There are days when it feels easy to put into words my ideas on the political landscape of Tudor England and its relation to architecture. However, there are also days when I cannot write a sentence that makes any sense at all as hard as I try. Over the years in graduate school, I have tried many different techniques, tricks, and tips for staying focused and motivated while writing. Some have worked, and others have not, but I have realized how easy it is to be distracted while writing.
How I Write and Learn
I used to think that textbooks were useless: they typically have hundreds of pages, contents irrelevant to class, and unexplained pieces of information. Unlike lecture videos or study guides, textbooks are raw. They discuss too much information using abstract academic language. However, as I entered my sophomore year, I found textbooks to be irreplaceable as part of my preview routine before lectures since no other resources can organize content as clearly as textbooks do.
As a double major in Biostatistics and Linguistics who is minoring in math, I am constantly thinking about the best ways to learn. Sometimes this means looking at the overlapping concepts between these three subjects or figuring out strategies that work for a certain class but not for another. And unfortunately, these thoughts are often made in the context of school.
The COVID pandemic over that past year has introduced a lot of challenges that students, faculty, and staff have had to adapt to. For me, it was difficult to adjust to living at home again and attending Zoom lectures with barking dogs, screaming kids, and TVs blaring in the background. My sister’s room became my makeshift work space and her new bunny, Churro, became my classroom companion. Nonetheless, I adapted and did my best. Now, just as I have adapted to the challenges of learning online, there is a new challenge currently being faced: transitioning back to in-person learning.
When I decided to write an honors thesis, the advice I received from everyone was to write things up as you go. The common wisdom was to write things up as soon as you have a result, rather than waiting five months and writing everything up at the last minute. I wanted to do an honors thesis to explore more math, but unfortunately for me, the thesis also required a lot of writing. Having heard the thesis writing horror stories and knowing the extent to which I hate writing (ironic that I’m writing this post, I know), I was determined to follow their advice to try and minimize the pain of the writing experience.
As we acclimate to being back on campus, we are all dealing with a lot of problems that have been an afterthought for over a year now. Those problems include making it to class on time, dealing with dorm room issues, and more specifically, figuring out what and where I was going to eat everyday. I’d always had food provided for me at home, but moving to campus and being unable to afford a meal plan played a large part in whether I was successful my first-year at UNC. Good nutrition and a full stomach can help with focus, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, poor nutrition and constant hunger can be seriously detrimental to someone’s ability to succeed, like it was for me.
The past few semesters, I’ve found that I’m doing a lot more reading on a computer. Some of my course materials are online, and if I do need a book, many databases have made digital copies available for those without easy access to campus libraries. I also don’t have access to a printer, so readings I might have otherwise printed out have remained resolutely stuck in the digital realm.
As a student, I often struggle to feel confident in my own voice, and I’m constantly searching to figure out how I best learn, work, and express myself. However, when I get into a real groove putting my ideas on paper, and when I reflect on why I am here and what I am doing, my “impostor syndrome” disappears and I find myself in a state of confidence. As time has progressed, I found that these moments, for me at least, have a soundtrack. Through the use of music, I’ve been able to create an environment that helps me have more of these moments of self-realization. Music is not only one of my favorite avenues for self-care, it’s also one of my most effective time-management tools.
Midterms are a daunting and seemingly never-ending cycle. When I fill out my planner, I can feel very overwhelmed looking at the various midterms and projects I have in the span of just a few weeks. However, over the years, I have picked up on a few strategies that help me avoid cramming and survive the infamous Carolina midterms.
In my classes, I always want to be perfect. It is not a profound or unique sentiment, but I enjoy success. After attending class, completing all the assignments, and putting in hours of extra work to prepare for a test, I hope that it pays off and I can get rewarded with a good grade. Even if I know I haven’t prepared to my fullest, I at least hope to get lucky. So, when I got a Sakai notification that my CHEM 102 acid/base test had been graded, and I saw a rather unfortunate grade, I panicked. I questioned my validity of being a student at UNC. I compared myself to my peers and wondered why I was inferior. Mostly, I was overwhelmed that the course continued to introduce new material when I had yet to master the previous unit. Realizing that brooding over these thoughts wasn’t helping me improve, I decided to work on changing my mindset and to use that bad grade as a turning point towards progress.