Balancing School and Family, Parenting, Student Life

Just keep swimming…

You know that one movie your child was into between 18 months and five? In our family it was Finding Nemo and we easily could have set it up on a loop on the DVD player to save time and effort.  After the 352nd time you’ve watched/heard it, the morality of the story starts to lose its message.  Even so I find myself identifying with the sidekick, Dory, with her short-term memory loss and motto to “Just Keep Swimming.”  Dory has been an inspiring character who represents my academic plan for each semester.

For those of you that are starting your first year as a student parent, university can seem intimidating. I got the impression that every professor assumed I was only taking their class, judging from the amount of homework they each assigned. Now in my third year, here is my upper year (undergrad) knowledge that I can offer:

  1. The main thing is to stay on top of homework each week.  If your professor tells you to read before the class, make sure it’s done.  The one week that you didn’t do the reading is when you’ll be asked to summarize it during the tutorial. Drag your textbook (or tablet) with you and read while at the laundry mat or on the bus.  As parents we don’t have the luxury of waiting until tomorrow to do something.  Children are ticking time-bombs where any number of unforeseen events can happen.  From flus to schoolyard mishaps, we never know what to expect.

    CC Image “Laundry and homework...finally.” courtesy of Patricia H. on Flickr

    CC Image “Laundry and homework…finally.” courtesy of Patricia H. on Flickr

  2. Visit the TA and/or professor during office hours.  Some of the best “lectures” I’ve ever received were sitting on the other side of a desk.  I haven’t met a TA or a professor yet who was too busy to discuss a theory or equation during their office hours.  Go now and get ideas for that paper before it’s due.  If you can’t stop by ask after class or during the breaks, send an email.  Communication is key.  If you’re not getting concepts now, they’ll just get more complicated as the semester progresses. Those finals will be here before you know it.
  3. Discuss what you’ve learned at lectures after class.  Either talk a classmate’s ear off on the way to the bus or bore your significant other while drying dishes.  I try to talk about each class so I can get the ideas rolling around in my head.  Sometimes my partner asks me questions that I relay in class and turns out they were valid. Bonus:  I look semi-smart and engaged.
  4. Know when you’re done for the day.  It would be nice to cram and read everything in one night but there is a difference between actively understanding the content while you’re reading and simply reading words to get through it.  If you find yourself reading the same paragraph over and over again, go take a break.  Your mind has stopped absorbing information; you are just going through the motions.  Stop, study something else, grab a cup of tea, or go to bed if it’s late.  You have to know your limit. For me, there is only so much I can take in at one time, my brain goes on strike around 11 pm and anything more is pointless.
  5. Experiment with different study times.  I found out that I like studying in the morning and afternoon the best.  A friend of mine wakes up at 5 am (AM!) to study before the kids get up.  That’s her golden study time and she feels prepared for the day.  Other friends don’t start until after 8 pm and are fine studying after midnight. Find out what works for you and schedule it into your week, until it becomes a habit.

This week was a success for me. In between doctor appointments and two kids staying home sick from school, I still managed to get all my readings done and take a French pop quiz.  I just kept swimming every day and pretty soon I was doing laps around the academic pool.  Maybe not at an Olympian’s level but I’m not drowning either.