In my immediate family, my sister was the first to go to college. Everyone felt a certain pride that she had made it that far, and were confident that I would follow in her footsteps. Which, I did. The thing they never thought of nor I completely had thought of was what lay beyond my four years in undergrad. Its difficult having to explain to your family and friends that you’re not quite done yet. There is still a long way to go before you can begin the coveted successful career your parents hope for. Not to mention that there is also a massive amount of pressure to “put my education to good use” from my older siblings. As I rant about school, my father and mother smile and nod, and all they can really say is “we support you, because the more education you get, the better you’ll be, right?” Constantly reminding me that I didn’t have to worry about anything besides school is a thought that lingers on in my head. What they don’t seem to understand is the amount of stress these expectations can cause.
As I think of graduate schools, I can’t help but think of things like, is graduate school right for me? Do I have what it takes to go through with it? Which program is correct for me and how do I make sure I’m good enough for it? These thoughts seem silly, but at the same time, it’s difficult to find the relief you need when there aren’t many people to turn to.
When I first began college, I didn’t doubt myself as much, but I also had no sense of what direction I wanted to take. I didn’t know what I was majoring in and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. All I could really say was that I wanted to do something that involves helping people, in particular, people who were minorities like me. After taking various classes, I realized that I wanted to work in schools, where I could interact with children. I wanted to become someone that was professionally equipped to work with them, but also someone they could rely on. After that, I declared as a Psychology and Spanish double major with intentions of becoming some sort of counselor that could advocate for mental health and be the support I would have liked to have in my school as a student.
When I applied for the Summer Research Opportunities program at Michigan State University, I didn’t expect a summer experience like this one. Being given the opportunity to conduct research and work closely with faculty and graduate students has provided me immense relief. Not only was I able to perform research on a topic that was of high interest to me, but I was able to familiarize myself with the organization of a lab in a research institution, and most importantly meet amazing mentors who could better guide my postsecondary journey.
By going through their undergrad training process, I was able to narrow my research and graduate school interests, as well as calm my continuous concerns. Throughout my two months here, I visited and interviewed various faculty, staff, alumni, graduate students, and partners of the lab to learn more about their passions and current jobs. I was interested in learning about how they ended up where they were. As for the research aspect of this program, I was super interested on the topic of Community Schools. While at first, I didn’t know too much about them, I would have never guessed the amount of information I would have read and learned on them, as well as their contribution to society. With all of this, my aspirations were strengthened in that I wanted continue working in schools, but that I was also interested in implementation research! I am focused on promoting the well-being of students, but I also want to use evidence-based practices that can evaluate and recommend interventions for practices in communities with low-income minorities.
This summer I learned to let the daunting expectations of “being successful” go and learned to truly embrace the opportunities granted to me. I was able build a great relationship with my mentor and the lab, and met many amazing scholars in the program. By learning about everyone’s passions, dreams, and what drives their desires, I learned that if I truly wanted to go to graduate school, I had to go for what drives me. I will have to set goals to give me a sense of what I need to do and what I want get out of graduate school. In the long-run, it’s about where I see myself in the future and who I hope to help.
I do know that I will attend graduate school, however, that won’t be for another year or so. Instead of giving into family and peer pressures and attending right away, I’m going to take some more time to continue to look and reflect on what I want to get out of my graduate school experience as well as what I what I want to accomplish after I receive my degree. In the meantime, all I can really say is that know I want to work to provide supports to communities like mine, so that students like me can grow up with people who were once in their shoes. I want other first-generation students to understand that with every new experience comes new doubts and fears, which eventually will go away because we’ll have to make room for new experiences and all of the feelings that come with them.