Chapter 7: It’s about who you know
As an undergraduate student, I was big on getting to my goals all on my own. I rarely went to academic advisor meetings, and I refused to be a part of study groups. I would not dare ask for help because I could figure everything out on my own… right? At that stage, what I failed to realize is that community is truly everything especially in terms of fostering your development. It is never a bad idea to reach out for support. Work smarter and not harder than you need to. There are people you will meet one day that might connect you to opportunities that will ultimately change your life. The only way to on the receiving end of these opportunities is to open yourself up and push yourself to be uncomfortable. If you are comfortable that means you are not challenging yourself or growing. Get in the habit of calling yourself out when you feel like you are no longer adapting to something new but retiring to the same old regime. It is important that we challenge ourselves to do the uncomfortable thing so that it eventually becomes routine and normal for us. You remember when you were really scared to do that one thing and did it anyway? It went just fine. You lost nothing but now gained an experience that will make the next time you do it a little less scary.
This summer I made connections with doctors in the field I hope to eventually go into. Through my four weeks in my program, I managed to secure a mentor. This mentor has already connected me with the chair of their specific program so that I can join in on a research project. There was no way I would have had this new opportunity without my mentor leading the way and speaking my name in rooms that knew absolutely nothing about me. If there is anything I learned this summer, it was that the people you know will help you get to the places you desire. I know we have all probably heard the saying “It is not always about what you know but about who you know” the practicality of that saying came into fruition for me this summer. A lot of times, we are qualified to do the things we desire but the world around us does not yet know it. We need credible people in either higher positions or with more experience to vouch for us and steer us in the right direction. The work that you have put in to be where you are is valuable, don’t forget that. However, we need to couple that hard work with networking with the right people. Especially, those of us from marginalized backgrounds. We know that it is not enough for us to walk into a room and claim positions or access… It always helps to know someone.
During my summer internship, we had a speaker talk to us about the importance of mentorships and sponsors. Mentors are people that advise you and point you in the right direction. These individuals include those that are in places you hope to be in or even those that have had different experiences from you. They are like a guide and will help you on your path to achieving success. Sponsors are typically the individuals that not only can support you financially but provide you with resources and specific connections. For example, they know the person in the department you are applying for and will get you to meet with that person one on one. As a student of color, it is hard for us to ask for help and seeking financial support feels weird for us. Sometimes we come into spaces with a “I’m going to make it on my own” approach. Ask yourself why you would want to make your life harder than what it is already. There are times when it is necessary let go of our pride and remember that there are people with the ability to get us closer to our dreams. There are people in your corner rooting for you and are more than willing to help you further your aspirations. Allow those people to help you!
I write all of this to say start building your network of people that are dedicated to seeing you win! Contact that professor that you really enjoyed working with and ask to meet. Go to that networking event that made you uncomfortable and tell people about your interests. Tell them what you hope to change about this world and your plan to make it happen. You never know who will be in that room listening and willing to help you get it done. Start acknowledging your supporters and taking mentorship seriously. You do not have to do things alone. My final request is to always give back. Become a mentor or sponsor when you feel you can fulfill that role. Be that person to someone who might have felt just as lost as you at one point.