Group Work: The Agonies – and the Possibilities

You’ve started dreading Biology. Your lab partner is nice enough, but she doesn’t do much. You have to ask her to help with the task itself, and she texts her boyfriend while you prepare the lab report. You try to get her to contribute, but she always says, “I don’t know” and copies whatever you write.

Then there’s Business Management. In groups of four, you’re working on your final project: a plan for a new business. The assignment constitutes 30% of your grade, so you want to do a good job. You’re also excited about applying the concepts you’ve been studying in class. But one guy has already appointed himself CEO of your fledgling corporation. He’s not interested in your ideas; in fact, he doesn’t let anyone do very much. This is just fine with one member of your group who is delighted to be off the hook. But two of you are getting frustrated: it’s your education, too!

If you’re a student, you know the perils of group work. Since kindergarten, you’ve also heard teachers rave about the importance of working with others.
Like it or not, collaboration is part of the academic and professional world. After graduation, you will have to contend with other people – even if you work from home, run your own business, or pursue a freelance career. Often, your colleagues will be warm, supportive, and inspiring. Sometimes, you will find yourself with a lazy, stubborn, or overbearing co-worker. You’ll have to contend with these situations without clenching your teeth, compromising your health, or leaving your position.

Here are some tips to make group projects less stressful:

1.) Set Boundaries: Before you get started, delegate tasks. Determine who is responsible for each part of a project and set deadlines. This can be casual: “I’ll answer questions one and three if you do two and four.” With larger projects, you may want to establish more formal requirements: “Rick will write the Procedures section, Liana the Analysis, and Chelsea the Recommendations. We’ll meet to discuss our drafts a week before the paper is due.” Get these arrangements in writing – or save e-mail correspondence about them – so that there is no confusion about responsibilities.

2.) Be the Teammate You Want. Don’t be lazy, don’t be disparaging, and don’t take over. It’s normal to be frustrated when the material is difficult or when your partners’ standards are different than yours. If you’re struggling with the project, get help – from your professor, classmates, or the Academic Support Center. If you find yourself with well-intentioned, but less skilled group members, help them succeed. For example, if your partner is not a strong writer, you might proofread his work and tactfully make suggestions. You might also refer him to the Writing Clinic. When he does something well, tell him so.

3.) Document Everything. Keep track of who attends meetings and contributes to the project. If a teammate isn’t pulling his or her own weight, you will be able to bring specific grievances to the professor. Use this option as a last resort: only approach your instructor after you have talked with your group member. If you must complain about a classmate, be professional. Don’t tattle or rant. Instead, express your concerns in a well-written e-mail, and attach any documentation you have.

4.) Put Your Project in Perspective. Sometimes, this means writing the lab report yourself if you want a good grade in the course. At other times, you’ll have to shrug off your lackluster discussion group. Weigh each assignment to determine how much time you want to spend nurturing group dynamics.

Regard difficult group work as you would any other obstacle: a chance to prove to yourself and your professors that you have the maturity and determination to overcome a challenge. Take a deep breath, and tell yourself that you’re developing skills you’ll use the rest of your life.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Procrastination Station: How to Leave the Station and Get to Your Destination

We all procrastinate. With an endless mess of papers to write and exams to study for it can be especially difficult to get going. But it isn’t impossible. Here are a few tips to get your brain train back on track and out of the station.

1.) Make a done list of everything that you need to do. Write down everything you have to do whether you need to do laundry or write a paper for your English class. Write it all down. Now, you may be asking, “isn’t it supposed to be a to do list?” Let me explain. Anyone can write a to do list, but making a done list gives your list purpose and implies that, by the end of the day, some of the things on your list will be done.

2.) Now that you have your list, cross items off of it. Find an item or two on your list that isn’t urgent and cross it right out. I find that every time I make a done list, I write down every single thing that is on my mind. I even write down things that I don’t need to do right away that can be saved for later. When I cross those items off, my list becomes more manageable, and I have more time to work on the projects that actually matter.

3.) Start easy. Work on one of the less menacing tasks on your list first. By starting in on your work, even if it is only on the simpler assignments, you are making progress. Before you know it, you will be through a few items on your list and will be that much closer to relaxation.

4.) Take a break. Did you write your eight-page paper? Did you clean your room? Did you finish one of the bigger projects that you had on your list? If you have, reward yourself with a few minutes of break time. Get up and stretch, have a snack, or go for a short walk. Just be sure to set a timer for when you need to get back to work (and stick to it!).

