December 13, 2013

How Not to be a Hot Mess (Finals edition)

Remember back when it was warm and sunny and you weren’t quite yet a Rutgers student? During APA days and summer orientations, an enthusiastic group of Orientation Leaders helped guide you in learning more about this crazy place called Rutgers. Dean Frosh asked them to weigh in and help you prepare for your first semester of finals.

Here are their very best tips (there are many, but they are worth a careful read):

Do not skip meals, they give you the energy to productively study. - Atiya Gilmore

When I'm stressed or in the zone I often don't want to get up and go to the dining hall or I forget how long I've been studying for. Now I keep a few frozen meals, pretzels and hummus, and some fruit in my room to make sure I don't make that mistake.” – Amy Leah Joaquim

I found it really helpful to make To-Do Lists of things for the next day…as soon as I wake up, I know what I have to do and I hit the ground running. - Lakshay Gosain

If you take just an hour to just write down everything you have to do and lay it out it will seem much more doable and you won’t be stressed by keeping it all in your head. – Jade Gonzalez

To make sure that you are going to finish all of your work, there’s this App on smartphones called 30/30 that helps you stay on track with your to-do list with time management. It gives you countdowns and timers to finish your work but most importantly it helps you stay focused. – Larissa Rindosh

Do not cram. Cramming does not help you memorize information. Instead of studying for 12 hrs the day before a given final, study for that exam for 2-3 hours every day leading up to that exam. – Chris Price

Many times students like to put off studying because they say that leaving it for the last minute puts them under pressure and they work best under pressure. Unfortunately, I was one of those students who believed in this technique; however, in the long run, I was never fully prepared for my finals. - Meagan Walker

Don't write papers in one night. Once that I wrote a 10 paged paper in one night, and it was awful! Write a little at a time. – Andreana Barefield

I change my scene - I usually wake up early, eat breakfast and study on one campus, then in the afternoon I switch to a different campus so that I am not in one spot all day. I try to take a break after every 3 hours of studying. Sometimes I just take a walk around the library to wake me up. – Timyra Lister

Form study groups! It's a great way to make friends, and I often learn and retain much more when I talk through lessons aloud. You can also work together to create study guides to minimize the work you'd have to do solo! – Alexandra Wepner

Use wisely the time you have in-between exams. Your exam schedule might play out that you have one exam on the first day and then your last exam on the last day a week later, DON'T put off studying because you have sooo much time in-between! Take that time and each day do small amounts of studying to break up cramming one day before the final. – Jessica Fitzpatrick

Create a Cheat Sheet, not for cheating! Act as though you are allowed to bring a cheat sheet to the exam with all the key points and important pieces of information on it. Doing so will allow you to review while making the sheet and will also help you focus on what topics and concepts are necessary for the exam. – Justin Lucero
Don't use your studying time complaining about professors or classes or just chatting it up while you're supposed to be in a study group. Form study groups with people you study best with not people you have the most fun with. – Anthony Phillips

Work hard with no distractions for twenty five minutes and then reward yourself with something small such as checking a social media site (as long as you don’t stay on it for hours) or with a snack or whatever else that will take five minutes then go back to studying. This technique of studying is called the Pomodoro Technique and it works for me! - Jade

When trying to memorize something, don't just read it over and over again. Pronounce it loudly at the wall, or at your pillow, like you're trying to convince the inanimate objects around you of something. Sing it to the tune of "Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus or come up with an absurd mnemonic device. This sounds ridiculous, but when you're taking that exam, your silly brain has a much easier time remembering things that were associated with something you already find easy to remember, like the melody of a pop song. – Andrew Harris

Here is a link to a more efficient way of studying as told by Psychology Today

When I have difficulty staying off of Facebook when I should be studying, I have a trusted friend change my Facebook password for me until I'm done with exams! That totally takes away the temptation. – Amy 

The do not disturb button on your phone and self-control app on your computer are good apps to use to block social media (If you have a smart phone the do not disturb can be found in your settings and you can just google self-control app and download it on your computer). - Jade 

Find a place where you can focus on your work without any distractions, like the library or a study lounge. I used to leave my dorm room door open all the time while I was doing work or studying and that usually resulted in me getting side tracked! - Virginia Cabrera

Take study breaks: this includes getting some fresh air, listening or dancing to some music, or anything that gets you moving out of from a seat or desk so that you can get refocused. - Jason Zomback

Don't watch TV or Netflix, but check emails or grab a snack, check in with friends or do a short workout/dance break. SLEEPING IS NOT A BREAK. Do activities that are short and that you won't get caught up in, but will help you release stress. – Geralyn Williams

