We are rapidly nearing the end of the semester, final projects are due, exams are coming up. It's time for the final push. Unfortunately, students and professors, alike, are feeling burned out these days. The best cure for burn out is re-prioritizing yourself and getting necessary rest, and hopefully, for many of you, rest is just around the corner as summer approaches. But in the immediate term, the only way to reach summer is to get through the end of the semester. The best advice I can offer you for a (relatively) painless end of the semester is to get really organized and to create systems for yourself that will make life easier, rather than harder, for the next few weeks.
I've been thinking a lot recently about the topic of mess: living a messy life and leaning into it. Some of us (ahem - me - ahem) prefer order. We prefer to be organized, we watch The Home Edit and we try to Marie Kondo our lives, both personally and professionally. That's fine, maybe you prefer order in your life too. In fact, there's some evidence that order and organization bring us joy, partially because they give us a sense of control in our lives. But I'm fairly convinced that, even if you're someone who loves order, the path to joy comes through embracing mess.
To be clear, I don't mean that you should give up on doing dishes and start living in squalor. Please don't do that, your roommates, parents, and / or families would hate me. What I mean is that we need to embrace the fact that we cannot perfectly plan out our lives or impose perfect order on the world around us. Instead, we need to be flexible enough to find joy in the messy parts of life, just as much as we do in the perfectly color coded and organized parts.
Do you ever have the kind of day when your head is not in the game, you can't focus, and you just don't want to do the work? That's okay, I get it. It happens to all of us sometimes. And sometimes you can afford to play hooky and take a day off. Unfortunately, on other days, playing hooky is simply impossible and it raises the million dollar question - how do you get work done when you are very, very distracted? There are a few strategies for this but the most important thing is to start with baby steps.
Ordinarily, I recommend doing a difficult task first when you are still fresh. But on a day when you simply cannot bring yourself to do anything at all, I recommend going in the opposite direction. List everything you need to do and pick the easiest thing. Get that one thing done. Then reward yourself in a small way, but not a way that will lead to further distractions. Do not reward yourself by watching TikTok - that path will suck you in and lead you nowhere (at least in terms of your to-do list). Reward yourself with a handful of m&ms or something.
Once you've done one thing, it might get easier to start on that to-do list. Research shows that setting small goals and accomplishing them releases a dopamine boost to your brain. If you're still struggling to get into a deep flow of work, pick another small goal and do that one next, then give yourself another small reward.
If checking off two small goals still doesn't get you in the flow, it may be time to accept the reality that today might not be your best day. If this is looking like the case, then it's time to prioritize the things that absolutely MUST get done. If you're only going to accomplish a few things in your day, then make it the stuff that is absolutely necessary and for which there could be large consequences if you fail. Not every day is going to be your best, most productive day. You are not a robot. Some days are going to be days when your brain and body need rest. If today is one of those days, then it's time to do the bare minimum. That means, do anything that is absolutely REQUIRED and cannot be postponed - the assignment that is due tonight, perhaps. Then just call it a day. Some days you're going to knock it out of the park and accomplish everything like a freaking rockstar, some days you're going to do the bare minimum. If today is a bare minimum day, then do not sit at your desk, staring at your computer and feeling bad about yourself. Do the minimum to get by, then give yourself a break. When you sit at your desk and do nothing but feel guilty, you waste your day entirely because you neither accomplish anything nor do you get the rest and respite that you so obviously need. If today is not your work day, then go out and find some joy, some rest, and some peace.
For some students, class participation comes naturally. Other students are more inclined to quietly absorb but rarely speak up. From a professor's point of view, we are usually thankful for students who are willing to participate, but we also want to draw out the quieter students; we want every student to feel involved and invested in the course material.
If you are one of the students who speaks out frequently, you may need to check the impulse (sometimes) so that other students have more opportunity to speak. For students who are quieter in class, it may be time to consider how you can speak up and participate a little more. Why, you ask?
Speaking up in class, at least occasionally, is important two particular reasons:
Emailing is one of the most pervasive forms of professional communications, and yet, no one ever actually teaches you how to send a professional email. You're just supposed to know how to send professional emails, cold contact people you've never met, and ask for favors in writing. And we can all agree that hidden expectations are bullsh*t, so let's discuss this one. If you're pretty sure that you already send emails like a pro, you can skip this blog post. But if you're not 100% certain, please read on.
