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.


Graduate School Beyond the Classroom

by Paul Delgado, Graduate Program Assistant

One of the most common things I heard when I first started at JHSPH was the emphasis on how challenging the term system can be if you do not have a good balance in your life. If you are a first-year graduate student, during the first term you want to make sure you get the hang of classwork, get adapted to the city, and understand the way JHSPH works. It is easy to become quickly overwhelmed with all the opportunities being offered at the school and all the responsibilities you have outside of the classroom. For those of us that have been here longer, while we don’t have to take a full load of coursework, we still undergo a similar experience— writing thesis/dissertation, preparing for oral/comprehensive exams, conducting research. 

Sometimes, it is easy to forget to enjoy our time beyond the classroom. Many people emphasize negative things about the life of graduate students. Personally, I believe that graduate school is an amazing time to grow as a scholar, researcher, and as a person. You don’t have to give up who you are and what you like just because you are now a graduate student. It’s all about balance!

Here are some words of advice on how you can have a successful graduate-student life experience.

1. Prioritize your time and learn to say no: It is important to prioritize your time, wellbeing, and mental health. There are many opportunities that will be offered to you during your time at Hopkins, you do not have to say yes if you are putting at risk your research progress, grades, or mental health. It’s okay to say no. 

2. Surround yourself with people that have a balanced life: Academia can be stressful and challenging (I’m sure you know by now), surround yourself with others that also aim to have a good work-life balance.  

3. Mix up your routine and take time to reset: Often we get into a repetitive cycle that ends up making our life less enjoyable (miserable sometimes). Mixing things up/taking time off can not only positively impact your wellbeing but can also have a positive effect on your research creativity. 

4. Don’t give up your hobbies: If hiking is something that you enjoy doing, don’t give it up because you are now in graduate school. Taking the time to have fun outside of the classroom is okay. Do not feel guilty for doing so. 

5. Go explore the city you live in: Baltimore is an amazing city and there’s much more than just Mount Vernon, Fells Point, Charles Village. Get to know the city and its people. I assure you will develop a stronger relationship with Baltimore and will make your time at Hopkins more enjoyable. 

Impostor Phenomenon Part 2

How to Manage Impostor Phenomenon Feelings in Grad School

by Paul Delgado, Graduate Program Assistant

In a previous post, we defined impostor phenomenon (IP) and provided a couple tips. Part 2 continues below.

Why do people experience impostor phenomenon?

There’s not really an answer. However, we know that it can happen to anyone at any point during their career. From newly arrived graduate students to professionals close to retirement (yes, we’re not kidding). It has been shown that high-achieving people often suffer from these feelings, especially women and academics. In addition, studies have examined the detrimental impact on ethnic minority scholars resulting in feelings of not belonging and diminished mental health.

IP is also seems to occur regardless of profession. Here are two takes on IP: one from artist, Gemma Correll and another from a professional in the tech industry. If you can relate, check out the tips below!

Graduate Student Tips

1. Remember what you do well and what you bring to the table.

You’re at Hopkins and you know there are brilliant people sitting next to you. Although you may not be an expert in their area of study, you know your research very well. That is normal. We all have areas where we’re pretty good and some other areas where we’re not the best. Maybe they have been conducting research for a longer time than you have. Don’t compare yourself to others. Remember that your experiences are valuable and what you’re doing is important.

Write down the things you’re good at and the areas where you’d like to see some improvement. In the end, you will see how you have a longer list on the things you do well.

If you want to stay informed on the latest research on public health, attend seminars outside of your department. That’s one of the best and easiest ways to become familiar with areas other than your own.

2. Reframe your thoughts.

You don’t have to be 100%, 100% of the time. Find your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Whenever the impostor kicks in, consider the context and look at your weaknesses under a different lens.

If you’re in class feeling lost during lecture, reframe it: “the fact that I’m feeling ignorant right now, doesn’t mean that I really am. I will prepare and do good in my exam”.

Learn to value constructive criticism and be realistic about the nature of academic work. Not because your publication got rejected means that you have failed and your impostor mask has come off.


3. Be kind to yourself.

Graduate school can be tough. In difficult moments, remember to be kind to yourself. Take the time to be real with yourself and the people around you. Most people experience moments of doubt, and that’s normal. You don’t have to be perfect to succeed, you are human and will make mistakes. 

Remember you are here for a reason. You were chosen for a reason. You are better than you think you are. You know more than you give yourself credit for. You belong here. Remember that.

