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Posts on Features: Pulling It All Together
March 12th, 2009 · 71 comments
The End is Near(ish)
As my final year as a PhD student continues its unnerving hurtle forward, I thought it would be nice to reflect on my grad school experience. Below are a collection of ideas, warnings, regrets, and assorted lessons I’ve accrued over my time so far at MIT.
Some of this advice I follow. Some I only wish I followed. All of it, I hope, is more or less true.
Thought #1: Research Trumps All
This is the master thought that most of the other thoughts support. The job of a graduate student is to learn how to do professional-quality research. At the end of your grad school experience you will be judged by the quality and quantity of the research. And that’s basically it. Remind yourself of this truth often. If you’re not making progress on your research, then radically rethink your scheduling priorities.
Thought #1.5: Don’t Let Courses and Quals Distract You From Thought #1
Don’t get too caught up in your courses or qualification exams. Study smart. Do good work. But remember, this isn’t college, and doing well academically is merely a prerequisite for being a successful graduate student — it’s far from the ultimate goal. Keep coming back to your research as priority #1.
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March 9th, 2009 · 34 comments
Last year I introduced The Straight-A Method: a general framework for all of the tactical studying advice that appears in the red book and on this blog. A lot has changed since then, so in this post I describe a new and improved version of this key piece of the Study Hacks canon.
The Straight-A Method
The Straight-A Method is supported by four pillars: capture, control, plan, and evolve. Each pillar is associated with a high-level goal you should strive to achieve as a student. Here’s the promise: If you can satisfy these four goals — regardless of what specific strategies or systems you use — you will ace your courses. All of the study advice presented on this blog (i.e., any article in one of the tips categories) and in the red book support one or more of these four pillars.
Below I describe each pillar, and provide some sample advice to get you started on the road toward satisfying their goals.
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February 25th, 2009 · 14 comments
A Cry for Help
The most common e-mail I receive takes the form of a plea for help. Typically, the student has done poorly on one or two tests, or perhaps got a ‘C’ on an important paper, and is desperate to know what she can do right now to save her semester grades.
In this post, I highlight five articles — selected from the more than 340 that populate the Study Hacks archive — that can provide fast results for students who need immediate help. These articles, on their own, won’t make you into a low-stress, student superstar, but they can help stave off a disastrous end to a tough semester.
Conduct a Mid-Semester Dash
This simple strategy helps you pull yourself out of a muddle of forgotten deadlines and soul-devouring small tasks, and prepare a clean attack for the second half of the semester.
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January 5th, 2009 · 24 comments
A New Year
Making New Year resolutions proves a tricky business. We all know that setting too many goals is a recipe for disappointment, so it’s important to choose a small number of changes that will have the maximum impact.
In this post I describe three simple resolutions that I’ve learned from experience to be incredibly effective. If you’re unsure where to direct your resolve in 2009, forget the cliched crap about going to the gym more or “studying harder.” Give these three habits a try — they’ll completely transform your entire student experience.
Resolution #1: Commit to Full Capture
It’s the oldest trick in the proverbial productivity book, but it’s also the most essential. Without it, you simply cannot eliminate copious stress from your life. I’m talking, of course, about capturing every task, date, and deadline in a trusted system that you review regularly.
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December 1st, 2008 · 32 comments
It’s the week after Thanksgiving. For most students this means finals are rapidly approaching. If you haven’t begun thinking about how to tackle this upcoming challenge, now is a great time to start. With this in mind, I want to review 5 common mistakes that students make during this period.
Read what’s below before diving into your own final-driven scramble and you’ll increase your odds of making it to Christmas vacation unscathed by an academic disaster.
Mistake #1: Not Having a Clear Schedule
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October 31st, 2008 · 7 comments
Precursors to College Student Burnout
In 2006, professor Richard West of the University of Southern Maine, working with his student Stephanie Cushman, launched a study to find out more about student burnout. They hoped to answer two questions:
- How many college students experience burnout?
- Why do they burnout?
I recently stumbled across this paper in the Journal of Qualitative Research Reports in Communication. As you might imagine, I was quite interested in what they found…
Dr. West’s gave 354 students in an introductory communications course the following survey:
- Please define or interpret what is meant by college “burnout.”
- Have you experienced burnout in college?
- What were the factors that contributed to your burnout in college
He discarded the surveys from students who had not experience burnout or who had defined the term to be something different than the phenomenon being studied. A rigorous coding technique was then used to categorize the responses to the third question.
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September 29th, 2008 · 10 comments
As the fall semester picks up speed, your workload is likely growing into something fierce. The optimism of the first few weeks — when assignments were light, beer always available, and plans ambitious — is starting to give way under the reality of conflicting deadlines and exams. To me, this is a perfect time to review some of our most effective stress reduction strategies. Attack stress now, before things get out of hand, and the rest of the semester can unfold without unnecessary pain.
