Book Recommendations from our Motivation Monday Guests!


Need something to do this summer to destress? Looking for some inspiration? Want to remember a time when reading was a pastime and not a race to finish before class? Here are some book recommendations from fellow first generation and/or limited income students, just like you:

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

“It’s all about finding your happiness, being mindful, and accepting yourself and others for who they are.”


The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley by Malcolm X, Alex Haley, and Attallah Shabazz

“I think this book provides a good example of how a person with no significant educational background can, with the right work ethic, gain the respect and even surpass your peers if you put in the work.”


The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

“It’s a book about following your dreams, finding your purpose, and overcoming uncertainty. Now that I think about it, it’s time for me to read it again; it’s a classic, it never gets old.”


Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock

“It's an amazing book that chronicles Janet’s quest for identity and includes her experience as a first generation, limited-income college student. While I did not read the book until after college, I wish this story had been available to me during undergrad.”


The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation by Natalie Moore

“Often times we forget that we live much of our lives in our own bubble. It’s important to step out of that bubble and think about the ways we can impact our own communities. As individuals, we can make a difference while being mindful and empathetic for those around us who are less fortunate.”


Make it a Real Summer Vacation and take One of these books with you to the Beach

Make it a Real Summer Vacation and take One of these books with you to the Beach


Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream by Sara Goldrick-Rab

“I went to a conference and attended a talk by the author, Sara Goldrick-Rab. This book helped me wrestle with the pain of being a limited-income student by understanding the stories of others like me and that I am not alone. It is full of real-life stories of students who struggle with buying textbooks or helping their families, and Goldrick-Rab’s examples of moving forward are widely helpful for her audience.”


The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Jack Canfield and Janet Switzer

“The information is timelessly relevant and can help someone no matter what their goals are.”


Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology by Kentaro Toyama

“This book helped me understand the complexities that technology has created in situations relevant to our everyday lives, like education and health care. I think it’s especially important today since technology can sometimes be relied on too much, instead of just utilizing it as a tool.”


The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

“This book changed my view on the U.S. prison system. I would recommend this book and follow up with the documentary on Netflix.”


60 Seconds and You’re Hired! by Robin Ryan

“This book will teach you how to interview, how to talk about yourself, and how to find the right job. Read it now, and then again once a year.”


Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa

“The book really changed my perspective on how students learn in college and how current college students can set themselves up for success against a distracting campus culture. It also addresses areas of college access that would be of interest to first-generation and limited-income college students.”



Ask Dr. P. | My parents disagree with my major and career plans

Ask Dr. P.


My parents want me to be a doctor but I have no interest in the medical field. What should I do?


Your parents have their dreams for you, and you have your own. Sometimes both sets of dreams coincide or overlap, but more frequently, they go off in separate directions. Their dreams for you may be the result of unfilled desires they had for themselves and/or their hopes that you will have a rewarding and prestigious occupation. Or they may truly believe that you would be happiest in the medical field rather than somewhere else. Regardless of their motives, you can’t live your life constantly trying to meet their expectations.

While you are a product of your parents’ or caretakers’ upbringing, you are a unique person with values, interests, and aptitudes of your own. Your unique characteristics were acquired biologically (you are not a biological carbon copy of either parent), in schools, and in partnership with your peers, among other places. You are different from your caretakers and often these differences are substantial, that is, they affect the kind of career you would be ideally suited for.


What can you do about career conflicts with your parents/caregivers?



One of the first things you can do is get some career counseling at your college or university to discover what your career-related interests are. The information you will learn about yourself will be helpful in talking with your parents about your choices of a college major and/or career.

Generally, as part of career counseling, you will take at least one paper-and-pencil test. The most frequently-used career test is the Strong Interest Inventory, which is composed of 291 questions, and takes about 35 to 40 minutes to complete. Following the scoring, you will receive a profile that compares your answers with successful people in over 260 occupations. That way you will have an opportunity to see how your interests fit in with theirs.


The Strong Inventory assesses which of these career types you most resemble.

Doers are active, hands-on, adventurous people who like to be outdoors. Civil engineers, veterinarians, and firefighters fall into this category.

Thinkers, on the other hand, are analytical, theoretical, and inquisitive people interested in research. As you might expect, scientists, professors, and police detectives are among the Thinkers.

Creators have a strong need to express themselves in some way and are often found in the Arts, e.g. actors, artists, musicians, and architects. They are artistic, imaginative, and free-spirited.

Helpers are caring, supportive, and collaborative people who gravitate to people-oriented professions, such as teaching, medicine, psychology, and social work.