Designing Your Life Part 2

By Shekeitha L. Jeffries, Assistant Director of Student Life

In the previous post, we discussed dysfunctional beliefs that may hinder personal growth.  Below are five design thinking ideas from the TEDx Talk on Designing Your Life, that will help increase your self-efficacy as you move forward in the design thinking process.

  • IDEA #1: CONNECTING THE DOTS – To live a life that is meaningful and purposeful, you must know who you are, what you believe and what you do in the world.  To begin connecting the dots, examine your life-view and your work-view.  Your life-view is your understanding of the world and the ultimate reason why you’re here. Your work-view, goes beyond what you want out of work – it’s your definition, of what good work should entail. If you’re able to make a connection between these two views and create a coherent story, you may begin to experience a more meaningful life.
  • IDEA #2: GRAVITY & ACCEPT Gravity problems are circumstances we experience yet cannot change.  To live a meaningful life, we must accept this reality, have an open mindset and be willing to focus on problems that we can actually solve.  
  • IDEA #3: HOW MANY LIVES ARE YOU?  –  In his design thinking courses, Professor Burnett does a thought experiment with his students, and asks them imagine to themselves living in multiple, parallel universes.  At the end of the experiment, his students realize that they have more than one life– or interests that they want to explore. In order for us to discover our many lives, we must create an odyssey plan to explore alternative lives. 
  • IDEA #4: PROTOTYPING – In the design thinking process, you will generate ideas to help you move forward. However, to be successful, you must build a protype of your ideal life. Protyping allows you to test out your ideas, when you aren’t sure about what you really want. You can protype your ideal life, by talking to someone who is doing what you want to do or by actually doing what you want to do.
  • IDEA #5: CHOOSING WELL –  Determining which option to choose can be difficult because of fear of making the wrong decision or FOMO. According to Professor Burnett, if you make decisions reversible, your chances of being happy goes down about 60%-70%.  The process of choosing well requires that you: gather and create options to explore; narrow down your options to lists that you can work with; make a choice; then let go and then move on – it’s that simple!  Stand by your choice and make your decision irreversible. 

Take a few minutes to reflect upon the principle that you want to implement today.  How will this principle help improve your life? We will conclude the design thinking series, by creating an odyssey plan: a five-year plan that will explore alternative paths you can realistically pursue to design the life you want.

Stay Calm Under Pressure

By Jessica Harrington, Director of Student Life

To experience peace does not mean that your life is always blissful. It means that you are capable of tapping into a blissful state of mind amidst the normal chaos of a hectic life.  

Jill Bolte Taylor

Whether preparing for finals, oral exams, comps, finishing your thesis/dissertation, or just experiencing the tests of life, this week we offer a brief reminder to remain calm. Tests and deadlines often create a sense of internal questioning and panic. If this is true for you (you’re not alone), and calm is one option for responding to the panic (not always easy!).  Here are some suggestions to encourage a sense of calmness today:

  1. Take a listen to this 10 minute meditation specifically for exam preparation/success. I found the narrator’s voice quite soothing. Also here’s a link to study music (also something I’ve found useful while needing to focus).
  2. Here are 31 Five-Second Reminders that Will Make Calmness Your Superpower . The first tip alone is an inspiring reminder: “Calmness begins the moment you take a deep breath and choose not to allow another person or event to control your thoughts.”
  3. Try the Premium Calm App (for JHU) for free. Available to all JHU students, faculty, and staff, the app includes meditation and breathing exercises, sleep stories, and relaxing nature sounds. There is also content specifically designed for college students. Unlock your Calm subscription

Designing Your Life Part 1

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

Three Part Series: 1 of 3

In 2017, Stanford University professor and author, Bill Burnett presented a TEDx Talk, on how he helps scholars design their lives using the technique of design thinking. Design thinking can help you design and create a lifestyle that is meaningful as well as fulfilling. As a student at JHSPH, you have the ability to design your life by maximizing all opportunities and resources that the School has to offer! To begin the design thinking process, be willing to have an open mindset, try something that has never been done before, and confront dysfunctional beliefs.

