Verb: CRY (It’s okay)

Being in grad school doesn’t exempt me from life. People pass away. Friendships are lost. Family stresses me. The unexpected happens. Sometimes they are spaced out. Other times they come back to back. Still other times they come simultaneously. This past month I was hit with a back to back/simultaneous combo. Read More »

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I’m BAACCKK!!!!

And I come bearing a title: PhD Candidate!! Did you miss me? ūüôā

I apologize for the extended absence. Life was put on hold while I studied for my PhD qualifying/preliminary exam (aka prelims). Prelims determine whether students have the necessary background knowledge, research logic, and communication skills to be a scientist (didn’t I do that when you accepted me in the first place??? #imjustsaying). They usually consist of some written exam (a grant or objective test) and an oral exam (defending a project you designed). Prelims are the brutal hurdle that all students must jump to advance from PhD STUDENTS¬†to PhD CANDIDATES.

Before:

image

After:

I am nowhere near the first to complete this process, but I also know I am not the last. This process was difficult and I didn’t have much support. I started this process way behind my peers: I was a whole year late; the semester prior, I was actively seeking a different lab; that didn’t pan out so I had to stay and work it out; the semester of, I was diligently generating data, but I couldn’t reasonably catch up to my peers; my position seemed impossible and some people had no problem reminding me of that.

At times, I found it very difficult to be motivated. I found myself taking comfort in the idea that if I sabotage myself and just don’t study enough, then I’ll know exactly why I failed; as opposed to studying my tail off and still failing because my committee collectively decided I didn’t know¬†enough.

But then I realized, “If I sabotaged myself and go home with my master’s, so what? So what if I know the reason. . .they still won!” And THAT just could not happen. So I prepared to fight. What little support I did have, I used them as much as I could. And with their help, I passed my prelims on the first round with ONE data slide! #ButGod #wontHedoit

For those interested in pursuing a PhD or currently moving towards prelims, don’t be daunted. Believe me when I say, YOU CAN DO IT. To help encourage you, I am leaving you with the 5 things that were crucial for me.

1. Give yourself time. Select your committee early. Start organizing your best data as soon as possible. Give yourself 2-3 months to write, review, rewrite and rewrite your proposal as well as study background and tangential materials.

2. Know your committee. Identify their area of expertise. Try to anticipate the questions they are likely to ask. My first committee meeting to approve my proposal shed A LOT of light on the focal points of each committee member.

3.¬†Know what is expected of you. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by the thought of HOW MUCH you “should” know to pass. Meet with each committee member to start an open dialogue about what you’re expected to cover. The best advice I received was, “If you can’t trace back to your project while you’re reading and studying related topics (i.e. how did I get here?), then you’ve gone too far.”

4. Practice the process. 4 weeks prior to my exam, I had mock exams where I stood in front of various lab members, collaborating mentors, or anyone who would listen and answered questions. This was brutal because I left each mock exam feeling defeated and near tears. But when the tears retreated, I set out on a path of redemption (and possibly vengeance because I know my stuff!). The mock exams toughened my skin, prepared me for criticisms, and offered teaching moments on how to better address curveball questions.

5.¬†R.A.I.N.¬†Recognize. Acknowledge. Investigate. Non-identify. When the actual exam is proceeding, it is easy to feel like you’re under attack. RAIN is a mindfulness meditation technique to help keep your brain clear and operating at its maximum while under pressure. When you start to feel the meltdown:

  • Recognize it. Be aware that you’re feeling emotional. This allows you to pause and check in with yourself to see what’s going on.
  • Acknowledge it.¬†This doesn’t mean you have to give in or react to it. It’s simply accepting that the feeling is there; it’s happening; you’re experiencing it. ¬†This allows you the potential to change course.
  • Investigate it. Pay close attention to your physical reactions and what they may mean, as well as your thoughts/interpretations. Tight chest = deep sadness = He’s saying I’m dumb. Ears hot = grief or tears = She’s saying she doesn’t like my project. Jaws clenched = anger = They don’t believe in me. (of course these are just suggestions)
  • Non-identify with it. This could be strictly mental or even physical. These feelings don’t reflect YOU. They merely reflect whatever is there. Sometimes taking a step back or grabbing a sip of water can help detach from the trigger. This frees you from the attachment and opens up space to let the triggers and feelings pass without incident.