Utilizing self-care and having an equal balance of study time and relaxation time is huge. That could mean anything from taking a walk, a nap, watching TV, having a good meal, etc. It helps me to have a balance so I don't burn out. – Stephanie Lanza

If you're having a particularly hectic day try to break it up with small moments of relaxation. Have a treat to promise yourself when you meet your goals. Mine is tea. When I hit a milestone, I always take 10 minutes to just sit, breathe, and drink a cup of tea. – Mariah Eppes

Be honest with how much you know and how much effort you have put into studying. But don't stress out too much, taking care of yourself mentally, emotionally and physically will help you do better on exams, than any all nighter can. - Sara Miller

Have a positive attitude, don't let all this get to you. It's hard, exams are hard and studying is a lot but keep the positivity, it will be over soon and a month break is what you can look forward to! – Avril Betances

If you're wondering whether you should go to that review session, the answer is always yes. – Andrew

The advising centers, libraries and tutoring centers are all places that you can go to get help in some way as it pertains to finals. In addition, our campus organizations host many de-stress events to help students take a break from the hardcore studying and realize that a period of relaxation is also needed when preparing for finals! - Chris 

Stop in to see the Reference Dean at any SAS Advising Office if you have academic questions or problems; we're open 8:30-5 on weekdays through finals!

Set multiple alarms. I once slept through an exam. There are a lot of reasons for this, mostly that I had been cramming all night and hadn't really slept in a couple of days. When my alarm went off, I apparently just turned it off in my sleep. So set multiple alarms. Ask a friend to make sure you're up by a certain time. The more fail-safes you have, the less likely you are to miss an important exam. – Andrew

Keep calm and make sure you read every question thoroughly, at least twice, before answering. It's easy to make little mistakes. Think positive and always go with your gut's first choice! - Kerri Johnsen

And the BEST advice from your OLs: SLEEP!
SLEEP is the most important thing you need. You won't write good papers if you're counting sheep and pages at the same time – Geralyn Williams

When you don't sleep you can get sick, and when you get sick you will not be able to perform your best on exams. All-night cramming is not worth the risk! Going to bed at reasonable time before an exam will make all the difference.  - Jason

There are no benefits in being the starving, unshowered, zombie college student.   You can accomplish so much more when you give yourself some sleep and decent meals – Larissa

And finally: Don't take everyone's advice for granted, even mine; not everyone's tips work for everyone. You should think of what has and hasn't worked for you during the semester and try to incorporate that into your habits for finals. – Geralyn

Tremendous thanks to everyone who responded with such amazing good advice: Andreana Barefield, Avril Betances, Virginia Cabrera, Mariah Eppes, Jessica Fitzpatrick, Atiya Gilmore, Jade Gonzales, Lakshay Gosain, Andrew Harris, Amy-Leah Joaquim, Kerri Johnsen, Stephanie Lanza, Timyra Lister, Justin Lucero, Sara Miller, Anthony Phillips, Chris Price, Larissa Rindosh, Meagan Walker, Alexandra Wepner, Geralyn Williams, Jason Zomback

November 26, 2013

Se Habla Parents?!

In addition to being the first (and only) real break in the fall semester and the best opportunity to overeat and watch football, Thanksgiving Break is an opportunity to reconnect with close and extended family. If history serves, these family members will take every opportunity to ask some variation on the following questions as often as possible, as quickly as possible, often talking over one another:
So, how’s Rutgers? What is your major? How are your grades? Did you hear about #randomkid who has a full ride to Harvard and med school and has a 4.0 already and doesn’t even have to take his exams to get A's? You’re doing that well, too, right?
So, even though you’re taking a break from classes, you will likely find yourself talking about your first semester more than you expect (or want to). Here Dean Frosh examines the two most common questions and general advice in mustering a response: 

“What’s your major?”

There are three common situations that make this question a proverbial minefield – 1. You’re undecided, 2. You’re studying something everyone understands and has an opinion on (premed, business, law) but struggling in classes, or 3. You’re contemplating a major that no one understands but still has an opinion on (anthropology, human ecology, art history). 

First, know that you’re not alone. You have a few options in how to respond, and may choose to use different ones depending on the person asking. Ideally, you want to land somewhere between this: 
And listing your grade in every course, plus outlining your spring registration plans.