Persuaders are influential, ambitious, and enterprising people who run business organizations (lawyers, school principals, and police officers are also in this category).

Organizers are usually the behind-the-scenes workers who handle all the details. They are practical, orderly, and efficient, such as accountants, computer programmers, bankers, and librarians. Ordinarily, Organizers prefer to stay out of the limelight.



The next thing you can do is talk with your parents about your career interests. Schedule a time and place away from your house, such as a restaurant or park, where reason and calm can prevail. If you are correct about having no interest in the medical field, your Career Profile from the testing will be useful ammunition in defending your position. As you talk with them, it will be helpful to have an alternate career or two in mind. That way they will be reassured that you are behaving in a reasonable and mature way about your future.

In any event, you can use this opportunity to talk with your parents or caretakers about yourself and what your interests and values are. Be prepared to handle any objections they might raise about your preferred path (e.g., you won’t make a lot of money or you won’t have any job security). Parents tend to worry about their children’s safety and financial security before they think about job satisfaction, especially if they themselves had a rough time making it, that is, they didn’t have a lot of money and worked hard for the little they had.

While there is no guarantee that your first discussion with them will be successful, it will at least open the door to future talks, provided the first meeting didn’t generate a lot of bitterness. Remember that your parents had very different experiences than you have had, and as a result, see the world much differently than you do!

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to convince them of your perspective. And that is okay, just as long as you try to maintain respect and affection for them while pursuing your own dreams!


I'm Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist with many years of experience working with college students. I was the Director of two University Counseling Centers in Chicago, and was the first in my family to go to college. Click here to learn more.

A new Ask Dr. P. column will be published every Wednesday


Ask Dr. P. | How to Increase Your Confidence

Ask Dr. P.


I feel like everyone else is smarter than I am. What can I do to feel more confident?


Lack of self-confidence, or low self-esteem, is a concept that is used to account for almost everything in the psychological realm--from a common bout of nerves to a very serious episode of psychosis. Everyone seems to agree that you can't have too much self-confidence and that too little of it isn't a good thing. Even the super-cocky and self-righteous narcissists are believed to be suffering from low self-esteem underneath their bravado.


What is self-esteem?

Valuing or caring about yourself and believing in your worth as a person define self-esteem. If you are high in self-esteem, you feel self-confident and proud of some aspects of yourself, whether your appearance, personality, sense of humor, generosity, intelligence, or some other trait. On the other hand, if you are low in self-esteem, you are quite self-critical and prone to downplay your positive qualities, exaggerate your negative ones, and create in your own mind a very distorted self-portrait.


How realistic is your feeling that everyone else is smarter than you are?

It’s probably not realistic at all.

For one thing, intelligence is not a unitary trait but a combination of many individual factors, such as verbal, numerical, spatial, visual-motor, memory, and abstract abilities, among others. This means you could be very smart in one or more of these areas and even below average in others. Since you’re already in college, the chance of you being “below-average” in all of these abilities is very, very small. Realistically, as a college student, the worst you can be is below average in one or two of the skills related to academic success. If so, then you may need tutoring in those areas where you lag behind, but it does not mean that you are not as smart overall as the person sitting next to you in class.


Ask yourself why you’re so self-critical

Most of the time, self-criticism comes from highly-critical parents or caretakers, whose judgments of you were quite flawed. In other words, their perceptions of you (e.g., that you’re dumb) may have little to do with you objectively, and more to do with their own frustrations about how little they accomplished in life.

Unfortunately, you became the object of their anger, a position that you didn’t volunteer for and didn’t deserve, but what happened is that you internalized their criticisms (which is how your "inner critic" was formed) and you became your own worst enemy. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” What she was trying to say is that you don't have to accept comments from others that make you feel bad about yourself.

Low self-esteem can also come from unfair comparisons with another person in the family. Sometimes, a very gifted sibling becomes the basis of comparison. A brother or sister with unusual talent in math or music, for example, may be the one in the family who got most of the attention growing up. And you were left feeling “not as good as” the person who got all the attention, even though you have talents of your own.


What can you do about feelings of low self-esteem?

1. Disagree with your inner critic

If you find yourself thinking that you’re not very smart, disagree with those thoughts by saying to yourself “That’s not true!,” and replace your inner critic with positive thoughts, such as “I’m smart in these areas----” or something similar. Do not let your mind go down negative pathways. Instead follow up with something positive about yourself that you know is true.

