What makes me a unique writer? This is a question I ask myself often. As an identical twin, saying that I have gone through a bit of an identity crisis is an understatement. I am constantly confronted with the reality of my own uniquenesses, or the lack thereof, especially when it comes to writing.
How I Write and Learn
In college, I consistently wrote papers last minute. I rarely outlined anything. My senior thesis–supposed to be a year-long writing project–was written in a flurry in March and April of 2013. (I changed the novel I was writing about in February.) While I was furiously adding footnotes and writing whole sections of my thesis the night before it was due, a good friend of mine was calmly line editing hers. I was jealous–and started to acknowledge that I might be a die-hard procrastinator.
For me, one of the most challenging parts of online learning is my attention span. It seems like the longer I spend on my laptop with fifteen tabs open, jumping between them and glancing at emails while on yet another Zoom call, the less I can actually concentrate on any one thing. These days, I struggle to concentrate on a task for more than twenty minutes at a time. I jump between projects at odd intervals, working on eight things at once and yet somehow not getting any of them done. It’s the worst!
Pandemic conditions and fully remote class loads have left many of us students with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous classes, including me. Navigating asynchronous work can be difficult, because it often lacks the enforced structure of a live lecture format and requires me to be self-reliant not only in learning the material, but also in managing my own class schedule. After one and a half semesters of virtual instruction, I’ve developed some strategies that help keep me focused and on track with my asynchronous work.
Since I’ve been forced to live in a quarantined world, it’s been real easy to spend all day sitting. It was a sudden adjustment for me; I used to try and either walk to or from campus every weekday, which made sure I got time outside. I realized I missed walking like this, so after about two weeks of being locked in the house, I started to make movement a part of my working routine. Since I spend a lot of time working on writing projects, this push to start walking has ended up becoming a pivotal step in how I approach my writing.
The MCAT tests every pre-med prerequisite in ways that may be unfamiliar and, frankly, quite daunting. This summer, I’ve decided to buckle down and start studying. In the process, I have learned more about my own learning styles and how I study best. I want to share some tips that have been helpful for me so that they can be beneficial for others!
It took me an embarrassingly long time to learn how important sleep was for my basic functioning. In high school and early college, I found it difficult to get myself to go to sleep at a reasonable time, usually due to chatting late into the night with friends. I remember being very proud of being able to hightail it out of bed and plop down in my morning class in less than ten minutes. I did go to class, which is what I took to be some measure of success. But I certainly wasn’t enjoying my time rushing, and I certainly wasn’t enjoying how lost I was in class due to still being groggy.
2020 has been… quite a surprise, has it not?
It feels so long ago now, but I remember how my 2020 began. I was in the midst of fellowship writing and making preparations to return to Cuba for my dissertation research. I knew that the process would be challenging, and I knew that there was going to be a great deal of work and sacrifice ahead, but I felt that over my years in graduate school, I was prepared for just about any challenges that would come my way. Then, COVID hit. I, along with most of my generation of scholars, was thrown into total limbo!
Last fall, I realized that many of the study strategies and time management systems that I used as an academic coach could be helpful in my own life as a graduate student (and as an adult, in general). I was in the middle of reading for my Ph.D. qualifying exams and desperately needed a better system. (A list of nearly three hundred books to read in roughly a year felt daunting, to say the least.) Watching as my coaching students revelled in their newfound organizational skills and improved study strategies, I thought to myself, Gee, I should really try these, too.
With the shift to remote learning, it has been extremely hard to prioritize my plans. Instead of following through on my academic goals, I often end up spending time with my family, watching shows on Netflix, or even browsing through my emails. Knowing that I had a midterm approaching, I decided it was time to break this cycle and search for tools to increase my productivity. I went to the Learning Center website and found the Goal Tracker, which let me set goals and reflect on my progress over three days. At the end of these three days, I was able to complete most of my goals, reflect on what strategies worked well, and adjust strategies that weren’t working for me.