Tag Archives: inspiration

Advice For ph.d. students

By Wei Gao

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3 minute read]

Are you a Ph.D. student? If you are, or you are considering pursuing a PhD, I have some advice for you. I am currently a PhD student, and without receiving advice from different individuals in my life, I wouldn’t have the outlook I do now. I want to share one particular word of advice that had a great impact on me, which I think could have an impact on any PhD student.

To fully explain why the advice I received was so important to me, I must introduce the person who gave it to me: meet my friend Tanya [ˈtɑːnjə]. Tanya is from China (the Chinese pronunciation of her name is Tanya [tán yǎ]). I met Tanya for the first time a few years ago in 2016 at an academic conference in Shanghai. As a graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Tanya was certainly a rising star in academia. I was responsible for her reception when she came to my university as a guest for the conference. Since it was such a rare opportunity to speak one-one-one with such a distinguished scholar, I asked her, “Tanya, I plan on pursuing a Ph.D. degree in the near future. Could you please give me some advice about how to do good research?” She replied, “Lady Gaga is a great singer; a real artist. You should listen to her music.” Then she left. Needless to say, I was confused after hearing that. I thought to myself, “So does she mean I should listen to Lady Gaga’s music to become a good researcher?” Following her suggestion, I started to listen to Lady Gaga’s music. However, after I listened to all of Lady Gaga’s songs, my research skills had only marginally improved.

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

One year later, someone told me that Tanya hadn’t published any papers this year. I couldn’t believe it, but after checking her website I realized this person was right. Soon after, I heard people starting to gossip, “Tanya is not a rising star any longer,” “Tanya flops”, “Tanya isn’t what she used to be”. I was genuinely worried about her, and I kept wondering what had happened.

A year later, I met her in person again at another academic conference in Washington DC. After some small talk, I had to mention, “Tanya, I have been following your research, but it seems that you haven’t updated your website for some time.” Although I didn’t ask directly why she hadn’t published anything notable, she quickly understood what I meant. Then she said, “Remember a couple years ago when I asked you to listen to Lady Gaga’s music? Here’s why I did that. Lady Gaga had a commercially successful career for several years. Then, she flopped in 2013 when she released her album Artpop. So what happened? Instead of just satisfying the public, Lady Gaga was trying to produce an album created from an artist’s perspective. Thus, the album Artpop was not accepted by the majority, although it had a large influence on the music industry overall when we look back at it today. The subjects of this album, art and pop, can be considered by many to be antithetical. She caused a stir with her pop fans when she picked sides. Lady Gaga chose art, but that came with a cost.” 

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Stay Home and Productive

By Natalie Grace Sipula

[5 minute read]

It’s that time of year again. We’ve pushed through finals, labored on final projects, completed all of our assignments for the semester just in time to…sit at home. So this isn’t exactly the beginning of the summer that we all had planned. With events being rescheduled, trips being postponed, and internships and jobs being canceled or modified, many people are at a loss as to what they can occupy their time with for the next month or so. It is very easy to fall into a trap of sitting around, watching Netflix and scrolling on your phone for hours, but at the end of the day that won’t make you feel better about staying at home. What will make you feel better is engaging in activities that will either pull you away from a screen or which are productive and/or creative. I have listed below a few ideas, some large and some small, for activities and goals to work on during this sometimes frustrating time period.

Establish a Workout Routine

Photo from Pexels

Creating a workout routine is an easy way to get out of the house and stay active during quarantine. For some people, not having access to a gym is upsetting, and for some, it has made little to no difference in their daily lives. I would encourage everyone, however, to create some sort of small but consistent workout routine to implement into your day. If you choose to work out around the same time every day, you have suddenly added some structure to your day that mimics the structure of normal daily activity, and it can lift your spirits significantly. Even if your workout consists of just taking a jog around your neighborhood, it gives you a chance to get some fresh air. Plus, it will make relaxing and watching your favorite show feel more acceptable because you spent part of your day going out and doing something.

Learn to Cook Something New

This is an activity that not only eliminates the time you spend in front of a screen, but is rewarding because it leads to a final product: food! It doesn’t matter what level your cooking skills are at, there are recipes all over the Internet for everyone from beginners to master chefs. While cooking can be laborious sometimes, it is an activity with endless possibilities that can be catered to your specific tastes. The best part is, once you learn a new recipe and try it a couple of times, you will have something new to cook or bake for your friends and family once quarantine is over!

Make Playlists

We all love music. We also all know the feeling of looking for that perfect song to match your mood while walking to class or work and then failing to find it. Making playlists takes a surprisingly long amount of time, and finding new music is equally time consuming. Making new playlists, naming them, and choosing a cover photo for them can be quite fun. It also feels highly productive because it is a way to organize something that you spend a lot of time with. I would personally recommend using Spotify to create playlists, and one of my favorite ways to find new music is by searching up playlists by the mood I’m in or going on Youtube and watching videos where people share the music they are listening to currently. This is a never-ending task that can be a lot of fun.