2.  Love yourself!

Even though the phrase sounds like a cliché, loving and caring about yourself are very important components of self-esteem. Loving yourself means valuing your accomplishments, enjoying your successes, and taking good care of yourself. Even the biblical injunction, “Love your neighbor AS yourself,” commands you to love yourself along with your neighbor. It doesn’t say “instead of yourself.”

3. Think about what you have accomplished

What strengths do these accomplishments demonstrate?

If you did a great science project last semester, that probably means that you have an aptitude for science. If you went out of your way for a friend recently, that suggests you care strongly about others, and are probably suited for a career in one of the helping professions. In other words, identify your strengths and keep them in the forefront of your mind, especially when you doubt yourself.

4. Visualize your success

Think about yourself as an intelligent person succeeding academically and/or professionally. Visualizing yourself succeeding often helps you overcome the obstacles you believe are in your path.


Like everyone else in this world, you are unique —there is no one quite like you, so learning to value your specialness is necessary to succeed in this crazy world of ours!


I'm Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist with many years of experience working with college students. I was the Director of two University Counseling Centers in Chicago, and was the first in my family to go to college. Click here to learn more.

A new Ask Dr. P. column will be published every Wednesday


Ask Dr. P. | Work-Life Balance

Ask Dr. P.


How can I balance school with a social life?


A personal/social life is a necessity, not a luxury. While getting good grades is vital to your academic success, taking care of the rest of you is essential to your overall well-being and happiness. Running at full speed for long periods of time creates stress, but slowing down at times to enjoy the people and activities around you is the best antidote to burnout and depression.

Some time management and study skill principles can be very useful in juggling your school and personal worlds:


Schedule breaks

The most productive people around you know how to fit a myriad of rewarding activities into their busy schedules, and they do so by scheduling their lives to some degree. From my own personal experience, I know the value of a semi-scheduled life. When I was at my busiest with deadlines galore, I was able to survive with some life-sustaining breaks in the work routine. At the very least, I managed to save Saturdays for exercise and social activities, such as playing tennis and outings with friends in the evenings. Without those welcome breaks, I would never have made it through challenging times.


Study two hours for every hour in class

With respect to your academic world, the basic rule of two hours of study time for every class hour is still a good one. That means if you have 15 hours of classes, you should plan on an additional 30 hours of study time per week. Try to schedule study time for the same class at the same time each week so that you can develop habits around studying (habits are much easier to deal with because you’re on automatic pilot and don’t have to wrestle with yourself about when to study). It’s a wise idea to schedule about 2 hours to work on writing a paper, about one hour for reading a chapter, and much shorter periods (15- 20 minutes) for memorizing material.


Memory aids: meaningfulness, organization, and repetition

Keep in mind that you can remember better the material you are learning if the information is meaningful, organized, and repeated. To make it meaningful, you need to try and understand what you are studying and relate it to material you’ve already learned. Organization also helps; creating an outline or numbering some of the items will aid in retention. Because of all the memorizing involved in anatomy courses, medical students often rely on rhymes and other memory devices to make it easier to remember all parts of the human body.



In addition, remember that sleep is a key component of memory. Sleep is a critical element in the coding of material from short-term memory into long-term storage in your brain. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll lose it, that is, you’re more likely to forget what you studied so hard to learn.


Effective reading

In reading a chapter, the Survey Q3R method can be very helpful.

SURVEY relates to looking over the chapter (what are the headings?; are there questions at the end?) to see how the chapter is organized.

Q deals with QUESTIONS, that is, asking yourself questions about the material so that you get more involved in the information.

The first R relates to READ, that is, reading the chapter to answer your own questions, the second R deals with RESTATE or rephrasing the answers in your own words, and the third R means REVIEW.

All of these steps are designed to increase your learning of the chapter materials. If you like to highlight with a yellow marker, don’t do a lot of highlighting because it will make it harder for anything to stand out.


Organized writing

Before starting to write a paper, the best thing to do is create an outline and jot down points you want to include under the appropriate headings. That way, you will have an organizational scheme beforehand to aid you in writing a logical and coherent paper rather than a rambling one.


Personal/social time

If you figure that you have 168 hours in a week (24 hours/day), 49 of which you devote to sleep (7 hours/night), 45 to classroom attendance and studying (15 credit hours + 2 hours study time per credit hour), and 42 hours to meals, showers, laundry, and walking to and from classes, that leaves 32 hours for your personal/social life, which can be divided into a few large chunks and some smaller ones.

