Transitioning from Online Learning (Part 2)
Asking for Help is a GOOD thing!
There is no doubt that pre-med courses can be challenging. The typically fast-paced schedule, amount of studying required, and difficulty of material sometimes results in gaps in your learning. Luckily, there are many resources available through UM and elsewhere that can help you bridge those gaps and improve your performance in a class! The most beneficial resource to utilize is your professor or GSI’s office hours. Not only are they an opportunity to meet with your professor in a smaller setting, but office hours are especially helpful in answering specific questions and clarifying details in lectures that you may have missed the first time. In terms of transitioning from virtual to in-person office hours, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Prepare your questions ahead of time! That way, you won’t be scrambling to remember what you wanted to ask.
- Write down the professor or GSI’s responses to your questions to reference later.
- Pay attention to the types of questions other students ask! Sometimes, students will ask questions that you didn’t even know you had! It’s also a good habit to see if you can answer other students’ questions in your head or write them down for practice at a later time.
- Use your time during office hours wisely by asking as many questions as you need (while also being conscientious of the professor and students’ time). It should be comforting to know you are walking out with a better understanding of the material than when you walked in!
If you can’t make it to office hours, email your professor to see if they are available to meet another time or ask them your questions via email! Most professors are very accommodating and willing to answer your questions. Piazza is another tool some classes offer that can give you answers directly from the professor or GSI. On Piazza, you can ask questions anonymously as well as read other students’ questions and the professors’ answers. Checking on this website daily can help keep you up-to-date on your understanding of the material.
In addition to office hours, the Science Learning Center (SLC) offers study groups for many STEM classes. Study groups are led by students who have succeeded in the course and are able to explain concepts and material in a more casual setting. They help reinforce lecture material through application questions and problem-solving with other students in the class. Study groups take place for 2 hours/week and are great collaborative supplements to your studying. The SLC also offers one-to-one tutoring for select classes, usually on an appointment basis.
Time is of the essence.
Now that in-person classes and activities are returning, it may be a bit overwhelming at first to readjust to the stressors of managing time. With online classes, you could squeeze as much as you want into a matter of a few hours because, conveniently, your laptop was your transportation. That is no longer the case, as most of us will be walking through campus to get to the places we need to be, which is great in its own right. No more do we have to sit for 8 hours a day staring at a screen; we now have a reason to go outside and get some fresh air each day, which is a pretty subtle joy that we tend to take for granted.
Onto more technical terms, balancing classes and extracurricular activities as a pre-med student can be quite overwhelming and often mentally taxing. It’s stressful!–and that is 100% okay to admit. However, the way in which you manage your time can be the key to greatly reducing these stress levels. Namely, create a schedule that fits your daily routine, or namely, when you are most productive. If you’re a morning person, knock your work out in the morning; if you’re a night owl, do it at night; and so on. There is no perfect way to manage time, but if you can designate a few hours each day to be extremely productive, it can make things much easier. Moreover, space out your studying! It is cognitively proven to enhance long-term retention of knowledge. Although cramming has been shown to be sufficient in getting you a good grade, spacing is certainly less stressful in that it makes you feel more confident and saves you time in the long-run when you have to return to these concepts for the MCAT. In a more general sense, balance your studying between courses so that you don’t experience burnout. The fresher a topic is, the more receptive you will be to learning it as opposed to feeling that it is a drag, so do not study a certain subject for more than maybe an hour at a time. Lastly, to combine this with extracurriculars, make sure that you do not overload yourself.
As pre-meds, we all understand the competitive nature of the application process, but this does not mean we need to drown ourselves. First, overloading yourself is absolutely no fun at all. Of course, we all have the goal of getting into med school, but we also only have one undergraduate experience. Med school should not be the doom and gloom that constantly forces us to miss out on what should be an enjoyable experience. Second, more does not always mean better. If you try to subscribe to too many extracurriculars and too much volunteering, this can surely be overwhelming during your application and especially the interview process. Choosing just a few extracurriculars that you are very passionate about and committing to them highlights your character traits rather than engaging in a bunch of activities but not being able to articulate why you participated in them or what you got out of them. Overall, time management for pre-med requirements and activities is necessary but, as will be further addressed in the following section, should be balanced with aspects of enjoyment and self-care.
Self-care is crucial to success!
As we transition back to in-person learning, you might be feeling more fatigued with your college schedule. You might not be able to find the time to just relax and take a breather. College can already be a stressful time but being a pre-med just adds more pressure. To get through these next couple of years, you need to find time for self-care. We can’t be our best selves if we aren’t giving ourselves time to relax.
First of all, we need sleep! With classes, volunteering, research, and extracurriculars, we need as much energy as possible to get through each day. By getting our 8 hours, we can feel recharged and ready to tackle the busy days. As we all learned in psychology class, sleep is the optimal time window for memory consolidation. Sufficient sleep (about 7-8 hours) enables better learning, thinking, and memory. Staying up all night to study for an exam may be counterintuitive as you might not even properly learn the information for the exam and the lack of sleep will impair your performance when actually taking the exam. Lack of sleep can also influence mood and emotional reactivity, which may negatively impact our mental health. In other words, always prioritize sleep!
One popular self-care activity is exercise! Whether that be lifting weights at the gym, going for a walk, or doing yoga, exercise is an awesome way to release stress and tension. Exercise has been known to improve mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood. So, spending some time each week on exercise might be a great way to take care of ourselves.
While binging Netflix shows and movies is a great way to relax and take our minds off of everything, we should take some time away from our screens. Extended hours of screen time have been associated with lower psychological well-being and less emotional stability. You can use this time to catch up on reading some novels of your favorite genre, hang out with some friends, or take a nice nap. Technology can be addicting, but you will see a noticeable difference in your day-to-day life by getting away from the screens. Maybe even do a no-tech day if you’re up for the challenge!
Another activity for self-care is reflection! We want to be the best versions of ourselves, but we can’t do so if we aren’t examining what is going well and what needs to change. What I find helpful is taking some time each week to reflect on the past week. You can write, type, or just think. Think about what you thought went well last week, like if you thought that the studying techniques you used this week worked, then keep using them. Then, look back and think about the negatives. If you felt overwhelmed with your class/extracurricular balance, think about what you could do to alleviate the stress. Taking some time to reflect will allow us to cultivate the pre-med lifestyle that is perfect for ourselves, which will help in reducing the pressure that we feel.
As pre-meds, we all feel the stress and the pressure that comes from this path. So, we need to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves. Becoming a physician is a long road and if we don’t focus on ourselves now, then we will burn out before we even get there. It may seem like you have to get 4 hours of sleep, study all day, join every single club, and take no breaks to be a competitive applicant, but you don’t. So, take that nap when you are feeling exhausted from looking at cyclohexanes all day. In a couple of years, you’ll look back and be grateful that you did.
No matter what stage you are in your college career, we hope these tips can be useful for you! Being pre-med is a long haul, so building good habits now will continue to help you in the future!