T-Minus 5 Months Until Grad School!

Hello hello, dearest readers! It is 9:31am on this gorgeous, sunny Friday morning. What a contrast the weather is to the past couple days’ rain and hail!

Today’s post is a quick update on my academic and career-advancement timeline. In August, I will be starting my Master’s in Sport Studies at San Jose State. As of right now, my career goal is to become a sport and performance psychologist. A well-fit niche that integrates my lifelong passion for sport and performing arts, and my equally strong passion for mental health advocacy.

It’s appalling how backwards mental health culture is in the world of sport, where physical, mental and verbal abuse is normalized. The 2017 Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal uncovered many underlying issues in the gymnastics world. The release of the Netflix film, Athlete A, further illuminated the toxicity and appalling treatment of Team USA gymnasts. Since then, more and more gymnasts have come forward with allegations of coaching abuse. Maggie Haney, coach of 2016 Olympian Laurie Hernandez, was suspended for 8 years by USAG after gymnasts accused her of serious physical, verbal and psychological abuse. Some of those allegations include (but are not limited to): forcing gymnasts to train and compete through injuries; ridiculing, belittling, and calling girls “retarded” if they were afraid to attempt new and dangerous skills; threatening suicide if a gymnast wanted to quit or leave her gym. More recently, John Geddert, coach of 2012 Olympic champion Jordyn Wieber, was charged with sexual assault and human trafficking. Shortly after being charged, he committed suicide.

At last, the conversation surrounding mental health in sport is beginning. But it’s sad that it needs to happen, in the first place, and even more tragic that it’s taken so long for athlete’s to speak up. The oppressive and controlling nature of gymnastics– and sport at large– shaped a culture of silence and secrecy, whereby young athletes, conditioned to unquestioningly obey authority, were stripped of a voice. It’s great that the mental health movement in sport is gaining traction, and I want to be a part of the change to create a healthier environment for young athletes to thrive in, where the pursuit of gold need not come at the expense of mental well-being.

Whew. Apologies for the tangential tirade. I get pretty heated while discussing sport psychology, which is probably why I want to pursue a career in the field. The goal is to get my PhD and treat mental illness in the athlete population. Sport psychologists are also mental performance consultants who train athletes, professional performers, and even military veterans, on mental toughness strategies to successfully perform under pressure. As someone who’s struggled with a lifelong case of performance anxiety, I’m naturally drawn to the mental side of competition and performance. You know what they say: “if you can’t do it, teach it”. Haha.

So I start grad school at SJSU in August. It’s a 2 year program– 2.5, if you do a thesis. For me, the master’s is an intermediate step to getting my PhD. While many people go straight from undergrad to PhD, I knew I didn’t have a strong enough application to be competitive. In college, I focused on getting good grades, but did not invest in professional development, undergraduate research, or networking. Outside the classroom, I did what I liked– dance, theater, journalism– which is all well and good, but did little to bolster my academic/career resumé. My goal with the master’s program is to gain research experience, network with mentors and professors, get good letters of rec, and learn more about the field of sport psychology to see if a PhD is really something I want to commit an additional 5-7 years to.

Just thinking about going back to school is invigorating. I’ve been out of college for almost two years, during which time I worked as a tutor to save money for grad school. I’ve also prioritized my mental health, and through extensive therapy, have developed skills for managing my bipolar. It’s been nice to finally slow down, take care of my health, and have time for my creative pursuits. But there’s something about school that stimulates me in a way nothing else can. School is something I’ve always excelled at. It feeds into my intellectual curiosity and gives me purpose, concrete goals, life structure, and direction. I love school, which is crazy to say, as I definitely didn’t feel that way when I was in it. So I’m counting down the days until August, when I can finally return home.

I want to be a superstar at San Jose State, and believe I really can, if I focus and apply myself. I will approach school with a different mindset than I did high school and college. I will no longer be a slave to the GPA, limiting myself to classes I know I will do well in, instead of exploring topics outside my comfort zone. Besides, I’ve heard that GPA matters much less in graduate school, with greater weight placed on extracurricular experiences. I’m also excited because San Jose State has a strong competitive ballroom dance team, which you’d best believe I will join. It’s a great fit school. And while it doesn’t have the glimmering name of an Ivy League, I’ve long renounced the need to chase empty labels for external validation and societal approval. It’s not about the name of the school, so much as what you make of your experience there.

Between now and August, I will continue tutoring and working on creative projects that I may not have as much time to dedicate, once grad school begins. Also hoping to possibly travel a bit, and maybe compete in a ballroom dance competition later in the year, when it’s safe.

So there you have it! A little life update. Will talk to you all soon!

Much love,

Bel

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