Pro tip just in case you don’t actually finish reading this… (but please finish reading this)… don’t go to grad school during a global pandemic it makes everything feel so much more challenging…obviously, I don’t know that that is really the case since I’ve never gone to grad school before, but it’s how I feel in this moment…
Going into this last semester of grad school I expected it to be the easiest, most enjoyable semester. I remember my last semester at Ohio State being fun, and carefree and spending so much time with my friends. That is definitely not how this semester turned out. I definitely feel like every semester of grad school has had its challenges, but I think this was the most challenging for me. Many things went into that including starting the semester remotely, the classes, and the discomfort that comes with transitions. Not only was I completing my school work, I was also dreaming about what the next steps will be, and revising my job application materials. Throughout life we all go through challenging times, and for me this was one of them. But here I am, reflecting on the experience. Some days while I was in it I didn’t think this day could come soon enough, but here I am. So let’s get into it!
Developmental Disability Across the Lifespan
I was a part of a traineeship this year called Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND). This class was a requirement for completion of this traineeship. The class was set up in a problem based learning (PBL) style, which I really enjoyed. Throughout the semester we were given case studies that we had to do some of our own research on and then we’d come together as a class and discuss. I learned a lot about intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) through this class and the LEND cohort. Although I learned a lot, the information and cases almost never dealt with nutrition. And there are so many nutrition related topics we could have discussed related to IDD include sensory sensitivities, limited food acceptance, ARFID, dysphagia, and so many more. It was really obvious were the most funding for the program came from by the cases we looked at and at times I wondered why I was there. Oh and the thing that did make me kind of upset was that we did have one morning lecture about nutrition, but it was not a dietitian that gave the lecture, it was a behavior analyst. This person did work on a pediatric feeding team, but they also have dietitians on that team so I was disappointed that one of them did not give the presentation. The presentation itself was also more on behavior than nutrition which was also disappointing. I did mention all of these things in evaluations, so hopefully future nutrition trainees will get more nutrition related content through this traineeship.
For the traineeship we were required to complete a LEND project. I enjoyed this, though I wish I could have worked on it throughout the whole year as opposed to only the second semester. At times I did feel a bit rushed and that I could not do my best work because of the deadlines and other school requirements. For my project I did work on nutrition related topics and creating and updating patient education materials for a local group of clinicians that works with children with feeding challenges. This group does often work with patients with IDD and were so knowledgeable and helpful in completing this project.
This was my favorite class this semester. Mostly because we spent half the class cooking. Each week we would have a lecture and a lab. I had taken a food science class before where the labs were more experimental such as determining what an acid would do to purple cabbage. In the labs for this class, we did still experiment and tried new things, but all the end products were 100% edible. Multiple times I was able to make a meal that lasted me for a few days which was nice. Being 100% gluten free and making everything gluten-free made me like an always experimental group. Most of the recipes in the lab manual did not have conversions for gluten-free flour and I often found myself speaking up when we would discuss our end products. For example, one week we were discussing fats and I made biscuits using the recipe from the lab manual. My biscuits did not rise like other students’ biscuits did and can likely be attributed to the lack of gluten in the flour blend I used. There were some times in lecture that things didn’t feel as relevant to me because I’m gluten-free, but those types of questions could be asked on the RD exam and so hopefully I can recall what was discussed if I get one of those questions.
There were a few assignments for this class throughout the semester. Attendance for lab was required for ACEND competencies and we were required to keep our cameras on during this portion of the class. We also did weekly pre-lab questions that reviewed the material relating to the lab we’d be completing that week. Each student also gave an individual presentation on a topic of their choice which ended up being really great. I learned a lot from my peers from their presentations. The biggest grade came from a group project. In this group project we came up with a catering company for people with dysphagia. The project included creating mission, and vision statements, budget projections, a puree menu, a HACCP plan, and a magazine article to advertise the company. At the end of the semester we were also required to present on our project to the class. The assignments for this class felt helpful and did seem to add to the learning experience of this class. I really enjoyed working with my group and creating our catering company, although it is something I never plan to do in the future.
MPH Culminating Experience
This class was by far my least favorite of this whole semester. It was the required class where we completed our capstone project. For anyone reading this because they think they may want to enter this program, know that you likely won’t have to take this class. My cohort had some really negative experiences in this class and based on conversations with some of the staff in the nutrition department they will not continue to be a part of this experience. It is unfortunate though that our cohort had to endure it and come out with capstone projects that we are not excited about. Going into grad school I thought you do a thesis, or master’s project on something you are interested in, or a specialized area within your field. In my understanding it is supposed to be something you can show to future employers and say look here I do have this specific knowledge and have a whole project dedicated to it. I would’ve loved to have done any number of projects on Celiac Disease, access to nutrition counseling for Celiacs, food labeling policy related to food allergies, or any number of other specific topics, but I was not allowed to do that. So I do have a physical deliverable I could show to future employers if they ask, but I don’t believe it will help me in the way we were told it should. Because I don’t think future cohorts will have this class, and because it was negative in many ways I won’t go into any details. The one thing I will say is if you are in graduate school, or plan to be, speak up and advocate for yourself and your classmates.
