Starting a new research project still has the power to intimidate me, even as a graduate student. With so much information available at my fingertips, how can I narrow down my results to find the resources I need?
Category: Tools and Strategies
This semester, my anatomy course has posed a unique challenge for me. My previous studying methods were not helping me reach the level of understanding needed to excel on the quizzes; instead, I found myself falling into the trap of reading over material in the textbook and feeling a false sense of understanding. I could recognize what I was reading or the diagrams I was examining, but my quiz grades were still less-than-ideal. Frustrated with this pattern, I decided it was time for a change in my studying habits!
I have always felt that, in my life, there is a direct tie between food and focusing. When I get hungry, I have no desire to do my work. If I find myself wanting to stay focused, I know that snacks motivate me. I used to carry at least two in my bookbag with me at all times. Whether I’d sit under a tree outside and eat in-between classes or go to Lenoir with my friends instead, I had a system to stop my hunger and help me focus.
Somewhere in this year of quarantine, I went from just casually using social media to being a full on addict. Between Snapchat, Twitter, Youtube, and Instagram, my attention span was totally shot as notifications, dings, and buzzes pulled me away from class, homework, and even sleep. After a few months, I’d become a master at logging onto Zoom calls with half my attention and getting by with only half a night’s rest.
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.
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.
At the end of my sophomore year, I realized that I wanted to use tech to help me write more efficiently. When I took notes for my research, I didn’t have a system that helped me organize which quotations or information went with which source. My overall disorganization made transitioning from research to writing a bit of a pain. I could never cite quickly. That all changed when I found my dynamic duo: TheBrain and Zotero.