I hope these tips are helpful and encouraging to those interested in taking this road. This road is less traveled, especially if you are a Black Woman. But it’s difficult for everyone. These 5 things saved my grad school career and I can proudly say I am a. . .

PhD Candidate

©2013 by Ayana Martin

T-28 Days!

This is getting real! We have entered the 30 day countdown and it’s time to get the pieces together.

The first and most important part of this trip is Christina. Without her, Insert(VERB)Here would not have a mission to fulfill. She has accepted the offer and we have officially set the date of the trip: May 25-June 1! Exactly 4 weeks from today, she will be boarding her very first international flight. During these next 4 weeks, you will get to read about her emotions in anticipation of this trip.

The second part of this trip is YOU! Your support has been humbling and amazing throughout this process. There are still 3 days left in the official FundRazr to donate money specifically for this project. Past this deadline, general donations will be accepted at http://www.insertverbhere.com. All money donated to Insert(VERB)Here will continue to receive a reward.

The third part of this trip is travel arrangements! The internet makes flight searches fairly effortless. Most travel search engines offer fare alerts and price trackers that will watch ticket prices for you and alert you when deals are available. My top 3 favorite travel search engines are:

  1. Google Flights РThis search engine takes the cake for 1 reason: I can search several departure airports AND several arrival airports in a single search and Google searches all the combinations #atthesamedamntime. *cue heavenly chorus* Another pro is the stats info about cheaper travel days for you flexible travelers. The cons of Google Flights include lack of a mobile app for those impulsive urges, lack of flight alerts for the less flexible travelers, and lack of other travel conveniences such as hotels and rental cars (although in their defense this is Google Flights. . .)
  2. Kayak.com – This search engine scans all the other search engines to find the best price. It offers flexible travel, hotels, and rental car searches. It also offers comparison of other sites and fare alerts. The feature that stole my heart is their Price Trend stats. This feature advises you to wait or buy and includes a confidence percentage explaining that it predicts prices to drop or rise soon. The only con is that the prices are not very different from any other site.
  3. Tripadvisor.com – This search engine is great for all the same reasons as ¬†the standard search engine. The unique feature I love about this site is that it doesn’t stop at flight, hotel, and car searches. It allows vacation rental, restaurant, and destination searches too for the non-tourist traveler! Additionally, it offers a personal touch if you log in using Facebook. It shows places your friends (and friends of friends) have stayed and/or reviewed and offers reviews of other travelers as well.

Honorable mention goes to Cheapoair.com¬†for having additional booking deals and instant savings promos off the lowest prices. Who doesn’t love additional discounts?! These search engines have also made¬†apartment hunting in DR a breeze as well. I think I found our home away from home for this trip courtesy of TripAdvisor ūüôā Details coming soon.

The fourth part of this trip is health and safety. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers health information to travelers such as disease outbreaks, safety concerns, and advice on packing smart to stay safe while traveling. They offer a list of useful items to pack in a travel first aid kit.

Now that we are 4 weeks away, action time is now. Starting today, I will getting our ducks in a row to pull this trip off. So while the internet searches for the best flight prices in the last 3 days of the FundRazr, I will put together the travel first aid kit. Wish me luck!

©2013 by Ayana Martin

Meet our Rookie Traveler!!

We have reached our $300 mark!!!! As promised, I would like to introduce you to our Rookie Traveler!

Meet Christina!

Christina
John Witherspoon was on one of my first flights! This MUST be a sign!