If you haven’t already noticed, the nutrition classes I took while completing this degree were by far my favorite. I enjoyed this class, despite finding it challenging at times. I think one of my limiting beliefs while completing this program was that I am bad at Epi, and I think that stems from not doing well in my first epi class in undergrad while getting my minor in public health. And like I said, I still find it challenging, the concepts aren’t always the easiest to grasp, but it is interesting and after this class I feel much more confident in my ability to read a nutrition study and analyze its quality. This class I did try to go to in person as much as possible because it was a longer class and I felt like I got much more out of it when I did. The teaching team for this class was also just fantastic and answered questions, and changed the pace when the students needed more time spent on one concept or another. This class built on the knowledge we had from the core and applied it to nutrition specific studies and it was the kind of class I came to grad school for.
As far as assignments go, there were 3 homework assignments, a midterm, and a final. All were take-home assignments we were just asked not to help each other out, which is fair. Although the syllabus did have a final listed, many of us were ready to be done and we asked if the final could be optional as we’d heard from the previous cohort that it was optional for them. So, it was optional and taking it would not hurt your grade, it could only help it. Part of me wanted to take it to see how it was, but I was also so burnt out on school that it didn’t make sense. I also had other things to do like finishing up grading for my TA job and packing to move out.
Group work was a big part of this graduate program. This semester was no different and I had group projects in half my classes, and in the other classes we also had small group discussions and in class group work. My groups this semester worked together very well and I enjoyed working with these groups. Things I learned from working in groups this semester include not needing to be working or “productive” throughout the whole meeting. Many times in group meetings we would start chit chatting, which is fun. Oftentimes I was the one that would try to get us back on track and into work mode, but it is important to build rapport, and have relationships with the people you work with. I also learned more about my own communication style and compromise. This came up most in my capstone project where I worked with students from other concentrations. Much of this project I was able to do on my own because I was the only nutrition student, but when we got closer to the end of the semester we had to put all the pieces together and that was challenging at times. During these challenging times I got emotional a few times and did not communicate the way I may have if I was not so frustrated. In some of those meetings I did take a step back, left the meeting when it was appropriate and did reflect on how it went. In the next meetings we did discuss it and were able to move forward and continue working in a positive work environment. At the time all of this was occurring, we all were stressed and frustrated with the project in general but I think our group handled it wonderfully and when hardships arose we worked through them together.
UNC Chapel Hill Campus
During this semester I was still doing hybrid classes and only really went to campus once a week, if that. I don’t have much more to say about the campus than I have previously discussed in my fall semester post. I did learn that I knew more historic locations around campus than I led on while giving my family a tour during graduation weekend. We began the day with a ceremony for my cohort and went on a walk around campus. I prefaced it with something like ” I know about three places around campus”. I showed them the Old Well, the Union, the Bell Tower, Gillings and a few other places and at each location after I had named three they would bring up the fact that I knew greater than three landmarks on campus. But with that said, I only knew all of them because I took a tour once from the graduate school before applying at UNC. So if you are interested in going to UNC I definitely recommend taking that free campus tour.
Gillings Student Government (SGA)
Throughout the course of this program I have been involved with student government. I completed my second term as the events coordinator this semester. Throughout the semester my team and I were able to host about four events ranging from social events to educational events and poster presentations. During my time in this position I did learn about leadership, boundary setting, and hosting events. Although I did learn from this experience, I don’t know that I would do it again if I were to go back to school. I really had hoped that given the fact that I started the program during the pandemic that being a part of this organization would help me build a stronger network. One thing I’ve learned about myself since moving away from Ohio is that I want strong community. I want people around me that support me, challenge me, and cheer me on along the way. I thought being a part of an organization would offer that to me, and it really did not. Oftentimes it added work to my schedule, some stress, and it was not as enjoyable as I’d hoped. For me, and this will be different if you are reading this thinking about joining a student organization, the things I learned were not worth the time and effort I put into my role. Even though that was the case for me, I still think student organizations are so valuable. I think I could have done better to find a student organization that may have been a better fit for me. I also think that student organizations are not as important at the graduate level as they are in the undergraduate level. But at the end of the day, I was involved, I did learn, I did make some connections and my team and I put on some good events.