There are two types of mentorship - mentorship between you and a person who is older / more advanced in their career or life; and mentorship between you and people who are in your same position in life (aka peer-mentorship). I have written about peer mentorship before. This post is about the other type of mentorship - the kind between you and someone who is more advanced in their career. This kind of mentorship is very useful when you want someone who can shine a flashlight up the dark road ahead, describe the lay of the land, maybe give you a road map. Bear in mind, of course, that their road map might not perfectly match your eventual map. They might be walking in different shoes, have different advantages or disadvantages, or whatever else - I think I'm belaboring the metaphor. So let's get to a few FAQs about mentors:
I got a student request this week for advice about how to manage stress and anxiety around classes. I feel like it is important to say, up front, that I am not a therapist or psychologist. I am most definitely not an expert at managing stress and anxiety. However, most universities offer counseling services for students and I absolutely encourage you to take advantage of that if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with stress and anxiety, whether that is school related, or over other things. That being said, I'm happy to give you some general advice for managing anxiety or stress around school. Understand that these are tools for your toolkit, but they are not a substitute for actual help when you feel like you are drowning.
This post is the second part of a series, aimed at making online education more approachable. If you missed the first post, you can find it here.
Previously I noted that, when talking to college students, a few themes emerge regarding the particular challenges of online learning:
“When everyone in the classroom, teacher and students, recognizes that they are responsible for creating a learning community together, learning is at its most meaningful and useful.” ― bell hooks, Teaching Critical Thinking
In other words, there can be no classroom community without engaged students who are willing to take responsibility for their own education. Professors can hold office hours, create discussion boards, and encourage students to get to know one another, but ultimately only the students themselves can take the final step.
Students can help create community in their online classrooms in both large and small ways.
As we have all been thrown abruptly into the world of online education, both professors and students have floundered. While online classes have existed for some time, few of us were prepared - mentally or emotionally - to suddenly move entirely online. As zoom and asynchronous classes have over taken higher education, we all find ourselves needing to suddenly adjust our strategies and metrics for success. What does it look like to be a successful college student when libraries are operating with limited hours, study rooms are restricted, and your professor only holds online zooms instead of in-person office hours?
Talking to college students, a few themes emerge:
All of these concerns and challenges are very real, and frankly, they suck. But there are a few things that you can do to make them suck less, or at least lessen their impact and succeed in spite of them. I'll tackle these challenges in a short series of blog posts, aimed at helping make online classes just a little less painful.
First, I'm going to tackle the challenge of staying organized in online classes, and I won't bury the lede. When it comes to keeping track of assignments for online classes, the key to success is actually exactly the same as it was for in-person classes. Read the syllabus. Print the syllabus and hang it on your wall. Frame the syllabus and hang it over your bed.
Here's the problem: professors are not necessarily any better at online classes than you are. Many professors have no experience, no idea, and no help with setting up an online class. They do not necessarily understand the user experience. Some professors might be putting discussion boards in one place, assignments in another place, and readings somewhere else; while other professors reliably use modules. Every class you take may be structured differently, according to how well or poorly the professor understands the learning management system and how much experience they have taking and teaching online classes. You cannot control any of this. But you can look at the syllabus, figure out what assignments are due when, and keep track of what you need and when you need to do it. In this sense, nothing has changed from when you took in-person classes. The syllabus is still God, and you can still put those deadlines on your personal calendar, keep track of readings, and find the class materials exactly the way you did before everything moved online.
If you are taking four online classes, and each class has a different method of online organization, posts assignments in different spots, and readings are scattered across hell and back, then don't rely on the LMS (canvas, blackboard, whatever) to tell you what to do.
Take charge! Here's how
I haven't written many blog posts recently because, like many of you, I've just been trying to keep my head above water and get through the end of the semester. But here it is, we've made it through. Whether you passed or failed, are exhausted or invigorated, you are here. At the end of every semester, no matter the circumstances, I like to spend a few minutes taking stock of the last 4 months.
Clare Brock is a professor of American Politics and Public Policy at TWU. She works primarily in the areas of food policy, lobbying, and money in politics.