Dean Frosh, of course, does not endorse lying…but she is fine on not necessarily sharing all the details with people who aren’t your parents. After enough family events where she encountered the response, “An English major? WHAT are you going to do with that?! Teach?!” Dean Frosh began occasionally replying, “I’m thinking about law.” Mind you, she was never thinking about GOING to law school, but it seemed like a tiny white lie that made everyone’s day just a bit easier. 

If you’re undecided, first, know that it’s normal. You’ve only been in college for two months, and while you should be thinking about your options, you should not yet have made any major life decisions. Second, you’re likely not as clueless as you think. You could probably make a long list of majors that you are NOT going to study, so that leaves a smaller list of possible majors. The best ways to respond to your undecidedness are to choose a few classes in your spring schedule to try out some of your interests and to start investigating your options. Believe it or not, conversations with family may even be helpful. Take the time to ask what other people studied, what their majors were, how they chose them, and what jobs they have now. You may be surprised at what you discover – and the resources that you find. If your cousin majored in Public Health, ask him/her about that field. Play investigative journalist. At the very least if you’re asking all the questions, it takes you off the spot!
If your Plan A isn’t really working out, the above advice still applies. Feel free to mention that yes, you’re still premed, but you may also admit that the transition to college sciences has been harder than you expected. Responses may give you more ideas for resources to help you improve your performance, provide support, or even give you ideas for other options (“Cousin X was premed but now is pursuing Public Health; maybe you should look into that?”). Take some time to figure out what other people on the planet do for a living and how they got to that place. Realistically, you likely haven’t been exposed to enough options, and contrary to popular belief, many of us who are not engineers or doctors do get paid every week to do jobs that we really love. Even if you’re still devoted to your original plan, doing some investigating may help you see other options and even refocus on your original goals in a way that helps give you some energy to get through finals.

If you find your plans leading toward a less-understood major, consider how conversations over turkey might help you demonstrate that it is a valid and well-crafted decision. If others in your family or community have majored in something less common, they may present a way for family to understand what you’re doing. Consider visual aids and other information to help family understand and respect the field. Show them the Rutgers Career Services "What Can I Do with this Major?" website, share your experiences with a faculty member who may have had an impact on you. Over the years, Dean Frosh has found that parents/family really just want to be reassured that you’re going to do okay. For a major or career interest that they’ve never heard of, that means helping them understand that you can get a good, respectable job and won’t be living in their basement forever. They may not immediately embrace your Sociology major, but by sharing good information about your future and showing them that you’re actively thinking about it, you can help them get to a “wait and see” point of view.

“How are your grades?”

Great so far, they aren’t reported yet!

In all seriousness, though, there are some conversations you NEED to have, particularly with parents and particularly if you are doing badly this semester. Remember that “badly” is a relative term; for some it means failing classes, for others it means earning Cs and C+s when the expectation is higher. Dean Frosh knows that you do NOT want to have this conversation, but she also knows that these topics just get harder and harder the longer they are delayed (In fact, Dean Frosh knows this all too well – see "A Cautionary Tale"). 

By all means, wait until Thanksgiving dinner is over, but do find some time to sit down with parents or others who will be holding you accountable for your education (and in some cases their money) and rip off the proverbial band aid. Start wherever you can: “I’m not doing very well this semester.” “I’m struggling in my classes.” “Wow, Rutgers has been harder than I thought.” Be prepared to show them that you’re making a plan – but make sure it’s realistic (not reliant upon you acing the final). Discuss going to tutoring, going to office hours, getting involved with study groups – and then do it!  Define what  doing “fine” in a class means: a B, C or D? As much as it hurts, give them details. They won’t be pleased with you, but they will be proud of you, at some point if not immediately. Within a few short days, you’ll be back on campus and fully aware of their expectations. 

You are not the first (or the last or the only) student to struggle in college. Trust us on this: bad news about your academics does not make for a warm and fuzzy holiday conversation, but the stress and anxiety from hiding the truth is only going to make it harder to manage the sprint to the finish of the semester. And if you don’t tell them the truth now, it’s going to be harder during Winter Break to explain how you were doing well at Thanksgiving but your final grades are poor. Be candid, speak with them like the adult you’re becoming, and know that there are better days ahead.

November 20, 2013

Strategies for success…or what I learned from Candy Crush Saga

Hi, my name is Dean Frosh, and I’m addicted to Candy Crush Saga.
Phew, it feels better just saying it out loud! I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve been playing a lot of Candy Crush Saga (CCS) lately. I know, you’ve moved on to something new, but hear me out, because CCS actually has a lot to do with your life at Rutgers.