Finally, keep in mind that not everything can be done in one day. Maybe you’ve tackled half of your list and need to save the rest for tomorrow. That’s okay. After all, the whole point of this process was only to get started, right? If you’re already on your way to completing your list, you’re on time (perhaps even ahead of schedule) and will be at your destination before you know it!

Good luck!

-Sarah Dunbar

Sarah Dunbar is a senior majoring in Multidisciplinary Studies at Castleton University

Testing: One, Two, Three, Breathe

Ever since you can remember, you knew you wanted to be a teacher. You simply can’t envision yourself in any other career. But before you can start teaching, you have to pass PRAXIS I and II, and you hate standardized tests. Although you were a strong student in high school, your SAT scores were on the lower end of mediocre. You just don’t test well: you freeze and forget everything you know about grammar and geometry. People keep telling you not to worry, but so much depends on this test: your career, your livelihood, and your happiness.

Like it or not, standardized tests are a fact of American life. To enter graduate school or certain professions, you may have to take one: the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, PRAXIS, or a licensing exam. Many students find these timed exams intimidating. They dislike working under pressure, and they believe their entire future hangs upon their performance on the test.

Fortunately, you can improve your performance on standardized tests – even if you suffer from test anxiety. Follow this formula for success and peace of mind:

1.) Start Early. By early, we mean weeks, even months, in advance. The sooner you begin studying, the more prepared and more confident you’ll be on test day. This might mean scheduling your test months in advance. (Usually, you can do this online.)

2.) Practice, Practice, Practice. No, practice doesn’t always make a perfect score, but it can help you achieve a higher one. Take an up-to-date practice test long before your testing date. (You should be able to find one at Academic Support, Career Services, the library, your academic department, or on the test’s website.) Find a quiet place to work, and give yourself the same amount of time you would have on test day. Afterward, when you score your practice test, you’ll have a better idea of the concepts and skills you’ll need to review before the real exam.

3.) Focus Your Study Sessions. Concentrate on the content that’s most challenging to you. For example, if writing is your strong suit, you may not need to review grammar and vocabulary before you take the GRE or PRAXIS. However, if you’ve forgotten all the algebra you’ve ever learned, you might want to spend some time brushing up on it before the test.

4.) Get Help. Don’t suffer in silence. If you are having trouble preparing for a test, stop by Academic Support in Babcock. Whether you need help with math, want to practice writing timed essays, or simply get some study tips, we can help. Your professors may also be able to give you test-specific advice.

5.) Take Care of Yourself. That means pacing yourself in study sessions, getting enough sleep the night before the exam, and eating balanced meals on test day. If you’re sleep deprived or your blood sugar is low, you won’t do your best work.

6.) Take a Deep Breath. Yes, the test looms large, and yes, you want to do as well as possible. But the worst case scenario isn’t the end of your dreams: if you don’t do as well as you’d like on the test, you can take it again. Graduate schools only pay attention to your highest score.

7.) Reward Yourself. Give yourself something to look forward to after the test: a nice lunch, a favorite movie, an outing with a friend or family member. You’ve worked hard to get where you are, and you deserve a treat. This strategy can also help reduce anxiety about the test as it reminds you that life goes on – even after the dreaded exam!

Although you may not enjoy standardized tests, following these steps can make them much less daunting. The same skills that help you succeed in the classroom – time management, planning, self-care – can also boost your scores. The test looming in your future is just one step on the path to the life you want.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Dealing with Distractions

tech_distraction

You’re ready to write a short paper for your English class. It’s only a two-page response to a novel you’ve been reading, so it shouldn’t take long. You sit down with your laptop. Before you start typing, you decide to check Facebook quickly. You comment on a friend’s post. Then you see that another friend has posted a funny cat video. You click on it, of course. You Tube recommends more cat videos; you watch two more before you start typing your essay.

Three hours, ten texts, three e-mails, and one conversation with your roommate later, you finish the essay and hit save. You don’t have time to proofread: you have history class, dinner, and a pickleball meeting ahead of you. Then, after pickleball, you need to study for that big biology test tomorrow.

You spent three hours doing what you could have done in an hour or less. And you didn’t even do it very well.

Sound familiar? Modern life is filled with distractions — and not just for students. Parents, faculty, and staff find their heads spinning between various screens and obligations. But to be productive, all of us have to put down our devices, prioritize our workload, and focus on the task at hand.