You can figure out your schedule any way you choose, as long as you utilize the 32 hours or thereabouts for your personal and social needs. For example, Saturdays could be your break day away from schoolwork, in which you fit in your exercising and time to socialize with friends. Or, you may prefer to take a few afternoons or evenings away from the hard work of studying. If you don’t like to over-schedule yourself, you may want to consider giving yourself periods of “free time,” that you use in whichever way the spirit moves you.

If you need to have a part-time job, the allotted time for your social life, unfortunately, will be reduced. Nevertheless, use whatever time is available to socialize and/or engage in non-school related activities.

Remember that taking time to pursue whatever restores your energy and motivation is absolutely necessary for your mental health!


I'm Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist with many years of experience working with college students. I was the Director of two University Counseling Centers in Chicago, and was the first in my family to go to college. Click here to learn more.

A new Ask Dr. P. column will be published every Wednesday


Ask Dr. P. | Navigating life back home

Ask Dr. P.


How can I navigate my life back home when I feel different from my family and friends?


In college, you have likely been having eye-opening experiences in a world that is very different from the one in which you grew up. The classes you are taking, the other students, and the professors are stimulating your thinking in new ways that may challenge your old beliefs. You are very much in a period of transition in which you are trying to reconcile the new information you are learning with the values from your family and community.

Back home, the people you know are probably not experiencing life-changing events like you are. Most likely, they are living their lives in much the same way they were as when you left for college. While they have maintained their regular routine, you are returning home after an extended time away. Only in your case, you are not coming back from the Army or a long residence abroad, but from a mind-expanding experience (that’s what college is) that can change you forever.


How can you relate to people back home?

Even though you feel different in many ways, there are still aspects of yourself that will never change. Some of your interests and values will undoubtedly stay the same.

And in relating to others, whether it’s back in your hometown or on your college campus, you always need to find the common ground (what you share right at that moment). From engaging in chit-chat with strangers to discussions with friends, finding the common ground is often the jumping off point to a meaningful conversation. It could be as trivial as the weather you are both experiencing, the long line you are now standing in, the train delay, or the class that you are both enrolled in.


Finding common ground at home

It can be many things: the shared experiences, the pranks, the people you loved, the games you played, the grade school teachers you hated, and so forth. Sports are often the bond that endures for men, regardless of generational and/ or career differences. Many men can talk about sports, watch them on TV, or play them for hours on end. For women, the common ground can be one of many things: family, food, clothes, exercise, a religious community, and/ or the media. Finding the common ground is the basic strategy for most relationships.


Talking about college

With family and neighborhood friends, you will find that some of them are interested in your experiences at college, while others are clearly not. Because your family and friends back home might not know much about college, they can find it difficult to identify with your world on campus. And, their lack of understanding can result in a profound sense of disconnect and loneliness for you. Over time, you will discover that your closest friends are the ones who do share your beliefs and values.

However, trying to talk about your college experiences with a few of your friends and family is important so that you can maintain some of these emotional connections. Your good friends will appreciate learning something new, while those friends who had only a superficial or self-centered investment in you won’t be able to tolerate your new learning or your new way of being. In addition, some of your family or friends may feel threatened by what they perceive as your superiority, “so you think you’re too good for us,” or they may feel less important to you now that you have other relationships.


Three conversation strategies to put in your repertoire

1. In trying to share your college life with people back home, remember to listen to what they have to say.

2. When expressing your own perspective, use the pronoun “I” frequently, as in “I learned [x],” “I believe [x],” or “I am excited about [x],” rather than “You should…” or “You need to…” Your ideas and beliefs are your own; they are typically not facts or edicts from on high. Furthermore, the use of “I” is less threatening to the other person, especially when you’re talking about highly emotional topics, like politics in today’s world.

3. Keep in mind that an ideal conversation consists of both the stating of your opinion while acknowledging the other person’s perspective. It would sound something like this: “I know you believe that [x], however, I believe that [y].” While this sort of listening and asserting is hard to achieve in ordinary conversation, you need to be open to the other person’s ideas while still conveying your own thoughts!


Some of your friends and family members back home will probably wind up being a part of your life forever, while others will fall by the wayside. In the process of sorting through your old relationships, try to hang on to the ones that are mutually beneficial and let the others go, especially the ones that are destructive to you.

As for the people who have no interest in what you have to say, spend as little time as you can with them, unless family obligation or duty dictates otherwise. You need to have supportive individuals around you, with whom you can exchange ideas and feelings, so that you can continue to feel valued throughout your life.


I'm Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist with many years of experience working with college students. I was the Director of two University Counseling Centers in Chicago, and was the first in my family to go to college. Click here to learn more.

A new Ask Dr. P. column will be published every Wednesday