Small Strategies that Make a Big Difference
Switch from To-Do Lists to Time Blocking
Simply listing everything you have to do becomes an exercise in futility once this list grows beyond just a few items. This article explains how to take control of your schedule with the time blocking strategy: an approach that requires you to label each task for the day with the time block during which you’ll finish it. Time blocking forces you to deal with how long things really take and how much free time you really have available.
Adopt a Sunday Ritual
Your schedule is a wily bastard; give it a chance and it will wrench itself right of your control. The Sunday Ritual keeps you in command. As this article explains, the ritual has you retreat somewhere quiet, every Sunday, to knock of a big block of focused work and, most importantly, make a battle plan for the week to follow.
Build an Autopilot Schedule
The autopilot schedule is one of the simplest and most effective scheduling strategies of the Study Hacks Universe. As explained in this article, the goal is to move as much of your regular school work as possible into set times on set days. This preserves your scare willpower for bigger projects, and saves you the stress of deciding when to work on your your daily assignments.
Follow a Simple Task Management System
You need a set of rules to help stay on top of all the things you need to get done. The article above presents a brain dead simple approach that requires just a few minutes a day and has no bells or whistles. If you’re looking for something a little more advanced, check out the always popular Getting Things Done for College Students system.
Major Changes that will Redefine your Relationship with Stress
Embrace Radical Simplicity
This manifesto makes my stance clear: Do less! Much less! It calls for you to choose only one major, one activity, and one (normal) course load. De-cluttering your schedule is the key to keeping student life livable and engaging.
Make Your Course Schedule Suck Less
Are your courses already starting to giving you a headache? You may be taking too many that are too hard. As this article explains, overloaded courses schedules are the biggest source of avoidable student stress. Drop that extra lab. Replace one of your brutal major courses with a lighter elective. No one cares about the specific term-by-term description of your courses, so these changes will make your life much easier with little negative consequences.
Take an Activity Vacation
September 3rd, 2008 · 8 comments
Have your activity commitments already overwhelmed your schedule? Do you belong to clubs that you can’t remember why you joined? As this article explains, consider taking an activity vacation — one semester with no activities. You don’t have to quit everything. Just tell your club mates that you need a break to focus on academics. Once you’ve experience the joys of a free schedule, you’ll probably start the next semester more selective about your commitments. Also, you’ll have a lot of fun.
The new school year has begun. These first few weeks are a time of heady possibility: exams haven’t yet sucked your will to live; conflicting paper deadlines haven’t yet made you curse the invention of written language.
I want you to take advantage of these golden days by committing to try some new and exciting things this semester. Make these resolutions now, before life gets too tough. To help you in these efforts I’ve listed seven suggestions for things you should try — five you’ve seen before and two are brand new. Now is the time to upgrade your college career. Take action while you still can.
Five Things You’ve Meant to Try But Haven’t Yet
- Adventure Studying
Just because everyone else studies in the library doesn’t mean you have to as well. The adventure studying philosophy says you should decamp to the most exotic possible places — from the beach, to the forest, to art museums. (See also this case study of adventure studying in action.)
- Launching a Grand Project
Are you working on something so compelling that when you describe it to people they exclaim: “wow!” If not, you should be. Not only does it keep life exciting, but it will help unlock outstanding opportunities down the line.
- Calculating Your Churn Rate
If you’re the type that has lots of big ideas but not lots of accomplishments, then you need to rethink how you measure productivity. Forget endless lists of small tasks, and focus instead on your churn rate, a metric that captures the speed with which you actually complete projects.
- Fixing Your Schedule in Advance
The concept is simple. Fix the number of hours you want to work, then move backwards from there to construct a lifestyle that matches this goal. It might require drastic cuts to your schedule. Your double major might go out the window as might most of your activities. You might start saying “no” a lot more than before. But you’ll be in control of your own life and live the lifestyle you want to live, not what was forced upon you.
- Seeking Randomness
Entrepreneur, writer, blogger, NPR commentator and college sophomore Ben Casnocha has a simple rule for launching an interesting student career: seek out randomness. Lots of it. If you schedule every minute of your day you’re going to miss out on the opportunities that really catch people’s attention.
Two New Things to Add to Your List
- Travel Somewhere Alone
It’s a crazy idea. Get on a train. Go to a new city. Spend a couple days by yourself. Wander the streets, think big thoughts, figure out your life, maybe even get some real concentrated studying done. We’re so busy we often forget to take time to reflect. Do so while you still have the flexibility to get away.
- Sign-up for a PE Course
There’s something therapeutic about working your muscles, in the company of other people, two or three times a week. It burns away stress and clears the mind. Joining a PE class is a simple way to hold yourself accountable to this goal. For me, at Dartmouth, it was raquetball. For others its basketball or tennis. Whatever seems like fun; just get yourself out of your dorm and to the gym on a regular basis.