“My name is Christina S. I am 25 years old, the youngest of 4, and new to travel.¬†Growing up, I was terrified to fly because my dad would always say that he hated flying and it installed so many fears in me. My family took many vacations, but no matter how far we went, we ALWAYS drove. I was 22 years old when I got on my first flight and that opened my eyes up to a new world! It made me realize that my parents choice to not fly didn’t have to influence my choice to fly. However, I still have a slight fear of flying out of the country for the first time. But I am excited for this opportunity. I bought my passport JUST FOR THIS TRIP!

This opportunity means so much to me for a couple reasons.

Reason #1: I am a young mom. I was 17, fresh out of high school, and having a baby. This caused me to drop out of college after only one semester in order to find a job to support my daughter. I love being a mom, but single motherhood has brought on many challenges that have caused me to sacrifice many opportunities.

Reason #2: I am out of touch with my heritage. My father is African American and my mother is Honduran. My mother has never taken me to visit Honduras, probably because she has not gone back herself. But she had no desire, so I had no desire. But, it’s worse than that. . .My mom, her extended family, even my two oldest siblings speak fluent Spanish. I have tried for many years and taken many classes, and yet I still¬†am unable to speak the language.¬†Although this trip is to the Dominican Republic and not to Honduras, it is a culture that will make me feel that much¬†closer to my own.

To all of the current backers and future backers of this trip, THANK YOU SO MUCH!! You’re truly changing my life.”

We still need your support to make this trip happen. Every dollar helps and will be rewarded with a gift from Insert(VERB)Here! Check out the video and details in the donation site to learn more. To donate to this project, click here.

©2013 by Ayana Martin

Verb: Run. . .I DID IT!!!!

My very first official 5K race is complete! I ran the entire race and had a great time running. Shoutout to Ron B. and Marquia B. for joining my mission!

Through trial and error (mostly error) and notes from a Race Day Prep clinic, I have compiled a list of pointers for race day:

Before the race

  1. Plan, prepare, and hydrate.
  2. Research the race. Practice the route.
  3. DO NOT try anything new before race day (no new foods, clothes, gear, or workouts). You don’t want new foods souring your stomach, new clothes feeling uncoomfortable, new headphones continuously needing adjustment, sore muscles from a new workout. . .etc.
  4. Taper down workouts the week before.
  5. Load up on carbs the night before (for shorter races, this isn’t so critical).
  6. Lay out your clothes the night before.
  7. Sleep your normal amount the night before.

On race day

  1. Get there early! The energy is totally different, so you’ll want to calm your adrenaline.
  2. Warm up with dynamic stretches, get your heart rate up a bit, stretch.
  3. Don’t start too fast! Run your pace and finish strong.
  4. Listen to your body. Drink before you’re thirsty. >30 min run: rehydrate with water every 20 min (4-6 oz); >1.5 hours: electrolyte beverages are recommended.
  5. Run in negative splits: your first mile should be the slowest, speed up as you go. This is how you get your best time.

After race day

  1. It’s good to have 200 calories or less after running to get rid of any sick feelings.
  2. STRETCH, rest, and eat! Protein rich foods will help prevent soreness.
  3. Celebrate – You did it!! Whoop!!

Other notes

  • Socks are very important! “Cotton is rotten.” Dry, cool feet don’t blister. Left and right specific socks are better.
  • Compression sleeves cut down on muscle vibrations and soreness. They also increase circulation, which can help prevent injuries.
  • DO NOT forget a fanny pack or drawstring backpack

Now you know what I know! I can’t believe I actually ran the entire race, but my body is telling me it really happened. And I love the way it feels! Insert(VERB)Here: RUN. Yes, I did it!

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©2013 by Ayana Martin

It’s Easier to Keep Running?!

So weeks 5 and 6 of running were interesting. They started off with a walk/jog combination and transitioned to a 20 minute jog with no walking by the end of the week. During week 5, this 20 minute jog seemed ominous. But when the day finally came, I was able to tuck away another victory! I jogged for 20 minutes straight and when it was over, I wasn’t wheezing, coughing, gasping, or ridiculously panting! *Cabbage patch dance*

When week 6 came, I just knew I had it in the bag! But the strangest thing happened. I was huffing and puffing during the run segments, and felt like I needed the walk segments again! What is going on?! 

