Top Tips for Navigating Grad School Particularly As Students of Color - University of Houston
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Top Tips for Navigating Grad School Particularly As Students of Color

Georgina Sakyi

Posted March 13, 2024 — Navigating graduate school can be challenging, but school psychology Ph.D. students Georgina Sakyi and Mariana Vázquez have amassed invaluable insights after helping author the Resource Guide for Psychology Graduate Students of Color (third edition), a publication from the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students.

Sakyi and Vázquez, who both earned master’s degrees in counseling from the University of Houston College of Education, said working on the resource guide informed their own doctoral journeys while providing an opportunity to pass on advice to future students.

“Anything I can do to support graduate students of color, I’m going to do,” said Sakyi, a first-generation college student. “I see myself in them, and I believe wholeheartedly that the world needs more of us to make it through.”

Mariana  Vázquez

As a native Spanish speaker, Vázquez said gaining confidence with academic writing in English took time as a graduate student.

“I prioritized receiving constructive feedback that provided insight for improvement,” she said. “During this process, I learned to appreciate my bilingual skills, and I became confident in my ability to contribute to the academic community.”

The free, downloadable APA resource guide covers topics such as wellness and self-care; research and publishing; professional development; financial planning; imposter syndrome; and racism and microaggressions.

While completing internships this semester, Sakyi and Vázquez took time to share their top tips for graduate students of color:

  • Maintain a balance between professional and personal life. It won’t always look perfect and work out just the way you want, but those boundaries make a big difference in both your quality of life and quality of care. Start working on it now. Believe it or not, it’s the perfect time! (Sakyi)
  • Seek out more than one mentor. This will expand your network and ensure you’re receiving mentorship from the most appropriate people. For example, your research advisor may be the person to go to for grant writing and graduation milestones, but maybe they don’t share important identities (e.g., race, country of origin, language status, age, etc.) that can help you navigate certain aspects of the academic environment. This action also helps you identify mentors’ strengths, which is another important skill! (Sakyi)
  • When faced with situations of racism, do not ignore and do not internalize. Some of us have been conditioned to think things like, “Well, maybe that’s not what’s going on here,” or “That was weird, but I’m just going to leave it be.” Trust your gut, and try your best to not participate in complicit behavior. Seek out resources to help you respond both in the heat of the moment and after. The guide is a good place to start! (Sakyi)
  • Develop a community with students in your program. During my graduate training trajectory, advanced students, my cohort classmates, and new incoming students provided essential and helpful advice that was key in my advancement and success in the program. (Vázquez)
  • Be intentional and deliberate about the experiences and opportunities you seek. My advisor and mentor, Dr. Jorge Gonzalez, reminded me to constantly reflect on my goals and “write a coherent story” during my graduate training. This advice involved setting short- and long-term goals, thinking about my vision for the future, and identifying academic and applied experiences that would help me achieve my goals. At the time of applying for pre-doctoral internship, I felt confident in my professional experiences and skills, and I appreciated how all of them directly contributed to my training and career goals. (Vázquez)
  • Become involved in work, initiatives and projects that reflect your values and passions. I also recommend making sure that some of your work actively reminds you of the reason(s) you are pursuing this degree. I personally found these strategies to be motivating when facing challenges, disappointments or burnout. (Vázquez)

— Compiled by Ericka Mellon

— Photos courtesy of Georgina Sakyi and Mariana Vázquez