Sharmane Brown: “How I Make It Work”

From students fresh out of undergrad to professionals who are retraining for a new career, the Michigan School of Psychology welcomes students wherever they are in life. “How I Make It Work”  highlights the diversity of student experiences as they balance classes, work, and life.

Name: Sharmane K. Brown, MA, TLLP

Program: PsyD 

Describe the (joys and) challenges in your life that make graduate school difficult to manage, especially now during the stress and upheaval of the COVID-19 and racism pandemics.

Navigating graduate school is difficult in its own right. Doing so while trying to maintain a presence in the lives of those I care about make it even harder.

As a Black queer woman, I am faced with additional challenges, many times feeling that I must perform at the highest level at all times with minimal error. With the added stress and uncertainty of a worldwide pandemic, pressures are elevated. The demand for increased openness, understanding, flexibility, and creativity is at an all-time high. Nothing is what it used to be, protocols, and ways of life are altered. Even still, I show up, do the work, and stand out while maintaining a professional demeanor and attitude … Even when it seems the world is falling apart around us.

Racism has plagued our country since its inception. Though, we are, in fact, living during times of its magnification. Some have used this time as their platform to do meaningful work, while others have lost their patience, their dignity, and even their lives. The awareness of this reality turns succeeding at graduate school from something that is simply “difficult but attainable with hard work” to next to impossible without all the right supports being in place.

How do you make it work?

Support. The support of my partner, my family, friends, and sisters of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. has made graduate school possible. Two and a half years ago I was debating whether or not I was strong enough to enter the MA program at MSP following the sudden death of my father. Today, I am a second-year doctoral student, a student researcher, a clinician, a President of an international honor society, Psi Chi, and a Teaching Assistant to master’s students. I make it work by allowing myself to be supported.

What are some tips or secrets you have for staying organized with a busy schedule? 

Organization is not my greatest asset. It never has been.

Knowing this helps me tremendously. Recognizing growth edges allow me to channel my creativity in getting things done. Every day I am teaching myself new ways to organize and prioritize. Some days I make lists and check things off following completion. Other days I set alarms as reminders. Before the pandemic, I participated in weekly library sessions with colleagues. There, we’d organize, consult, and help each other get on track. These days I voice message with my favorite person at MSP throughout the day to keep myself accountable. Accountability partners are truly valuable!

How do you make time for yourself?

I make time for myself by doing what I want to do for me, when I want to do it, and not questioning it. I pick up the pieces afterwards. This method may not work for some people. For me, it’s the only way.

 How do you avoid feeling overwhelmed?

I try not to avoid my feelings. I aim to navigate whatever it is I am feeling, be it negative or positive, with transparency. I take things that are less overwhelming, then I tackle them. I save the most daunting tasks for last then I fight my way through though. Taking breaks and walking away from tasks works too. I think it’s important to allow myself to take a break and reset.

What support have you received from MSP?

Throughout my time at MSP, I have learned where to seek support based on what I need. I know where to go when I want to feel cared for, when I want critical feedback without a sugar coating, when I need clinical advice, when I need writing support, etc.

MSP has done well at putting supports in place and making them available to the student body.  I think that it is up to the student to find who and what works for them depending on their needs.

What advice would you give a prospective student who is worried about making grad school work?

Simply put, you can do it. Sometimes you have to dive into the unfamiliar waters in order to know what to do to survive them. Just know, it can be done. Be creative in your approach to making graduate school work. Make the experience your own.