Sharing Experience and Passing on Wisdom—One PhD Cohort to the Next
For PhD students at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, the first semester is a constant swirl of information, classes, deadlines, research-intensive work, and small but hopeful glimpses into what the future might hold. It’s a crunch recent grads Yvonne Commodore-Mensah and Grace Ho and almost-grad Kyounghae Kim know all too well. As mentors in the new PhD Learning Lab, the trio can now offer their hard-earned knowledge and insight to the slightly dazed newcomers in pursuit of their degrees.
Sponsored by the school’s Office for Teaching Excellence, the Learning Lab is a way to provide extra assistance to those who might be struggling with coursework, writing, budgeting time, or just facing daily life as a PhD nursing student. Commodore-Mensah says it’s an opportunity “to pass on wisdom or things we wish we would have known” and a great idea for the school’s largest PhD class yet.
So far the mentors have held a couple of group workshops and offered office time for individual questions. But Commodore-Mensah says in the midst of classes, studying, and work, the students don’t always have time to think about what questions to ask. “We recently held a session about how to use library resources,” she explains. “It was a chance for them to learn about the tools and resources in advance of needing them, before they were down to the wire and didn’t know where to turn. Once we started getting into it, the students were extremely interested and had lots of questions.”
That’s what the program is about—being prepared and getting knowledge from a student who has already been through the struggles of coursework and balance. Ho says, “We stumbled so many times and had to learn how to do some things the hard way.” As a former international student herself, she can
“It was a chance for them to learn about the tools and resources in advance of needing them.”
— Yvonne Commodore-Mensah, PhD
relate to the many in the newest cohort who have come from outside of the U.S. “Through the Lab, I can tell them that they’re not alone, that the challenges they’re experiencing aren’t unique to them. Everyone struggles, but there are strategies they can use to prepare themselves and provide a little ease.”
With only a couple of courses to complete before graduation, Kim, a native of South Korea, shares the sentiment. “Even though I had worked as a nurse practitioner in the U.S., I was finding it difficult to adjust myself to the rigorous research involved with the program. I thought it was because I was the only international student in my group, but it turned out most of my peers were experiencing the same difficulties.”
Kim also believes an important part of her success in the program has been finding harmony in juggling the responsibilities of school and life. “Even though we are PhD students, we are still daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, and wives and husbands with commitments outside of our work here at the school. I’ve learned how to be a multi-player, and I’d love to be able to pass along some of my tips for how to do that.”
While only in the beginning phases, all three mentors say they have high hopes for the Learning Lab in the next semesters. “We’d like to offer more workshops about reference management software, how to meet with your advisor, completing your dissertation, and other areas where the students express a need,” says Commodore-Mensah. She believes that timing of the sessions will also be key to helping the students with their already busy schedules. Ho adds, “We want this to be something they can use and will find time for. It has great potential and can really bring benefit to the students. More opportunities for them to express their needs will help us design discussions and meetings that will support them the most in the future.”