No one is saying you have to give up social media, texting, extracurricular activities, or your social life. We also know that some students have jobs and family responsibilities. However, if you’re a full-time student, college is your full-time position. As with any job, you should arrange your life around your studies, not your studies around your life.

Here are some tips to keep you grounded and focused as you navigate college life.

1.) Find Your Place. You need a space where you can concentrate on your work with a minimum of distractions. This may not be your dorm room or apartment! Consider studying in the library or Academic Support Center. When you really need to focus, check out the study carrels on the library’s second floor. You can get a key to one at the library’s circulation desk.

2.) Turn It Off! Turn off your music, phone, TV, and other devices while you study. If you’re working on a computer or tablet, resist the urge to keep multiple windows open. Tell yourself you’ll look at Instagram after you finish the paper. Some students insist they need background noise in order to concentrate. If this sounds like you, try listening to soft music during study sessions. However, don’t try to combine socializing, web surfing, or television with academics. They don’t mix.

3.) Schedule It. Fill out a Weekly Schedule. In addition to your classes, work, practices, and other commitments, make sure you block off time to study. Dedicate a few hours to studying most days of the week. For example, if you know that you’ll be working on assignments from 2-5 every Thursday, you’ll be able to reserve the evening for food, fun, and sleep.

4.) Remember Why You’re Here. You chose to attend college because you had a dream: you wanted to become an expert in something or prepare for a particular career. Everything else is secondary, including extracurricular activities, entertainment, and your social life. Remind yourself of your goals whenever any distraction tempts you.

5.) Focus on Fun. Heard about work-life balance? It’s hard to achieve when your work and study times blend. Imagine if you didn’t have to do your chemistry homework and catch up with friends simultaneously. You’d do a better job on the assignment – and you could relax and enjoy your friends’ company.

Imagine seeing your grades improve and having more time for yourself. Imagine being less stressed about your classes and doing better work than ever. Eliminating distractions and focusing on your studies can help you become more effective in all areas of your life. Here’s the best part of it: you don’t need to buy anything to achieve this balance. You have all the tools you need to become the best student you can be.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Exams, Holidays, Then What?

christmasgrumpy-cat

In a few days, it will all be over. You’ll finish your finals, turn in any last papers, and go home. We hope you’ve had a good semester and wish you a relaxing break. You deserve it!

We also hope you reflect a bit on the semester and think about the one ahead. Just as the New Year allows you to make a fresh start, a new semester gives you a clean slate. No matter what happened this fall – a bad grade, poor decisions, a failed class, a list of failures – you can overcome it. Really!

First, consider this semester’s successes. Maybe you overcame what you thought was incurable shyness or conquered your fear of public speaking. Perhaps you discovered a love for ceramics, sociology, or chemistry. In any case, you learned something about your strengths and interests.

Second, you need to identify what you did wrong. No, you don’t need to beat yourself up. Just acknowledge your mistakes calmly as though you were talking about someone else’s life. For example, say, “I procrastinated about my math homework, so it became more difficult that it should have been” or “I let breaking up with my boyfriend distract me from my studies.”

Next, think about what you gained from the experience. Maybe you learned something about time management or study skills. You may have discovered something about yourself and your interests: perhaps accounting is not the right major or career for you. Use this insight to move forward even if you’re not quite sure of your path.

Finally, realize you’re not alone. Many of your peers and professors have had low periods – and recovered from them. All of us have struggled – academically, personally, or professionally. Successful people aren’t the ones who’ve never stumbled; they’re the ones who’ve continued on anyway.

Happy Holidays and Happy Break! We’re already looking forward to seeing you next year.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

Dodging Distractions

It’s a typical evening at college. You are armed with your textbook, laptop, notes, and your churning brain to write a report for your science class. Your fingers hover over the keyboard as you try to force your brain to form words to type. Nothing is coming to your mind, and you are frustrated. It feels like you are trying to decipher the English language to be able to use it.

Frustrated, you reach for your phone or open another tab on your laptop to check on your social media. You text your friends, you tweet about how hard it is to write this science report, you look up a question that randomly flew into your head, and you end up reading an article about cats and how they have complete control over you. Suddenly, you realize an hour has passed, and you haven’t even tried to go back to type your report.

Sounds familiar, right? Okay, maybe it wasn’t a cat article, but you get my point: we all get distracted! In our everyday modern life, we are surrounded by so many distractions that it can be hard to focus on our daily tasks. You are not alone! Your fellow students, professors, and even your parents have to battle distractions to get their work done every single day.

