Bloodletting Yet No Miraculous Cures

For those who did not get the Vincent Lam allusion, just think of the title as a more collegiate way of saying "screwed". Which many of us have been and will be during every midterm and exam season. The following, which I've conveniently borrowed from a post titled "Are you this type of student?" on Biome, the UofT Life Science student forum, accurately demonstrates the academic life of a Crammer: New school semester: At the first week: At the second week: Before the mid-term test: During the mid-term test: After the mid-term test: Once know the final exam schedule: Before the final exam: 7 days before final exam: 6 days before final exam: 5 days before final exam: 4 days before final exam: 3 days before final exam: 2 days before final exam: 1 day before final exam: A night before final exam: 1 hour before final exam: During the final exam: Once walk out from the exam hall: After the final exam, during the holiday: a a I know. When I first saw this I also laughed my head off - at one point in my life at least, I've been there, from the Neurotic Keener at the beginning of a semester to the WEEEE-I-Totally-Failed*-But-Who-The-Hell-Even-Cares shadow of a soul after finishing my exams. Am I a bad student? Perhaps--but then so would the majority of students on this planet. Although it's yet to be that wonderful time of the year where caffeine consumption reaches an all time high, for me this past week has been almost equally hellish in terms of the level of stress I was experiencing. When I saw these animated images on Biome while still cramming for my tests, I laughed and then almost cried, because well, it was a pretty bad time to be reminded of my past mistakes (i.e. slacking off when I actually had time to better solidify my knowledge on the role of MHC's in cytotoxic T-cell response to endogenous peptides). Procrastination has always been my Achilles heel, and I know I'd really, honestly accomplish great things had I not fallen into its inescapable claws so many years ago (...or so I tell myself as a strategy to remain somewhat cheerful day-in, day-out). This week, however, I decided to be PRO-ACTIVE for once, and struggled to maintain that Neurotic Keener identity until at least my tests finished. To accomplish this, I even wrote little Post-It notes saying things like "It's NOT too late. DON'T give up!!!!" and stuck them on the wall next to my mirror. NOT joking. In case you were wondering--it didn't work. What did happen though, was that my brain had simply stopped taking in new information every night (errrr....morning?) after 3 am, while sending the single message that I needed my beauty sleep. No matter how hard I tried to stuff what had become senseless, useless and intangible facts into my brain, as soon as I'd move onto the next page in my notes, these previously reviewed "junk" would suddenly be forgotten. Simply put, I just didn't want to study anymore. And I thought about my swiftly disappearing dream of getting into a good science graduate school, and told myself that if worst comes to worst, there's always journalism. After my tests were over, I thought about why I was stressed to a point where I wasn't even panicking about my lack of motivation anymore. It didn't take long before I realized that this was my issue:  

burnout [burn-out]

–noun Fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity.   Many students suffer from burn-out throughout their undergrad. It mostly depends on how resilient they are, but ultimately it involves them "breaking down" in one form or another. Some get sick (from more colds to fevers to coughing to hives). Some party until they drop. Some shop until they drop. Some shed tears in their forlorn cells also known as dorm rooms. Others engage in activities that, well, I don't think I should mention here. Me? On top of becoming a depressed, goal-less shopaholic who (besides shopping) sleeps an unnaturally heavy amount of time per day, I become extremely absent-minded and begin to lose everything. Like last year, I lost my wallet along with some one hundred bucks in cash after writing an exam in December. Burning out is terrible. Once you start to feel burned out, it feels as if there's no miraculous cure (or God) to save you. I've always felt that only solution is for the source of stress to go away, which often means that you have no solution but to face it head-on and expect a quick and relatively painless death. But, remember that human beings have great potentials, especially when being pushed towards their limits, and it is possible for you to find salvation--in yourself. So I decided to look up some resources in student counseling that might help to deal with this prevalent illness. While the following are not sure-fire tips that would be your savior under such circumstances, it wouldn't hurt to give them a try if you are beyond despair (which is often the case, as witnessed by commuters sleeping on Robarts' couches at 3 in the morning) :
  1. Keep an ultimate goal in mind: take a few moments every day and do something that keeps you in touch with your goals. That might mean quickly flipping through the brochure for prospective students at a grad/professional school you want to get into, or, for something more immediate, think of what fun awaits you when you survive this war with flying colours!
  2. Stare at your transcript: that's right--print out the one for the current term, keep it beside you on your desk (somewhere visible and attention-grabbing), and stare at those "IPRs". As long as they remain IPRs, you still have the ability to change these final outcomes that, in many cases, will determine your fate in this course as well as post-graduation. This is supposed to make you feel that you still have the power to improve your marks, and that you are still in control of your own life.
  3. Avoid all sources of demotivation: if your parents tend to push you to do better academically, don't call them to panic about "not being ready" for exams. Similarly, if a friend does well in this course and is well-prepared, ignore him/her until the test is over. Overall speaking, avoid people who, as nice as they might be, would nevertheless make you feel like crap.
  4. Maintain your regular daily life pattern: eat nutritious foods (and less sugary snacks), and SLEEP, for God's sake. This depends on who you are though. Pulling an all-nighter the night before a test/exam might work for some, but it's definitely not for me, as my brain goes dead the next day and recalling information becomes impossible. For those who CAN pull this off, beware of its long-term consequences. I find that overworking your body once or twice is possibly plausible in dire circumstances, but it takes an extremely long period of time afterward for your body to recuperate, and often you sacrifice more along this process than originally intended (i.e. sleeping pattern messed up, resulting in missed classes, etc).
  5. Be realistic: don't overcommit. No matter how much you plan to accomplish in the limited amount of time you have, know your limit, and make sure that you rigidly execute these plans according to your schedule. This prevents you from having an additional source of stress: that black, lingering feeling of incompetency that overshadows every action you take and robs you of the confidence that is so necessary during the critical hours before an exam.
  6. Focus on the positive, even if it's done on purpose: great news--you are allowed to mess with your own perceptions! Focus on the things you've already done in preparation for this test/exam, and reassure yourself that hey, at least you know something! If listening to lecture recordings is a part of your study routine, try using Windows Media to change how much time has passed for the lecture to how much time still remains--counting down is always happier than counting up from 0.
  7. Avoid perfectionism: before diving into the smaller details, take a step back and look at the course as a whole. What's the purpose of each lecture? How does one topic connect to the next? Use the syllabus to create a real/mental outline and make this your "course barebone", and fill in details from thereon. Details only end up making no sense if you don't understand where it falls into place with regards to the bigger picture. Don't mindlessly memorize everything you come across. It might work in some circumstances, but you'd mostly likely end up feeling scattered and even more panicky as a result.
Just because everyone else might fit into the stereotype of that little rabbit thingie in the animations displayed above, doesn't mean that it's okay to be that type of student. Plan ahead, and practice good time-management (easier said than done). CALSS at UofT provides a series of learning skills workshops that might help you in this aspect. While like all fathers, my dad hasn't been correct about everything he's lectured me on so far, I've realized that he is right about one thing: that studying is like running a long distance race, and pacing, amongst many other factors, is critical to success. And like all daughters, I should probably listen to him more. 🙂 --Lucy a a
*Note: "Failed" here is used in a relative sense only, as a 3.7 course mark could mean "dreams come true" for one individual but "shame upon my family name" for another.

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