School

A Message to University Class of 2022 Graduates

Hello Class of 2022. We did it. We graduated from our respective universities. Whether you finished community college (or junior college), a four-year Bachelor’s degree, or finished a graduate or post-Baccalaureate program, it’s time to celebrate you.

Our time in school was not as easy compared to others. For those of us who chose to get an education in-person, most of us had to suddenly switch to an online format because of Covid. My friends who graduated from grad school before me experienced it too. We had to deal with having to re-adjust to going back to school in an in-person format.

For others, our time in school was marked by life-changing diagnoses or health events. For me, I went most of my school life without an autism diagnosis. It explained how I had various different struggles in language arts and English classes, with undergrad being very difficult for me when it came to learning. Grad school was better because I learned to compensate and not repeat undergraduate mistakes. I could have done better in undergrad if I had a diagnosis and school supports, as my potential plan to go into a Doctorate program may be ruined by my undergraduate grades. My favorite Twitch streamer Hey_Bi_The_Way developed a physical disability within the past year and has had to learn to navigate academia with disability accessibility (or inaccessibility, rather) in mind.

Many of us, whether you realize it or not, are not supposed to be crossing the stage for graduation. There are systemic barriers that prevent many people, especially marginalized people, who want to attend a university from pursuing higher education. This can range from the cost of higher education preventing minorities from getting anything past a high school education to ableism preventing an autistic person from even be given an opportunity to attend university. Whether you are an autistic black person like me, a disabled Latina like my favorite Twitch streamer, or belong in a single or intersectional marginalized group, be proud that you were able to work hard to break barriers.

Honestly, if I knew it was going to take me four years to get a Master’s degree, I probably wouldn’t have done it. It is not supposed to take that long for a Master’s degree. I was judged for needing to take longer for a Master’s degree, even though I explained that I have a full-time job and wedding planning started shortly after I started grad school. I needed to take extra time due to needing pre-requisites due to my Bachelor’s degree not being in Computer Science and I had to stay an extra semester because my original graduate project was delayed due to other people. Even if I didn’t have those factors, I’m autistic (undiagnosed until almost a year ago) so I needed things to be manageable for me. The only things that were really worth it is meeting this one friend through another friend and feeling like I was given opportunities that not every university gives.

I have some extra special thanks to say here: I thank all of those who have been here since I announced being accepted into the Master’s program. I thank the few people who did not judge me for taking more than two years to get a Master’s degree. I especially thank Ravynn Stringfield, the creator of Black Girl Does Grad School (link below my picture as part of my image description). I didn’t realize I needed black woman in grad school representation until I found her blog. I even did a guest post at the end of 2018.

While this might be the last blog about my time in grad school, I hope people can benefit from the posts I made through the past for years. Until next time, my friends, keep learning.

Image description: A picture of me from the back with me holding up a sign saying “Thank you, Ravynn” and Ravynn’s website https://blackgirldoesgradschool.com/

School

Graduate Project: The Final Chapter (Study and Presentation)

I can’t believe this may be one of my final grad school blog posts.

The last time I talked about my graduate project, I had announced that I had changed my project because the website was (and is) still not done yet. The website not being finished caused me to have to stay an extra semester, so when my project advisor saw a new usability study become available to do, she asked if I wanted to switch.

My new usability study project involved going in-person to my university’s usability lab to conduct a study on how people interpret charts and graphs. Participants used eye trackers for future analysis to see how their gaze affected interpretation, which we determined interpretation by having the students summarize the charts they saw. Did you know that eye trackers get calibrated before each use and wearing glasses may affect calibration? We had some technical difficulties with the eye tracker, so I couldn’t collect as much data. A professor I was working with tried data collection later and still had the same technical issue. It could be the age of the eye tracker, though. It’s not the latest version and I think this one was bought in 2013, before I graduated from my undergraduate program at another school.

This was the first time I conducted a usability study. I was supposed to do that as a group project in my Human-Computer Interaction class, but that class happened in the Spring 2020 semester. Yeah. I would be a big dream for that professor to raise my grade in that old class due to me doing this usability study. A girl can hope, can she? I just want that grade to be higher than a C since that was my only C in grad school.

