Monday, March 30, 2015

Academic Endurance, Term After Term...

I think it is more than fair to say I've done enough school in my life. Having experienced upper education thrice, all different fields and industries, I figured this is a good time to write such a blog as the experiences remain fresh.

And so, I'm proud to share....!

Academic Endurance, Term After Term...
  • First 1-3 weeks are always awful...
    • And, I mean REALLY awful. This typically occurs because you're getting used to the term, the time in life, any changes, a new professor, and an entirely new topic at hand. The rhythm is all different and feels like you're completely off beat. You'll get through it. Take the first 1 - 3 weeks as a time to smartly gauge how the professor is going to teach, grade, and structure the course. What is going to be important? What isn't? Where can you save time? This will get you a nice big step ahead of the curve. Nevertheless, if you feel life sucks and its still week 3? It's okay. It's about to get a lot better.
  • Rent books, don't buy.
    • I cannot believe that I spent the better part of 12 years of my life in school not knowing how awesome some of the textbook rental companies are. While I'm not officially endorsing any single one of them, I can tell you that Chegg has been amazing to me, personally. It's way cheaper and we all know that we are all NEVER going to look back into our text books... not the majority of them any way. Also, PDF rentals are nice too, the access allows you to bookmark and word search the content to quickly get to what you need to find.
  • Summer terms will always suck.
    • Summer terms are typically hyper-accelerated and condensed. You're stressed. People around you are stressed. Your professor is stressed. It's just a lot of stress in a very short amount of time. I wouldn't advise taking more than two courses of full weight in a summer term. More than that can be a little crazy, if not damaging.
  • Do your essentials, then run around.
    • Some aspects of academia are essentials, others are fluff and busy work. Do the essentials first, then run around and finish off the details. This is really helpful when you have 4 or 5 classes that have nothing to do with each other. This forces you to tack down the tasks (say projects, homeworks, or studying for exams) that you absolutely must do before you deal with some of the less critical pieces of content.
  • Work hard/play hard.
    • It's therapeutic ;) Is there anything else to be said? :)  Okay, I guess just my quick share. During my DPT student years, I drove from Los Angeles to San Diego and back, every single weekend (2-3 hour drives one way). I would surf on Saturday mornings and spend as much time relaxing with family and friends as I could. I literally did almost no studying during the weekends. I know some people have called me crazy; crazy for driving that much and far all the time and crazy for never studying on the weekend, but hey! I did pretty well!
  • Group projects, be selective if you can.
    • Groups can make or break you. Doesn't it always feel like you're the hardest working one in the group? And, if you're EVER lucky, the group dynamic feels like everyone's mind is in sync like the Borg? This is likely a psychological effect based on communication preferences. Nevertheless, try (if you are able) to select up the best team members, particularly ones you've worked well with in the past.
  • NEVER do more than 1 numbers course at a time... unless you're a numbers person or are studying numbers.
    • I had to take accounting and finance together for a summer term in the completion of my MBA. All I have to say is, DON'T DO IT! It was one of the most grueling terms I've ever experienced. Not only was it a summer term, I put two numbers based courses together. It was awful. Now remember, I have an engineering background so numbers are familiar to me -- it's just that I think the human brain can only stand up to so many numbers. Now if you are a concentrating/majoring in numbers, well... you asked for it. Otherwise, if you have the choice. Don't do it!
  • Take advantage of vacations.
    • As the final piece of advice, I can't stress enough that it is best to take advantage of any breaks in academic calendars. Whether its Spring break, three day weekends, around Christmas or Thanksgiving, summer time... what have you. Make sure you rest and recuperate. Studying is like a job; there is such a thing as burn out. Preempt that by taking staycations, vacations, road trips, or even just as simple as giving yourself a weekend off. Maybe, even a just a well deserved day off...

Some Closing Thoughts
Academia is becoming longer and more intense in all directions. PTs used to be registered, then they got a bachelors, then a masters, now a doctorate. Physicians used to just go to medical school, now they need a bachelors prerequisites, take the MCATs, get the MD, go through post-graduate residency, and for many, fellowship. It's getting crazy. All that said, one must truly have a healthy habit of academic endurance in order to make it that far.

Keep the goal in mind. It helps knowing there's a finishing point and a purpose to it all. Be sure you rest, relax, and play. After all, life isn't all work. Find a balance. Take up a physical hobby such as martial arts, hiking, surfing, running, swimming, what have you. Also, do your best to eat and sleep healthy. I know.... I was there too.... sleeping 3-5 hours a day and eating nothing but ramen, canned foods, and when desperate, cracker (or rice) and ketchup. We've all been there.

Perhaps the best advice I can give... find a mentor. Mentors don't have to be proper, formal, nor official. Just someone you trust and can identify with... someone you can communicate with and even vent to. This person could be family, friend, upperclassmen, a minister, or even someone already in the profession. This person can serve as your guide, sanity check, and linchpin when you think all is lost. It's good to know you don't have to face hard times alone. If you can find a mentor, do it. It's a lesson I wish I learned earlier.

I hope you enjoyed this special, student oriented post!

As always, I remain yours in service,
-Ben

PS. My wife has made me vow against any more schooling.
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I've agreed.

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