It is our job to train ourselves with healthier habits that can help us stay on task and finish what our homework. That being said, it does not mean you cannot have a social life or a paid job. However, as a full-time student, you have a full-time job to complete and balance your studies and work. You need to arrange your life around your classes, not the other way around.

Here are some helpful tips to maintain a less stressful and distraction-free semester:

  1. Find Your Niche. Have a place that is designated as your study area. If you repeatedly use the same area over a long period of time, it is easier for the brain to seamlessly go into homework or study mode. This can be anywhere that works for you! If you need extra quiet time, you can always go to the circulation desk in the library and ask for a key to one of the study carrels on the second floor.
  2. Turn It Off. Simply turn off your electronics so that if a notification sounds or lights up your screen, there will not be a need to check your phone. Some people need background music to study. Perhaps that’s you! If so, put on some light, instrumental music, and let your creative juices flow!
  3. Plan It. Set aside a block of time for your studies. In that way, you will go to your study place and have time saved for that use only just as you would for a class.
  4. Do Intervals. Research shows that if you study or work for 20-25 minutes on a paper and then take 5-10 minute break, you will think more quickly and complete assignments faster. The study interval gives the brain time to focus and relax.
  5. Balance. Have time for your studies and for your social life. It is hard, if not impossible, to juggle both at the same time and play catch up on one or both. Balancing allows you to relax and enjoy your friends’ company and have a better quality of work. Schedule time for your studying and homework and then make time for your social life. To make this more effective for you, start papers sooner and spend an hour each day working on that paper. The result will be less stress and more time to spend with friends.

Imagine your grades improving, having a social life, and stressing less about your classes. Sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it? By eliminating distractions and promoting healthier habits of studying, you become more effective in different areas of life, especially when you graduate from college and move onto your career. The best part is that the tool that you need to accomplish distraction-free studying is you. You are your own key to success.

-Sierra Fales

Sierra Fales is a senior English major at Castleton University.

Procrastination: Know It, Beat It, Use It

stressedstudentYou knew about the paper for your history class two weeks before the deadline, but you didn’t start it until the night before it was due. There was really no way you could have begun earlier – not with the labs for your science class, your big stats test, and all the reading you’ve had to do lately. Sure, things got a little rushed: doing all your research online at 11pm wasn’t ideal. And maybe you didn’t proofread as carefully as you might have. But you got a B- on the essay; that proves you work well under pressure, right?

Many college students admit they procrastinate. Some wish they could conquer this tendency; others don’t perceive it as a problem. However, putting off assignments and study sessions can make you more anxious and less effective. If you’re rushed, you won’t work as carefully, and you will make more mistakes. Had you put more time into that history paper, that B- could have become a B, B+, even an A.

So if procrastinating is such a bad idea, why do so many students – and professionals – do it? Think about why you saved the green beans or mushrooms for last when you were a kid. Part of you hoped they would go away or at least become tastier by the end of the meal. But you finished the rest of your dinner, and there they were: colder and more unappetizing than ever.

By saving them for last, you didn’t make them disappear. You made them worse.

No matter how much you want to change, altering your habits can be hard. Here are some tips to help you overcome your procrastinating tendencies:

  • Talk yourself through it. Every time you’re tempted to delay an assignment, tell yourself that putting it off will only make it more difficult – and make you more stressed.
  • If you need help, get it. It’s tempting to put aside what we find difficult. If you’re struggling with an assignment or course material, meet with your professor, join a study group, or use the tutoring services at Academic Support.
  • Break it up! Too many students try to complete essays and projects in one sitting. The next time you receive a large assignment, try dividing it into multiple smaller tasks. For example, if you write an essay, you might brainstorm and create an outline one day, compose a rough draft the next, and revise your paper the day after that.
  • Celebrate each success. Change is difficult. Everyone who’s overcome a weakness knows that. (And that includes all of us!) Accept you will slip up occasionally, and reward yourself when you succeed. Indulge in a cupcake, meet up with a friend, or relax with a favorite book or movie.

As you change your approach to your academic work, you’ll find yourself replacing your procrastinating habit with a planning one. And as you become better at organizing your assignments, you’ll find yourself with less stress – and more time for the things you enjoy!

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Stick to It: Time Management Tips from a Busy Single Mom and Full-time Student

Do you ever find yourself thinking, “Ugh, I wish there were just one more hour in a day, or just one more day in a week?”

Being a single mom, working full time, AND going to school, I used to say this to myself at least once a day. One day, I woke up and thought, “It’s about time I make a change.”

I decided to head online and look up ways to better manage my time.

