“The only easy day was yesterday”

“So, first of all,let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
March 4, 1933

Having emerged from our Thanksgiving feast induced comas, we are faced with a harsh reality this week. Yes, it is the end of term. Looking out my window, I can almost seethe fear surrounding the students walking from the residence halls to central campus.

Fear is good. It is a powerful motivator. The trick is not becoming paralyzed by fear. You must overcome the fear of failure. Recognize the fear as a warning sign and use it to motivate you for what are admittedly two very difficult weeks. Every trick and tip I or anyone else has ever offered is now on the table. Your local barista is now your best friend. This is the championship of the academic world.

In two weeks, it will all seem anticlimactic. While the people on my side of the desk are still grading, you will have packed up your dorm room and headed home for the break and–hopefully – a halfway regular sleep schedule for a few weeks. In the end, your grades may not be what you wanted, but there is always next semester. Next Semester will be an almost clean slate. There is plenty of room for improvement then.

For now and the remainder of this semester, work diligently. Don’t panic. Keep a list of what you have to accomplish and mark things off when they are complete. Not only with this remind you of what you need to be doing, but it will also give you a sense of accomplishment as you move towards the end of finals. It is a great sense of fulfillment watching the check marks advance down the page.

Time management is more important now than ever. Don’t totally neglect sleep. You are not going to be able to even guess at the information on the test if you are sleeping on your desk. Don’t spend all your time working on your most difficult class. Stand Up from your desk and walk around for five minutes every hour or so. Remember to proof your assignments before you submit them. And finally, don’t forget to eat actual meals (and not just junk food) every now and then. Your body needs the nourishment.
Now, get to work.Just don’t forget to breathe.

Know when to ask for help

A long time ago,and it seems even longer, I had a larger tool box than a set of software applications that I used on my computer. As difficult (even for me) to believe now, I used to be a construction worker. I mainly did electrical work, but also did a fair share of framing as well. I learned enough background to be able to build most of the barns and sheds on my parents’ farm. (The picture is actually me replacing siding on our horse barn.)

One time, I was helping add on a back porch to our house. It was fairly simple. I managed to pour the concrete slab, frame the roof, lay the decking, and do all the boxing and siding without too much of a problem. But then it was time to lay the shingles.I know how to lay shingles. I know how to align the patterns, weave the seams so it doesn’t leak, and even know how to construct a ridge along the top from the tabs. There’s just one slight problem.

I can’t do it.

I don’t know what the issue is, but I have NEVER been able to do roofing. I’ve taught others how to do it. I can watch someone else and tell them what they are doing wrong. I had made it all the way to the end of that project, and I couldn’t do it by myself anymore. I had to call on my neighbors for help.

Sometimes, like in this situation, it is easy when to know when to ask for help. In others,pride or unreasonable expectations can easily get in the way. I learned one thing very early in college. It is much better to ask for help early.

The research methods course I tutored as a GA was difficult (the DFW – Drop/Fail/Withdraw – rate is around 24%). But there was one thing I noticed. The ones who I saw for the first time for the term paper and final exam I ended up seeing again the next semester. The ones who paid attention to the horror stories and started seeing me from the very first homework assignment? Out of nearly 250 students who took the course, only one student who sought help from the beginning of the term had to repeat the course.

Only ONE.

I’m not saying this because I’m a great tutor. I’m saying this because asking for help when you need it – and admitting you need it – is a vital part of education. I didn’t make it through college without asking for help. Indeed, it was far from it. Ralph (the GA at the time) and Will (who was a friend finishing his PhD in the same field) probably got extremely tired of me asking them questions. But that’s okay. You have to do what it takes to learn things.

This is not something that just disappears after graduation either. Still, as a faculty member conducting research, I have to ask for help. I’m currently working on a research project. My background is policy. This paper requires a lot of theory and history. So, I found co-authors who had the experience in those areas. With our three areas combined, it is now coming together nicely.

Never be afraid to ask for help in your studies. No one is brilliant enough to make it on his or her own. That’s why professors hold office hours. That is why supplemental instructors have jobs. That is why tutoring and writing centers exist. The entire structure of the university is to support you in your quest for knowledge. Make use of the resources at your disposal.

Learning to be Prepared

“In moments of crisis, the initiative passes to those who are the best prepared.”
~ Morton C. Blackwell ~

That quote is one which is firmly engrained in my memory. As number forty-one in Blackwell’s Laws of the Public Policy Process, it is not only great advice for those working in politics, but also for everyday life. I know I have shared it repeatedly with my advisees over the past few weeks. I even have a framed copy propped on the windowsill in my office.

In everything, preparation is the key. In your classes, your grades will be substantially better if you actually studied before the exam. Your grades will likewise improve if you studied over the course of the preceding week instead of holding out for a last minute all-nighter in the library.

Preparation is planning. It is being informed. Every college student should have a notebook with a list of classes required to graduate, a list of classes they have already taken, and a list of classes which are still required. As the time for registration draws near, compare the list of needed classes to the classes being offered. You should already know what classes are needed well before registration opens – and for that matter, before you meet with your advisor.

You are in control of your education. You are no longer in high school. While advisors (or advisers?) and professors are here to help you, you must be proactive. We can point you in the right direction, but you must also do your part as well. The goal of college is not to get you – the student – to be able to repeat information on a test. The point of college is not even to get good grades.