Ninth Street Dance
One of my favorite things I was able to do this past year was take dance classes again. I danced growing up, from the time I was three until I graduated high school. It was a big part of my life, and at the time my identity. I’d imagine that is the same for a lot of athletes. When I was graduating high school I was burnt out, and frustrated with my dance team and decided to take a break from dance. I found other places, and ways to dance outside of a formal team dynamic including Late Night Zumba at Ohio State. Within the last few years I wanted to get back into dance. The unfortunate thing is most studios don’t offer adult classes, or if they do they are like super casual and often seem to end in heading to the bar for a drink. I have wanted a class to practice my technique and really move my body in a way that is so joyful to me. This past year I was able to do that with a dance studio called Ninth Street Dance in Durham. They offer a wide variety of adult classes from beginner to advanced. Last year I had heard about them, but they were still all online and living in a third floor apartment I really couldn’t be jumping around, leaping and turning. This year they opened for in studio classes and I took a class each session. Throughout the year I took hip-hop, ballet, and jazz. It was no surprise to me, but jazz was my favorite. It was so amazing getting back into a dance studio, challenging myself each week, and moving in a way that I’ve always loved. Every week I looked forward to my class and on weeks we had off I was wishing I could be back in that studio. It was also super cool because they are so inclusive in their practices and the teachers I had really wanted to support everyone to both keep their bodies safe and have fun at the same time. So from here on out, wherever I go, I will try to find a studio with adult classes and not let myself go without dance for too long.
As it has been throughout the pandemic and this program my social life had its ups and downs. Throughout the semester I had a few close contacts to COVID, but thankfully did not develop it myself. During those times, I did take the precautions I felt necessary including telling people I had been in close contact with, and staying home as much as possible. Overall more things were happening in and around Chapel Hill this semester. Some notable events that I was able to participate in included tailgating for the UNC vs. Duke basketball game, and watching UNC playing Kansas in the championship on the big screens at the Dean’s Dome. Both of these events did make me a bit uneasy due to the large crowds, but at this point I am vaccinated and taking those risks were worth it in the moment. I’m not a big UNC sports fan, but the energy in a crowd of sports fans is just something else. I’m sure people who enjoy watching sports would understand, so many people are rooting for the same thing, wanting the same outcome, and win or lose you share that with all the people around you. One thing I do wish is that I would have been able to attend the UNC vs. Duke game, but I missed the email for the lottery system and I didn’t want to pay for a seat.
Another thing that helped my social life was leaving the job I had been working. In that position I often worked on the weekends making it challenging to visit and hang out with my friends. I was able to leave that position because I had a TA job which had more flexibility. I was able to hang out with the friends I had made in the cohort more this semester and that was always a blast. We visited new restaurants, coffee shops, and cocktail bars and were able to step away from our schoolwork and have some fun.
During this last semester of grad school I had 11 credit hours. My schedule was a bit more flexible this semester as I left my previous job which I often worked on evenings and weekends. Throughout the week I had three days of classes, one of which I did in-person as much as possible, and the other two which I continued to do online. This semester I felt was the hardest for me to have work life balance, and boundaries around schoolwork. In previous semesters I felt like I could chose not to do homework on the weekends, or at least not both days of the weekend without working late into the night. This semester I did not feel that way and I still am not quite sure why. It wasn’t like I had more classes than before, and I was working less hours with the TA position as opposed to my previous position. I think the stress that came along with the capstone project and graduation pulled me back into old habits of I should be “productive” as much as possible. Obviously, this is not a good headspace to be in and often leads to burnout. And let me tell ya I was exhausted by the end of the semester and at times not giving my best effort. I think part of it too was that I was also working with the career counselor to start revising my job application materials and doing student government and having more hangouts with friends. All of which were important and I wanted and needed to do, but that doesn’t mean doing those things can’t wear you out.
In my previous posts about grad school I discussed the technology I purchased to get through a mostly virtual grad school program. As I knew I would be moving after this semester I stuck to what I had and did not purchase any more technology to get me through this last semester. If you’d like to learn more about the technology I purchased and utilized during this program check out my spring semester post here.
I still can’t believe I’ve already finished the school portion of this program. As I am writing this I am working on completing my clinical internship, the last of my requirements before I am eligible to sit for the national registration exam. This semester was especially challenging for many reasons including starting back virtually due to the Omicron variant, a capstone project that didn’t excite me or feel like it was pushing me forward in my personal career path, and many others. But challenges come along to help us grow, learn, and adapt. Throughout this program I’ve been thankful for my cohort, friends, and family for all their support. I truly couldn’t have done it without all of them. If you’re reading this because you want to apply to this program, or go to grad school, know that there will be challenges, but you can overcome them. And when you feel like you can’t, reach out to your support system because they believe in you and believe in your dreams. And don’t forget to set the boundaries that you need to to help you best support yourself. I hope my sharing my grad school story has helped you even a little bit, and I imagine it has if you’ve read this far haha.
Next step… finish my clinical internship –> take the RD exam!