Edit Your Resume, Cover Letter Template or LinkedIn Profile

This suggestion is probably the least fun but also probably the most productive. Editing your professional documents and profiles is a detailed and time-consuming process, one which we push to the side a lot of the time during the busy school year or work day. Now there is no excuse to keep neglecting this task. There is always more editing that can be done, and perfecting these documents can be very helpful before returning to class and work. There are innumerous resources that can give suggestions on how to make edits, and there is no better time than now to make use of them.

Read a Book

Photo from Pexels

Forgot you can do that outside of school? Sometimes we all do. Most students spend a lot of time reading materials for classes, and sometimes those readings are books but sometimes they are textbooks or documents. Regardless, so much reading can sometimes take up the time we could normally use to read for fun. Now is the perfect time to crack open a good book on a topic you’re interested in. Curling up with a good book inside or outside can pull you away from all of the distractions of social media and the internet, and can make you feel like you did something creative and productive during the day. It doesn’t really matter what you read, just engaging with a material outside of technology can be rewarding.

Play a Card Game or Board Game

If you are quarantining with family, a roommate, or a friend, playing some type of strategy game can be a great way to engage your mind in a challenging task. Oftentimes we forget about the board games we have stored away at home, and playing a game can be a great way to bond with the people around you at this time. If you don’t have any games at home, a deck of cards is very inexpensive and can be found at your local Target or on Amazon. There are dozens of card games, and learning how to play one of them is a fun skill to have. Some games that are quick to learn but challenging to play that I would recommend are Cheat, James Bond, Egyptian Ratscrew, or Slapjack. You can find tutorials for these anywhere online.

Start a Film or Show Review Club

Photo from Piqsels

This last suggestion is a great way to transform the time you already might be spending watching Netflix into a social activity. Get a group of people together and decide on a list of movies or episodes of a TV show to watch, and then schedule a meeting time via Zoom to watch the show or movie at the same time and then talk about it after. If it is too hard to coordinate a time to watch an entire film together, then just schedule a time to talk about it together so everyone can watch the film when it is convenient for them. This way, you have something social to look forward to even while you are just sitting at home relaxing. 

While these can be difficult and trying times, taking advantage of the time spent at home can help you to adopt a new way of thinking about the whole situation. Many of us may never get an extended period of time spent at home like for a long time after quarantine is over, so spending time with family, relaxing, and learning new things can make this time more enjoyable than you might think. Stay safe!

Featured image by Szabo Viktor on Unsplash

Natalie Grace Sipula is a Philosophy, Politics, and Law major with a Spanish minor and plans to pursue a career in law or research science.  She is a rising sophomore from Cleveland, OH and is a Presidential Scholar studying in Thematic Option.  Natalie is an active member of Phi Alpha Delta (Director of Recruitment) and QuestBridge Scholars.  Growing up she was dedicated to theatre, including studying and performing at Cleveland Play House.  She graduated high school as a Global Scholar, Mock Trial state competitor, and Varsity Cross Country team member. She is a volunteer camp counselor with Mi Pueblo Culture Camp in Cleveland. Since arriving in Los Angeles she has enjoyed volunteering with City of Angels Pit Bull Rescue and in her free time enjoys reading Russian and ancient Greek literature.

How JEP Created A Home Away From Home

By Sam Newman

Growing up in a small suburb in the middle of Long Island, New York, I was a kid that loved to get involved in the community. Whether it was through a program at the local library, helping the elderly learn how to send an email, or volunteer work at my elementary school, helping the kindergartners do a science experiment with marshmallows and toothpicks, I loved the inspiration I received when helping others.  Therefore, upon arriving at the University of Southern California, I found it imperative to discover a service niche in which I could participate.  Luckily, the opportunities for volunteer work at USC are limitless.

One day after class (it was a Monday I believe),  I walked up the steps of the awkwardly placed house at the end of Trousdale and gingerly watched my head as I stepped under the “JEP Sign-Up Now!” banner.  Earlier that week, I had learned about the Joint Educational Project, and their mission to have USC students assist and tutor in the classrooms of local schools around the USC area, schools that are typically made up of kids from low income and struggling families.  A few weeks later, I was kneeling down at the world’s tiniest table in Mrs. Oldaker’s kindergarten class at the 32nd Street School, trying to sound out the word “dog” to a cute little girl with pigtails. “D-aw D-aw D-aw,” I said trying to make a “D” sound.  The young girl understood and scribbled the letter “D” onto her paper.  The next two letters provided more of a challenge.  “Aw-G Aw-G Aw-G,” I said, recognizing that the letter “O” did not sound like itself in this scenario and that the odds of her figuring that out were slim to none.  Mrs. Oldaker approached and reassured me that the young students did not need to get it right every time, just as long as they were practicing the letters of alphabet and getting used to the sounds.  To be honest, I don’t know how Mrs. Oldaker has been teaching kindergarten for 24 years (25 next September she consistently reminded me). It is hard work!

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