My final step in the graduation project was the presentation. Whether you chose the thesis option, the project option, or the internship option, you still have to present what you did. Of course, people who did a thesis did what is called a thesis defense. A lot of people who do the project option are doing something on their own without collaborating with a professor. At my university, graduate project presentations involve three people in your presentation panel: your project advisor and two other people. For my panel, my other two panelists were the professor who directly worked with me (who was also my Human-Computer Interaction professor two years ago) and another professor whom I never met, but still does research on Human-Computer Interaction.

I had a time block of 30 minutes, with about 20 minutes to present and the rest of the time for questions and discussion. I was so nervous about the presentation because unlike class presentations when you present to the class and the teacher grades you, the presentation panel was made up of professors who do relevant research when they are not teaching. They know A LOT more about Human-Computer Interaction (sometimes initialized as HCI) than I ever will. It went better than I thought, and my advisor talked to me privately afterwards telling me that she could tell I am committed, write well, and have an obvious interest in the Human-Computer Interaction field. She told me that if I want to pursue a Doctorate degree, she will be more than happy to be my mentor.

Being told that I have what it takes to get a Doctorate is such a big deal to me. I struggled academically in undergrad due to not being diagnosed with autism yet. In retrospect, I could have put in more effort at times, so I can’t 100% blame my academic struggles on my autism. Just 90%. When we did our class presentations in my Human-Computer Interaction class, only a few people were encouraged to apply to the Doctorate program and I was not one of them. Honestly, at the time, I was thinking “I’m done after a Master’s”. I had (and still don’t have) an interest in being a professor and an undergraduate professor said it’s not worth it unless you only want to write scholarly articles. However, there is someone at my job with a Doctorate, my husband’s dad’s cousin just retired from being a director of a gifted program, and not everyone with a Doctorate becomes a professor. Besides, with me being autistic, I can bring new perspectives to the field of Human-Computer Interaction.

This has solidified my decision to eventually go back for a Doctorate. I kept going back and forth about whether I want to or not for the past year and I still sometimes worry about my husband not being okay with me being more educated than he is since he has a Master’s degree. There was a woman in one of my religion classes in undergrad who broke up with her fiancĂ© because he didn’t want her to go back to school to get a Bachelor’s degree and she wanted to. Honestly, all I need is someone to believe in me, and my graduate project advisor is that person, just like I feel like I was able to finish undergrad because my advisor when I changed majors believed in me.

Next step: graduation.

Mental Health

The Helpfulness of Neurodivergent Therapists for Neurodivergent People

While it helps to have a therapist who understands neurodivergence, there’s a special feeling in having a therapist who happens to also be neurodivergent.

This post is inspired by my therapist. On January 31st of this year, my therapist disclosed that she’s neurodivergent (specifically ADHD). I suspected her to be neurodivergent, but only because I felt like she knew WAY too much about neurodivergence to be neurotypical. She was able to notice during our first appointment that I’m neurodivergent.

To me, it is VERY important to have a therapist who has a proper understanding of neurodivergence and does not try to change the client to act normal. Therapy also never worked for me because I did not receive an autism diagnosis until almost a year ago. A lack of a proper diagnosis has done more harm to me and others than good when it comes to therapy treatments. I talk more about how therapists have contributed to issues with people who have autistic traits here. Yes, you can go on Psychology Today’s find a therapist site and find a therapist who works with autistic clients, clients with an intellectual disability, clients with ADHD, or clients with learning disabilities, but how many of those therapists have a proper understanding and aren’t simply trying to fix the client to make them normal? How many of those therapists can help a neurodivergent person navigate the world when their normal is different from society’s normal?

The advantages of having a therapist who is neurodivergent are that they have the lived experience of being neurodivergent and they can more easily detect clients who are neurodivergent whether they have a diagnosis or not. However, there is no database I’m aware of that will help you find therapists who are neurodivergent themselves. Then again, that’s not surprising when people are told not to disclose their neurodivergence in the workplace.

Therapists, how can you help stop the shame and internalized ableism in your clients?