Three tips helped me manage my time and make sure I was able to get everything done that I needed to in a day. (And being a mom, I will admit this was not an easy task.)

First, Get a Planner! Yes, boys, I know you don’t particularly like using planners while many girls love to color coordinate and make their planners nice and pretty. But I will say this makes a world of a difference. Any time I have an assignment due, doctor’s appointment to attend, or play date to hold, it always goes in the planner.

Second, Make A Schedule. Make a schedule for the semester. In Excel, on paper, in your planner, whichever is easier. But make a schedule. Set aside designated time for homework, eating, working out, or napping.

Third, Stick to the Schedule. At first, I didn’t. I did all that work for nothing. But once the schedule becomes a habit, I can assure you that you will get the most out of your days and even have time left over to watch some Netflix.

With these simple, but effective tips, you should be on your way to better time management!

Allyson Bradley is a senior majoring in multidisciplinary studies at Castleton University. A self-employed nail technician, she has a two-year-old son, Hayden. 

How to Be a Study Smartypants

You just got done with your 9am, don’t have class again for another hour, and all that is on your mind is food. Huden here you come for breakfast. By the time you’re done eating, you only have another 20 minutes until class, which is all the way in Leavenworth, so you think, eh, I will just hang here until class.

Well, now it is 11:50, and your next class is at 2pm.  You need a nap, your bed, and maybe some Netflix. They all sound real good right now.  So, of course, that is what you do for the next few hours.

After your 2:00-3:50 class, you’ll go straight to the library.

It is now 4, and you have 100 texts from your roommate asking you to go to Rutland with her real quick. In your head, you’re like OMG yes, then wait, library. Then you decide okay, I will to go to the library right when I get back.

After Rutland, you need some dinner, so meal exchange at Fireside sounds good for the night. But it is now 7pm.

Your night ends with you going back to your room because it is so late, and getting just a little work done in bed. Then, of course, Netflix and social media will take over once again.

Sound all too familiar? Here are some tips to get things done.

1.) Make a Schedule: At the beginning of each day, make a schedule of your whole day, hour by hour. This will give you a plan to follow so you won’t need to make a last-minute decision you’ll regret later.

2.) Bring Everything: Bringing everything you need to work on or study allows you to be productive during those 20 extra minutes you hang out in Huden. Tell yourself what you are realistically going to get done in the time you have, even if it is something small.

 3.) Eat and Study: Go grab breakfast, lunch, or dinner in Fireside or the Coffee Cottage and bring it to the library. Work and eat at the same time. After your 9am, you’ll have almost an hour to get work done or study.

 4.) Say NO: It is okay to say no to your roommate and Rutland. You had a plan and you ignored it. And definitely regretted it.

Once you make your plan, follow it. You always have the right intentions; just make sure your actions reflect them.

-Alyson Tully

Alyson Tully is a senior multidisciplinary studies major at Castleton University.

New Year, New Semester, New Beginning

Well, 2018 is a couple weeks old, but the semester is brand new. It’s the perfect time to shed bad study habits and develop some good ones. Regardless of what high school or last semester or last year was like, you can always start afresh.

As Spring 2018begins, here are some resolutions to consider. Pick two or three to work on this semester:

_ I will keep using – or resume – the tactics that have helped me succeed in the past.

_ I will try to kick my procrastination habit. I will not put off assignments or test preparation until the last minute; I will break down projects into manageable chunks and work on them a little at a time.

_ I will limit distractions while I study. I will find a quiet spot where I can focus on my work and turn off my phone, internet browser, and TV during study sessions.

_ If I need help, I will get it. That might mean visiting the Academic Support Center, meeting with my professor, or joining a study group.

_ I will put academics first – even if that means putting my social life and extracurricular activities on the back burner.

_I will complete a Weekly Schedule and set aside time to study.

_I will prioritize my financial health. If I have questions about my bill or need help creating a budget, I will schedule an appointment with Academic Support. I’ll get serious about saving money on food, clothing, housing, transportation, and entertainment.

_I will take care of myself physically and mentally. I’ll eat fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly, and stick to a sleep schedule. If I get overwhelmed, I’ll talk with a close friend or family member or meet with a counselor at the Wellness Center. I’ll take time to relax and do the things I enjoy.

_I will [insert your own resolution here].

Need help getting started or have questions about how we can assist you? Please call us at 802-468-1347, e-mail us, or stop by our office on the first floor of Babcock. We look forward to seeing you.

-Dorothy A. Dahm