Get a Mentor,
Do Cool Things
– Myrianna Bakou –
I moved to Nebraska from West Africa when I was eight after my dad won the visa lottery. I always knew I wanted to major in psychology and have always been really driven. To be honest though, I didn’t want to come here. I wanted to go somewhere far away from home, but I got a scholarship here, so it made the most sense—and it’s been a great experience.
I heard about Dr. Gervais, a psychology professor here who specializes in Women’s Studies, when I was still in high school. I knew she was doing neat research that really interested me, so when got to Nebraska and got a scholarship to conduct funded research, I knew I wanted her as my advisor.
Usually, students do a research project that’s similar to what your advisor is working on, but I wanted to do my own thing—and that’s what I did. I worked with Dr. Gervais to study how African-American women and European-American women and have been dehumanized in advertisements.
The next year, I got another position with Dr. Gervais through UCARE (the university’s Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience Program). I was able to keep building on my initial project, this time in terms of sexual assault. We analyzed perceived and assigned victim-blaming using two scenarios that were identical, apart from one victim being an African American and the other being of European decent. We also examined how the perpetrator’s ethnic background influences people’s perceptions of the scenarios. Now I’m working on my thesis, which is building on all of that research I’ve already done.
moves you forward
Dr. Gervais has been a huge support system in conducting this research. She and a grad student who’s also in her lab have been my lifeline in moving ideas forward. If I need a paper revised or get stuck in my research, I know I can turn to them for really solid advice and help.
I’m waiting to hear back about my grad school applications right now, which Dr. Gervais helped me with a lot too. I was able to talk to her about what programs I should be applying to, colleagues she knows at other schools, and use her as a recommendation on my applications. The support I’ve had in her lab the past two and a half years is definitely a huge reason why I’m so successful in my research area.
I'm not by any means a terrible student, but I did come to college with the mentality that I was going to be an A+ student. That was my comfort zone in high school, but I would say I'm kind of a B+ student and being a student is a very big part of my identity, so that was difficult to reconcile at first. I’m so challenged in a good way all of the time though, and I’m actually contributing to my field, so that’s more beneficial to my future I think.
Experiment with patience
When I first came to Nebraska, I thought I wanted a career in psychology where I’d work with businesses. I enrolled in a summer program for that area at Georgia Tech, where I realized it was not for me. So I shifted to clinical psychology and did an internship at Williamsburg Behavioral Psychology working with kids on the autism spectrum. I really enjoyed it and learned a ton, but I realized that wasn’t quite what I wanted to do either. I moved into counseling psychology and that’s where I’ve found my fit in the field.
I had to learn to be really patient with myself and the process of experimenting to find where I would most succeed and enjoy it. I am very much someone who, if I want something, I want it now. And sometimes life doesn't work that way. I've learned that a great deal won’t go your way, so you just have to be patient with the process and know that when the time is right, things will click. I was difficult, but none of those experiences I had testing out other fields were wasted. I got to test out the different career paths in a very real way, so I knew exactly what aspects I liked and which ones I didn’t.
Grow at Nebraska
I would tell incoming students to come to college with an open mind. It's good to have a plan. It's good to have a sort of direction but it's not necessarily bad to come to college undecided. I feel like you get to explore the most if you're undecided—and there’s plenty of opportunities for experimenting here.
So come with an open mind. Be patient with yourself. Don’t try to do everything—choose things that matter to you honestly and that you're passionate about and stick with those things. Take care of yourself. You’ll grow in your field of study at Nebraska, but you can also grow a lot as a person here. And don’t forget to have fun.