Category Archives: Finals

Week 14, or Dealing with the Urge to Quit

I have been struggling with whether or not to write this post the entire semester. I pride myself on writing blog posts that have a positive tone because I recognize how difficult graduate school is without added negativity. But the fact of the matter is, sometimes you stew in the negativity and you can’t help yourself.

That’s where I was for much of this semester. I wanted to quit. I wanted to take my Master’s degree and find a job in publishing or editing. I avoided doing my readings and spent my time job hunting, googling What kind of job can you get with a Masters in American Studies? My parents didn’t take me seriously, but I spent much of January waiting for my Master’s degree to be conferred so that I could leave with it on my transcript. I hated talking about school, I was second guessing everything that came out of my mouth in class, and I was so tired of it all that I even told my advisor that I was considering walking away. I couldn’t fix my mind to write and I wasn’t retaining anything I was reading– it all slipped through my mind like water through fingers.

I managed to pull myself out of that funk, but not before I had scared my parents, my advisors and my friends. I wish I could say that love convinced me to keep going, but nothing anyone said made any difference. It lasted so long and I became so brittle that my friends in my program felt like they were walking on eggshells around me.

What did help was a project. I can’t say much about it because I don’t want to scoop myself, but thanks to a little help from a colleague, an amazing academic project fell right into my lap. It was perfect, a little black studies, a little comic studies and a little literature, all in one. I enjoyed the pursuit of the story, getting to meet people, getting to write about something I truly cared about. I wanted the story to be good because this was something that was bigger than me. I suddenly found myself rewriting history.

What did help was a community of Black graduate students also blogging/writing/podcasting about their graduate school experiences. The creator of the podcast “Blk + In Grad School,” Allante Whitmore, wrote a post featuring about 40 resources people of color had created for other POC in graduate school. While the post was amazing, what really helped was that she then invited all the creators that she had featured to join a GroupMe together. Through this community, we have been helping each other build our respective empires by lifting as we climb. Black Girl Does Grad School was no longer an island, but one of many sites working to aid women of color in their journey through the Academy. It made me want to redouble my efforts because working with this coalition made me feel like I was no longer shouting into the void.

What did help was time. Sometimes, you just fall into a funk and the only thing you can do is wait it out. I’ve written about how I journal, get organized and meal prep to make myself feel better, but occasionally, it just isn’t enough. If you discover that what you need is time, I hope that you have friends and family who are patient enough to weather the storm with you and they will continuously remind you that this, too, shall pass. And if you don’t find that support, be your own support system. Be gentle with yourself. Be firm about what you need to feel better. And be kind to yourself and others.

In order to get through this process, you really need to know how to prioritize yourself. It is mentally taxing, overwhelming and enormously lonely. I pulled myself out of my funk by first recognizing that I was in one, then taking the necessary measures to take care of myself, but I mostly gave myself time. I was unusually patient with myself, even when others weren’t with me.

I wrote this post because I owe to myself. This isn’t the first time that I’ve wanted to quit and it won’t be the last. I owe it to myself to acknowledge my discontent and to also acknowledge what helped to gently move me back to solid ground. I owe it to myself to write about how I sustain myself during this marathon when it feels like I’m running on fumes. Everybody has these moments, but what matters is how you pick yourself back up and keep running the race.

Week 12, or How to Handle the End of the Semester Without Burning Out

If you’re reading this, more than likely you are where I am right about now: in the midst of classes ending, staring at a vast sea of papers to write and books to read. You might be wondering how am I going to juggle readings for class but also finish the semester out with strong papers and preserve my mental health?

I definitely do not have all the answers, but what I can provide is a guide to how I’ve survived the last three semesters and the push for final papers.

