Straight from Undergrad: Imposter Syndrome as a First-Generation, Low-Income Student of Color

By: My Nguyen

The COVID-19 pandemic turned my Spring 2020 upside down, and graduating undergrad was already a feat in itself. The pandemic and the bad job market left me scrambling to figure out next steps as I did not initially plan to go straight into starting graduate school. Classes, jobs, student organizations, and family emergencies are already stressful on their own. Add a layer of pandemic on top of that. It is a lot for any human to live through, so please extend grace to yourself. It is OKAY to feel like you do not know what you’re doing!

Imposter syndrome is real. Yes, even after undergrad (and most likely for the rest of your life). As a first-generation, low-income student, hearing introductions during the first week of school definitely triggered this for me. I was meeting students who had been working in the field for years through Peace Corps, non-profit work, international work, and the list goes on… During the first few months, I questioned not working for a few years before starting my MPH. I questioned not having a specific niche area of focus. But I took a deep breath and told my inner voice to hush. 

Everyone’s path is different. Everyone brings value and a different perspective to RSPH. The perk of coming straight from undergrad is that you are already in the momentum of school. The grind of doing homework and writing papers will seem like second nature to you. Despite continuing on this ride of academia, make sure you give yourself time to transition!

Not going to lie, it is hard being a first-generation, low-income student of color at Rollins. Sitting next to more privileged peers in class who don’t look like you will make you feel like you do not belong. But remember that you were chosen to be here for a reason. Finding communities where you feel like you belong is so crucial to making Rollins feel more like home. There are so many resources on campus to help you academically, emotionally, and professionally, so always reach out and ask for help! Also, everyone else (including professors) are struggling too even if they just do not voice it, so you’re not alone. You have earned your place at Rollins through your hard work, and you deserve to be here!

Graduate school is the time to explore your interests, so I am a full supporter of taking full advantage of your flat-rate tuition dollars (cause we all know Emory’s price tag is not cheap!). Tailor your coursework to combine and fit your interdisciplinary interests with all the great electives Rollins offers. You can take classes outside of your department and even outside of Rollins, so do not be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone!

Rollins gives you the opportunity to meet folks from all different walks of life. People come from a variety of backgrounds as Peace Corps & AmeriCorps volunteers,teachers, etc. and bring a unique perspective to public health. Take full advantage of learning from your fellow classmates as they have a wealth of knowledge from their different experiences in public health.

All of this is to say that it is completely fine to go to grad school right after undergrad, so trust yourself in this process! 🙂

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