Instead, the entire point of college is actually two-fold. First, we should teach you – not what to think – but HOW to think. Over your course of study, you should learn how to process information and make decisions from it; knowledge is much more than being able to recite the information presented in a lecture. Secondly, we are to teach you the skills necessary to be successful in your career. If you miss a deadline in college, it might affect your grade. If you miss a deadline in the professional world, it could very well cost your job. I would much rather teach my students and advisees the value of a preparation and organization now, rather than them having to learn it from an employer later.

Control your message

One of the things I enjoyed the most about working campaigns was the message. Should the candidate wear a suit or a blazer? Take the jacket off or leave it on for the speech? Do we wear our red campaign t-shirts while working a Northside High School football game (Hint: BAD idea…Especially when they are playing in-county rivals Warner Robins)? We had message grids, calendars, and background information on everywhere we visited. We wanted the candidate to be presented in the best possible light whatever the situation.

Why dare I venture on down this road with tales of the glory days in the campaign trenches? Well, students are faced with a similar dilemma. While this may not be as much of an issue for undergrad students, grad students and recent graduates have their own personal branding become paramount.

Once you start presenting at conferences, and once you start into your job search, and really, once you start becoming a part of the larger academic community, people are going to start wanting to know more about you. What information about you is out there on the internet? Some things are there forever. Some licensing information is in public databases which make it WAY too easy to find home addresses. The fact that you are licensed in something is not a bad thing, but the personal information that goes with it is far from a best case presentation.  So, what to do? Control your online image.

I’m “lucky” in that my name is fairly common. For that reason, many things, like licenses, are buried between New York Times articles, music review sites, and photography portfolios. On the other hand, if someone is looking for information about me for a legitimate purpose it can be difficult to find.

For that reason, in any professional setting, I use my full name. It’s long, but it makes me unique. And since it is fairly unique, it is easy for me to control the message. I also have other resources set up to drive traffic. I use LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter on a regular basis. I also use Academia.eduMendeley, and LibraryThing. All this information I consider public and censor my posts accordingly. I use Google Analytics to keep track of keywords people use to find my content, how many visitors I’ve had and from where, and other useful data. (Sidenote: To my regular reader from Ohio, please feel free to send me a message and let me know how you found the site. I haven’t been able to figure that one out yet.)

Basically, control your professional online appearance. Justas you would never show up for a job interview in shorts and a t-shirt, you don’t want the first thing people see when they run a search on your name to be pictures from your last spring break trip. (Wait, you’re academics. Why are you leaving your lab for spring break?) Control your online image, control the story, and publish the content you want people to see.

Other helpful links:

Govern Yourselves


Note: This is being cross posted for Georgia College freshmen, so it includes links to some GC information. My apologies to those who are at other campuses, though I am sure there are similar programs at most college campuses.

In Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, “Government” was defined first not as an entity, but as the ability to manage yourself. It is to show control or restraint. The example which is given is “Men are apt to neglect the government of their temper and passions.” This “self-government” is one of the big differences when transferring from one level of education to another. When you’re in high school, you are constantly reminded to turn in your assignments. You are given time in study hall to complete you homework. Your schedule is mapped out for you. When you begin college, it is up to you to manage your schedule, manage your time, and manage your academics.

Part of maturity, and part of growing up, is becoming responsible for your own life. Your parents will no longer make sure you are awake on time to go to class. Your professors will not constantly remind you of due dates. If an assignment is on the syllabus, many times that is the only reminder you will receive. With the increased independence of college life, comes increased responsibility.

To adapt to these new responsibilities, you have to have a plan. Create some sort of time management system. It can be your phone or online calendar, or a hard copy calendar. Just keep something so you know where you are supposed to be at what time. Keep a list of all your assignments for the quarter for every class. That way, you will be able to tell at a glance what is due in the next five days.

But, the biggest issue in time management is oftentimes prioritization of certain activities. When you are creating your plan, there are some things that MUST be included (attending class, sleep, eating) but many times, there are vital things which are overlooked. Most people are awake between 16-18 hours a day. Of that, about 3 hours is typically spent in the classroom and (nominally) 6 hours is spent studying. What should be done with the other 7 hours a day?

Well, quite frankly, that is where you get the education you don’t receive in the classroom. You may work a part time job, perform community service projects, be involved in student activities, or just hang out with friends. All of these things are vital to the college experience. You just have to govern how you approach them. My first two years of college, I was in no less six student organizations at any given time, plus worked several part time jobs. While that time period is an impressive block on my resume, I ended up leaving most of them off the document. Why? Because most of them really didn’t mean anything five years down the road (aka, when I graduate and started looking for my first professional job).

It is much better to be involved in one or two groups, perform your duties well, and be promoted through the ranks than it is to be in everything which remotely interests you and become spread too thin. Plus, excelling in a few things which demonstrate leadership ability will prove invaluable in your future job search.

To wrap things up, as you are planning and following your schedule, focus on academics. But, remember to include personal time and time for extracurricular activities. They are all important and none should be neglected. You just have to find the balance which is right for you.

Link Roundup:
A Crash Course in Student Time Management by Cal Newport
An older post, but it is a collection of links to different time management systems.
One of this week’s posts from Hack College. Provides good information for the start of an academic term (even though we are a few weeks ahead of schedule here at Georgia College).
Focused more towards upperclassmen and grad students, this Grad Hacker post sheds some light on the dreaded Lit Review (which I addressed here and here).