  1. Put your health first. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally. Make sure you’re getting enough to eat, you’re resting enough and you’re emotionally supported. The fact of the matter is that you cannot be productive if you are not physically able to.
    1. RECOMMENDATION: If you don’t meal prep, maybe try it out during finals season, or at least cooking in bulk. Save yourself time and always have some fresh food around when you don’t feel like cooking or going out.
  2. Create a Schedule. When I’m about a month out from the end of classes, the first thing I do is create a schedule. I figure out when all my final papers are due, and then map out how much I need to write per week, at minimum, to reach my page minimums for the end of the semester.
    1. RECOMMENDATION: Write your schedule down. Put it in a notebook, in an app, on google calendars, but put it somewhere that you will see it so that you will hold yourself accountable.
  3. Start Early. We are so past the time when we could write papers the night before and get an A.
    1. RECOMMENDATION: Start early to give yourself as much time and space to work as possible.
  4. Set Goals for Yourself. In the same space where I create my schedule, I also create weekly and daily goals for myself. If, at the end of a week, I want ten pages written, I set a goal for two pages per day.
    1. RECOMMENDATION: Don’t forget to reward yourself for reaching goals, and be kind to yourself if you don’t get as much done as you’d hoped.
  5. Work on a Little at a Time. As I mentioned in Step 4, I break my weekly goals into smaller, workable pieces that I can do in one day.
    1. RECOMMENDATION: Setting my mind to working on two pages rather than trying to just tackle 25 pages is much more manageable.
  6. Get Drafts to Your Professors, if Possible. Many of my professors offer to read drafts, which is why you should (step 3) START EARLY.
    1. RECOMMENDATION: If you can get feedback on your work, you should!
  7. Peer Review. If your professors do not read drafts, read each other’s work! Just getting a fresh pair of eyes on something you’ve been working on for weeks can do wonders for your piece.
    1. RECOMMENDATION: Form writing groups with your colleagues. It’s a great way to hold each other accountable and also get feedback on your work.
  8. Leave Enough Time for Edits. Even though getting words on the page can be the hardest part, editing can take an even greater amount of time.
    1. RECOMMENDATION: Make sure that you start writing early enough that you can take a week or even a few days, to sleep on your words to make sure that you’re saying everything you need to say.
  9. TAKE BREAKS. Circling back to Step 1, remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to conserve your energy, not blow it all at once.
    1. RECOMMENDATION: Watch Netflix. Go to the gym. Take a walk. Play with an animal. Chat with your friends about something other than what you’re working on. If you’re close to family, visit with your family– if not, maybe FaceTime them.

The most important thing to remember is that this too shall pass. Do your very best but take care of yourself in the process. As long as your priorities are straight, everything will be just fine.

The Aftermath and Other Victories

The semester did not end the way I was expecting.

I ended up having to just… stop. Abruptly. My mental health took a dip in the last weeks of the semester to the point where I was reading pages and retaining nothing, like holding water in cupped hands. I was so fatigued that getting out of bed felt like a battle and sitting through an entire three hour seminar seemed impossible. But I kept pushing and pushing and pushing until I ended up fainting in the library, then spending the rest of the day in the urgent care.

That evening as I sat sipping Gatorade and watching Runaways with my friend in my apartment living room, I knew that something had to give. So, I took stock. At that point, I had already turned in two papers and only had project left– albeit with extensive suggestions for edits. Even though I had until the end of the week to finish it, I just turned it in with maybe half of the edits done, with an explanation to my professor that my health simply took a turn and if I pushed myself anymore, I was likely going to make myself quite sick.

So, I stopped.

Thus far, I have spent most of the break trying to relax and not doing it successfully. Between trying to convince my anxiety to give me a break since the semester is over and spending part of the holidays in the hospital behind my grandmother who came down with the flu, I have yet to feel fully relaxed. Plus, now the worry is my grades (only one is in: an A in Reflections of the African Diaspora.)

In spite of my never ceasing worries and generally rough year (I had to take a brief medical pause from school and my mother was hospitalized for nearly two weeks, plus I had to spend most of the summer writing my Master’s thesis), on this the last day of the year, I did want to spend a little time reflecting on the amazing things that did happen this year:

  1. I presented my original research paper at my first academic conference (Southern American Studies Association Conference) in March.
  2. I became a HASTAC scholar. (Class of 2017-2019!)
  3. I wrote and successfully defended my Master’s thesis!
  4. I curated a small art exhibit at the Lemon Project Symposium in March.
  5. I helped Ari with her Branch Out Trip last January for the Lemon Project. (I get to teach my own this in less than two weeks!)
  6. I successfully finished an entire year of apprenticing at Omohundro.
  7. I attended the Slavery conference at UVA and live tweeted the entire thing.
  8. I attended the Race, Memory and Digital Humanities conference at William and Mary, and my review of the event has been circulating all over the internet ever since.
  9. I’ve been growing Black Girl Does Grad School quite successfully all year.

Plus I did a few personal, life altering things as well:

  1. I did the big chop: I cut off all the relaxed hair until there was nothing left but my natural kinks and curls.
  2. I got new wrist tattoos. They read: I am deliberate and afraid of nothing. When I was a fourth year at UVA, I was recognized by a secret society and the honorees all had personalized quotes atop our letters. Mine was this quote and I never quite got over the fact that this was how someone else in this world viewed me. I wanted to see myself the same way, so I got tattoos to remind myself that I am deliberate and afraid of nothing. 
  3. I found out some new things about my mental health and have been fighting valiantly ever since.
  4. I started to keep a bullet journal.

I’m grateful for the success that I did have and, admittedly, for the failures as well. It’s the only stepping stones to something much greater. I believe that.

In the spirit of attempting to rest my soul, I’m going to step away from Black Girl Does Grad School for a few weeks. I’m going to be back and ready to work in January though. In the meantime, I think you can look forward to a few guest posts. But for now, thank you, dear reader, for coming with me this far. I hope you’ll travel a little further down this road with me.