At the end of the run, our run lead explained what we were feeling (So I’m not the only one?¬†Whew!). She told us that the purpose of weeks 5 and 6 were to overcome the mental hurdle of running. With week 5, we conquered the physical hurdle of running longer. Week 6 conquered the mental by proving that we tell ourselves we need breaks when we actually don’t. It’s actually easier to just keep running! It’s all about pace. I am definitely learning to pace yourself. If I get ahead of myself and my breathing becomes labored, I slow down. . .sometimes to a glorified walk if necessary.¬†This Couch-to-5K program is amazing! Had the run lead told me this last week, I’m sure I would have laughed in her face. But the program speaks for itself. Trust the program. The final weeks are longer running segments. And now I KNOW I can do this.

It’s almost time to show out y’all!

©2013 by Ayana Martin

5 Weeks until the 5K!!

I’ve been surprisingly committed to my training! I have encountered obstacles that normally stop me in my tracks. With each passing week I faced a new challenge (besides convincing myself to run another day). But every time, someone gave me an answer I could not refute.

NOBODY can say they didn't see this hot mess of me coming down the road
NOBODY can say they didn’t see this hot mess of me coming down the road

Obstacle 1: Night running.

Solution: Headlamps! In “5K Training Update“, I explained how I showed up to my first night run in all black. #tragic By the end of the week, I went out and bought my own headlamp for less than $3! The first time I wore it, I felt so silly. . .like Bob-the Builder (Can we run this?? YES WE CAN!). But safety outweighs sexy on this one!

Obstacle 2: Flat-ironed hair.

Solution: Dri Fit headbands! I managed to keep my hair together post run!¬†Dri fit material is a God-send! It sucks moisture away from the body and locks it into the material. (The cold weather and slow jog pace probably played a big role in saving my hair, as well.)¬†Someone suggested a dri-fit headband and/or cap. They are both available at Sally’s Beauty Supply for about $3.50 each. I ended up trying both because I was under the impression that the cap would protect the middle hair area and reviews said it was a little on the big side (which I agree with). To my dismay, the cap is just mesh on top to hold the hair down, but the dri-fit headband I DEF recommend!

 

Obstacle 3: Rain.

It's just a little water :)
It’s just a little water ūüôā

Solution: Ponchos or windbreakers. I secretly hoped rain would allow me a break from running, since I am still not in love with it, but BGR! said rain or shine, WE RUN! -__- *le sigh* Okay. . .I snagged a camping windbreaker on clearance at Target for about $5. The Dollar Tree also sold 2 ponchos for $1. The free route would be using a trash bag from home. I’m not THAT dedicated to the cause. . .just being honest. I opted for the camping windbreaker because it was a bit more durable, meaning I could use it outside of running.

Obstacle 4: Injury.

Solution: Take a break! Despite all the suggestions and advice for the obstacles listed above, the best piece of advice I have received thus far in the journey to 5K is¬†Listen to your body! Challenging my body with fitness has proved to be beneficial (-5lbs, craving healthy foods, more energy, positive vibes), but it has also proved that I am, in fact, human. Taking a break is OKAY. I won’t fall behind in my commitment because I have conquered the mental challenge of running. It feels less like a chore and I actually look forward to running with my #TeamTeenyWeenyBikini partner. During my injury break, I focused on my health in other ways: dieting better (check out this article on superfoods, most of which are NOT difficult to incorporate into the Plain Jane life); alternative fitness that was less stressful (i.e. yoga, pilates); and Fab Ab February challenge (5 minutes or less of core strengthening exercises every day).

Challenge accepted!

This journey has been amazing so far. The amount of support I have received from BGR!, comments on these posts, and random passersby on the street while I am running has been incredible. I haven’t crossed the finish line just yet, but I’m on my way. And that feels good!

©2013 by Ayana Martin