As I was playing the other night, desperately trying to beat a level I’ve been stuck on for weeks, I realized that my struggles with the game are a lot like the issues you face as you wrap up your first semester:

Developing a strong support system is key to your success
To advance in CCS, you need “tickets” from your FB friends, who can also send you extra moves and extra lives to get you through challenging levels. Just like the gaming world, your college experience relies on your ability to identify supporters and forge alliances. Networks of people – family, friends from home, new college friends – create a web of allies who can give you a boost when you most need it.

If you live on campus, your roommate, neighbors, and Resident Assistant are go-to people for support.  If you’re a commuter, the Off-Campus Students’ Association (OCSA) and the commuter lounges on campus can be your home-away-from-home and the foundation of your Rutgers network.  Rutgers has a vibrant community of student groups, so hopefully you’re already getting involved in something you’re passionate about to help you connect with peers with similar interests.

Help may come from surprising places
Some of the friends helping me crush candy are people I haven’t seen in years! Of course I get help from my close friends and family, but it’s nice to know that there are a lot of people out there to help me and who I help in return. In short, college is a time to broaden your network of support. Here are some ways to do so:

Ask for help from your instructor if you don’t understand the material. Visit office hours. Consider taking the lead and forming a study group to share knowledge and prep for exams. Again and again, research shows that working in groups enhances understanding of a subject!

We also hope you’re connecting with advisers. At SAS, we want you to work with a general adviser to discuss academic plans and eventually have advisers in your major and minor departments. If your plans include law or medical school, you’ll also work with a Pre-law adviser or a Health Professions Office adviser.

Remember to acknowledge your whole person when thinking about your needs and support system. Clergy from a variety of faiths are available for counseling and support.  The Deans of Students can help if you have any personal, medical, financial, or other concerns. Questioning your sexuality or sexual identity? Reach out to the staff at the Center for Social Justice or any of the LGBTQA liaisons on campus. Also keep in mind that all students have access to free counseling through Counseling and Psychological Services.

Please remember the help you get and pay it forward and help a fellow student when you can!

You may be able to get by through sheer luck, but that won’t work for long
The first few levels of CCS are easy – I just had to match candies and earn a lot of points.
But then: a dreaded time limit.
Then:  I had to crush through jelly and frosting.
Then: Chocolate covered the board and I had to crush candy before pieces disappeared.
Then: I had to create special candies through a series of moves.

You get the idea… each new challenge built on my skills from the one before it.

At first, I was able to advance by sheer luck. But now, I realize that the levels each prepared me for ever-more difficult challenges. And if I didn’t really master the skills, I struggled in the next level.

Sounds a little like Calc, huh?

This is the same premise as having to complete courses in sequence or managing cumulative exams. You need to create a strong foundation on which to build the next level. And at the next level, you need to synthesize what you’ve learned in the past. You need a solid foundation before you build the rest of the house.

With only a few more weeks in the semester, you may need to really scrutinize your foundation. If you need help building or repairing, the Rutgers Learning Centers offer free group and individual tutoring and academic coaching.

There are ways to cheat, but they’re expensive

There are tons of websites and YouTube videos on how to beat levels in CCS. Yet all of these cheats come with a literal and figurative price: I had pay for boosters, or I moved ahead when I wasn’t ready. This leads to a vicious cycle of having to keep paying or cheating, since I’m not prepared for the next level.

Looming finals create stress and stress can add desperation to decision-making. Now we all know there are various forms of cheating (buying a term paper, having someone else do your work, copying answers) that feel easy and seem to fix the immediate problem. These are questionable academic decisions and also obvious violations of the Academic Integrity Policy.

For example, if your instructor posts the PowerPoint slides and doesn’t take attendance, do you really have to attend every class? (The answer: YES! Thanks for playing!)

At some point, every college student feels pressure to take the easy way out. Doing so can short-change you and jeopardize the future of your education. Beyond the obvious problems that come from an Academic Integrity violation (failure in the course, suspension, expulsion), remember that you are building an academic foundation and a weak foundation cannot hold up the house (see above). What’s the point of spending time and money on a degree that doesn’t have any substance behind it? Your diploma is just a really expensive piece of paper if it doesn’t represent sincere investment on your part.  

If you’re feeling desperate or tempted to take a short cut, please reach out to your support system. Talk with friends, family, and professional support staff on campus. Discuss your concerns with your faculty, advisers and friends and get help if you need it. Making good decisions will help you wrap up the semester well and keep you from running out of moves before you win the game.

Now, if you excuse me, I have some candy to crush…