Finally back home

I know I shouldn’t complain about being in the hospital for 6 days when I was initially projected to be hospitalized for ten to fourteen days. I don’t know what I was expecting from the process, but it delivered. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but wasn’t sure what would happen. But true to form, I really didn’t have the “normal” side effects. I had the weird ones.

Read moreFinally back home

A Year Like No Other

This time last year, I was being admitted to ORMC and being prepped for surgery for an “abscess.” Twenty-one days later, most of which I had spent barely conscious at ORMC and then Emory Midtown, I had been diagnosed with Sweet’s Syndrome. It was yet another condition I, my family, and most of my medical team had never heard of. Thankfully, we were at a hospital where someone had seen it before (which is a huge feat given only a few hundred cases have ever been documented). Even after I made it home, I faced the worst depression I’ve ever endured, being unable to walk or care for myself, and continuing pain. Eventually I graduated from the wheelchair to a cane. I was able to drive again. And now I’m able to walk unassisted again.
Me with my wife and parents following dinner on the one year anniversary of my hospitalization leading to a diagnosis of Sweet’s Syndrome.
It has been an incredibly long year, but I am grateful for how it has brought me together with my caregivers (especially Nikki). I am grateful for caring nurses that went to extraordinary lengths (including learning the Charleston) to assist in my recovery. I never want to go through it again. But I am glad for the things I learned through the process.
Tonight, I went to dinner with Nikki, Mom, and Dad. We had fun. I drove us there. I walked in by myself. I ate something other than grits (which was basically the only thing I ate from August through October). And I am humbled by how blessed I am.

“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.

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).