Dysfunctional beliefs can hinder you from working toward your personal and professional career goals. Here are few mentioned in the TedXtalk:

  • Dysfunctional Belief  #1: You can only be passionate about one thing. According to a Stanford study, less than 20% of people have one identifiable passion in their lives. This study found that eight out of ten people have multiple interests (passions).  In design thinking, passion is not an organizing principle for your search or your design. If you have several things that you are passionate about, you can pursue them all – by designing a plan to help you execute your ideas into motion.
  • Dysfunctional Belief  #2: You should know where you’re going by now and how to get there. You may have family and friends who have unrealistic expectations for you. According to Professor Burnett, people must be accepted for who they are, and should not be expected to have certain things by a particular age or designated time. They believe that anyone can start designing the life they want, from where they are.
  • Dysfunctional Belief  #3: Be the best version of you! This belief implies that there is one singular best. However, there are many versions of a person. For example, although you are a graduate student, you may be an executive at a large company, a parent, or a sibling. No matter which hat you wear at a given time, there’s only one you, and you are truly the best.

Are there cultural or societal ideologies that you believe are hindrances? Take a few moments to reflect upon these beliefs, write them down, and then commit to moving forward. In part two of this series, I will share five design thinking strategies from Dr. Burnett to help empower you in designing your life on your own terms.

Impostor Phenomenon Part 1

How to Manage Impostor Phenomenon (IP) Feelings in Grad School
By Paul Delgado, Graduate Program Assistant

Do you ever feel like you’re tricking everyone around you and in reality you don’t belong in a particular space? You’re not alone and you’re definitely not the only one feeling like this!

The impostor phenomenon (also known as the impostor syndrome) was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. They described it as a common feeling among high achievers unable to internalize and accept their success. In most cases, they attribute their accomplishments to luck or good timing rather than their ability to succeed. Although it’s not an actual disorder, it’s based on a very specific form of intellectual self-doubt.

In my case, I remember when I first joined the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. I felt like it was probably a mistake on behalf of the admissions committee. Although I had the credentials and the training that got me that acceptance, I felt like they would sooner than later discover that I was a fraud and that I didn’t actually deserve a spot in my program. I had just been lucky enough to get in or maybe it was just the result of affirmative action.

Was I wrong for feeling like that? Maybe not. Do I still feel like that? Sometimes. Although those thoughts have not completely gone away, I continue to remind myself that I do belong in the space and I am not here by accident.

Impostor syndrome [phenomenon] will have you questioning your place in the spaces that you prayed about being in. It’s a lie. You’re capable. You’re allowed to learn. You belong.

Navigating Impostor Phenomenon in Grad School

We have five tips to help grad students navigate IP. The first two are below and part two will cover the rest.

1. Recognize the problem exists

Awareness is the first step to change. Recognize when you’re feeling like an impostor and what situations trigger those thoughts. Many of us go through that phase when starting a new phase of our careers. The key is to not let those feelings control your actions. Everyone says, “Fake it till you make it!” But is pretending that everything is okay the same as things actually being okay?

You may not be able to overcome the problem without talking to someone about it. Talk to your mentors and people you trust. Graduate school is challenging and you want to have a strong support system. You will soon find out that these feelings are common among academic scholars and many people experience moments of doubt.

2. Own your own successes

You know how much work, commitment, and consistency you have done over the years to get to where you are. Although you may have had mentors along the way, take pride in your achievements and learn to celebrate all wins.

You can do this by creating a success log where you write down things that made you feel accomplished at the end of the day or the week.

Remember you are here for a reason. You were chosen for a reason. You are better than you think you are. You know more than you give yourself credit for. You belong here. Remember that. If you need to talk through issues related to IP, contact us in the Office of Student Life. We are here for you!

Take Control of Your Time

By Jessica Harrington, Director of Student Life

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.

Saint/Mother Teresa

During first term, students often feel overwhelmed by the amount of important items they must complete within a very limited amount of time.  Regardless of degree program, time management is a hurdle most will encounter at some point in the academic year.  Here are some tips to encourage you to take control of your time: 

  1. First recognize it’s YOUR time and you have the power to choose how you will use it!
  2. Most of us don’t have time management issue but a procrastination issue. The Procrastination Cure, by Jeffrey Combs (2011), is available through our online library system.  The author poses that there are several kinds of procrastinators. Your solution may depend on what kind (or kinds) of procrastinator you are (I identified with a few!).
  3. Click the link to download a Weekly Schedule Template to record your actual activities for one week. As the next week begins, review how you spent your time and adjust accordingly.Reflect on the following: 
    • What is my desired outcome?
    • What is my destined outcome if I don’t manage my time differently?
    • What is important to me? Does my time reflect what is most important to me?
    • Am I managing my time in a way that helps me stay healthy?

Time management doesn’t come naturally for all (most!) of us, but with effort and determination, we may actually experience a more balanced sense of well-being. Keep working at it!