Category: Student Profiles

Keep your head down, work hard, and plow through!

February 07, 2021 Written by Aneysha (AJ) de Coteau | Photo by Aneysha (AJ) de Coteau and Cindy Dolan

One important lesson that AJ de Coteau said she learned was to get ahead of bad days before they become a crisis by utilizing campus resources.

Keep your head down, work hard and plow through!

In 2015, I arrived at UD’s Newark campus from the twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago to obtain a master’s in music with a concentration in teaching. My plan was to focus on academics during fall and spring semesters and use the winter and summer breaks for recreation. I’d be in and out in two years! Playing frisbee on The Green or enjoying football games looked like fun, but I said to myself, “That’s just for undergrads!” I was here for serious business! I did explore the existing graduate student organizations and support groups, particularly the multicultural and diversity groups in my first semester. I joined a few, only in name, with the intention of attending the occasional event. Regrettably, this intent took some time to materialize. Little did I know that five years later, I would not only still be attending UD and participating in numerous campus activities, but also creating and planning initiatives.

Life happens now, not after grad school!

I recall hearing about events led by various graduate student organizations on campus, and though some piqued my interest, the rhetoric I would tell myself was, “I don’t have enough time to be more involved. Participating may distract me from my academic success.” Despite being involved in a plethora of non-academic activities throughout my academic journey and being a proponent of this type of holistic education as a teacher, I had convinced myself that grad school was different. After all, I was now a parent and an international student and “distractions” were a luxury I could not afford. With my sights pinpointed on my academic success and graduation, I spent my first few semesters here quite disconnected from the wider campus experience.

Q; How’s grad school? A: “I’m surviving …”

I always prided myself in my ability to plan for any eventuality. I had an iron-clad plan for my time at UD and my daughter’s care. However, one faux pas by homeland security left me without childcare for several months. The additional $900 per month threw me into financial turmoil, and unexpectedly caring for my then 2-year-old on my own also brought unexpected health issues. I was not OK. What I did not realize was that it was OK to not be OK. Instead, I tried to pretend I was fine, which, in turn, seriously affected not only my health but my professional relationships and my academic career.

At the time, I was unaware that there is a global mental health “crisis” in graduate education or that graduate students are at greater risk for mental health issues than those in the general population. Perhaps it can be caused by isolation, perhaps feelings of inadequacy, or perhaps it is because of problems with family, health or finances. What is universal is that as graduate students, we can all face hurdles. How we face them shapes and crafts our futures.

The age-old question: What would you say to your younger self?

If I could go back in time, I’d ensure that I stayed ahead of bad days before they became crises. Back then, I unfortunately allowed myself to become isolated. As a member of the Black Graduate Student Association, I could have asked fellow members or the then president for advice. I’d also say, “Don’t wait!” I did contact the Office for International Students and Scholars and the Center for Counseling and Student Development, but I waited for far too long before I did.

What would you like other graduate students to know?

Today, I serve as the graduate assistant for graduate diversity programming in the Graduate College and am a third-year doctoral student in education specializing in sociocultural and community-based approaches. Prior to this appointment, I served on the student diversity and inclusion advisory board. I’ve come quite a long way from keeping my head down.

A component of my current position is to network with graduate student organizations that serve underrepresented and marginalized populations of students and to learn about the individualized needs of graduate students and student groups. With this knowledge, I also liaise with campus resource centers to convey the needs of these students.

I was pleasantly surprised by the overflowing support I received from these centers. Thus far, I’ve met with representatives from the Writing Center, the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS), the Center for Counseling and Student Development (CCSD), the Office of Disability Support Services (DSS), and the Career Center, to name a few. What I’ve learned from these meetings is that students often seek help after things have begun to spiral out of control. Nevertheless, these services exist to support graduate student success and mitigate potential crises.

For instance, did you know that the CCSD offers workshops on navigating academic and professional relationships? You don’t have to wait until you are at an impasse with a lab partner or an academic advisor before you seek help. You can give yourself the gift of learning a set of useful skills to help avoid such a difficult experience. Though most utilize the Writing Center while writing theses or dissertations, it is open to all students at any time in their academic careers. Putting in some extra time for writing before arriving at this juncture could be a great timesaver for when you do begin your final project. And, most importantly, did you know that these offices and centers want to hear from you? Yes, you, the graduate student! Not only can you make use of their services, but you can give feedback on existing services or make suggestions for new ones. You, too, can create and shape initiatives that matter to you. Sometimes it’s the idea of a single student that can spark a myriad of initiatives from which many can benefit!

Don’t forget to have fun!

These days, I prioritize both my personal growth and my professional and academic development. I find time not only for my coursework, my research and the occasional conference proposal but am also part of a weekly writing group. Equally as important, I don’t allow myself to become isolated. I subscribe to the graduate student newsletter and keep an eye out for campus activities involving anything of interest to me, from professional development to cooking or live music. Off campus, I enjoy Muay Thai with my daughter and socializing with friends and family.

If you have ideas for fostering diversity and community among graduate students, email me at

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