure from which she had to rebound.

Be patient with yourself! Learning is a dynamic function of the brain and some subjects are easier/more difficult than others. There is no one “right way” to learn.  Embrace your own style.