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 junior English major at Castleton University.

Sports and School: Finding the Perfect Balance

Before the school year began, you were more than excited for a new year and a new team.  It felt so good to say you were a collegiate student athlete—the best of both worlds.  But then….reality kicked in: an exam on Monday, a team meeting Tuesday, two ten page papers due by Wednesday, an away game on Thursday and community service on Friday?!…and, of course, the infamous question: “Do I even get to eat today?!”

Don’t worry—it’s NOT impossible. Take it from someone with a cumulative GPA of 3.9 and four years of varsity experience.  Since freshman year, I have had over fifteen professors and have experienced both the soccer and track and field teams.  Check out these strategies I have developed to keep my stress under control: 

 

  1. Organize. The first step of managing your time is organizing your time. When I say organize, I don’t just mean color coordinating notebooks and planners.  Have a calendar on which you write sport AND school events.  Make “to-do” lists and determine which items are the most important—complete these first. 

 

  1. Plan ahead. Classes and practices are bound to interfere with one another.  Before this happens, carefully look over your comprehensive schedule.  When you come across a conflict, be proactive.  Immediately inform your coach and professors, and let them know what your situation is.  All parties will respond more graciously if you inform them well in advance—that’s a guarantee!

 

  1. Communicate. You are not the first student-athlete to struggle with time management.  Coaches and professors have taught many just like you, so don’t be afraid to reach out to them.  Not only is this suggested, it’s completely necessary! No one can read your mind, so you need to advocate for yourself.  Let someone know if things seem to be getting out of hand.  Coaches and professors are not only here to teach; they are here to help.  Let them. 

 

  1. Make time for yourself. This is much easier said than done.  However, it’s the most important.  If you don’t take care of your body, you will underperform in school and sports.  Taking care of your body doesn’t only pertain to diet and exercise, but also sleep habits, stress control, and mental health.  Bad habits are easily formed and their negative consequences are unavoidable.  If you aren’t sure how to be healthy in all the aforementioned aspects, talk to a captain or coach, or stop by the Wellness Center. 

If you have practiced all of these strategies, and you still feel overwhelmed, take a moment to consider your options.  Ask yourself why you are playing the sport in the first place.  Playing a collegiate sport is a lot of people’s dreams, but the reality is that it’s not for everybody.  Make sure you are playing for yourself and not for anyone else.  Play for the right reasons, and don’t settle for anything that makes you less than happy. 

Finally, sit back and enjoy the ride.  These years fly by, and it’s important you enjoy each one of them.  Please, always remember, you are never alone in this crazy college world.

-Christiana R. Carmichael

Christiana Carmichael is a senior Education Major and four-year collegiate athlete.  

 

What I Wish I Knew as a Freshman

College is a time of big changes in your life, and those changes can be both pleasant and absolutely miserable. For me, they were miserable.

I went to a small high school in Vermont, where I was the captain of the football and lacrosse teams and just an overall popular guy within the school and the community. Life was good for me; I had as many great friends as I could possibly ask for, and I was content with where I was.

When I rolled into college my freshmen year, I tried to be optimistic – for about a week – but not long after that, I started getting feelings of regret and loneliness.  Castleton was the absolute last place that I wanted to be. It was hard for me to leave my life, my family, and, more importantly, my best friends, who I had been with my whole life.  I spent that whole first year miserable and depressed. I went home every single weekend, trying my hardest not to leave my past life behind me.

Life since has gotten much better, all because of a few simple changes. These tips certainly will not be universally helpful, but if I can help even one person get through some hard times, I will feel better about my tough start.  

So that said, here are some things I wish I knew as a freshman:

You are not too cool to participate: This was a big one for me. I roomed with a friend from high school, so when the time came to participate in orientation events or activities put on by community advisors, I turned up my nose at the idea and refused to get out and do some events. I chose to just be with the person I knew best at school. I missed out on opportunities to meet new people and make friends by not participating in campus events.

Realize that college IS a new chapter in your life: As painful as it may be, high school is over, and you’ll be better off not trying to avoid that fact. Keep your great memories and hold them close, but it is time to go out and make some new ones!

Talk to someone: Alright… to be honest, I heard this from professors all the time especially in first-year-seminar, and I neglected to listen. Don’t be like me. Talk to someone. Whether it’s a friend, or a roommate, a professor, a CA, or even someone in the Wellness Center, I promise it will feel better if someone knows how you are feeling.

Make campus your home: Going home on the weekends is great. I still do it from time to time. But for me, each time I go home, it makes it harder for me to want to come back. So try to make your dorm as comfortable and as homelike as possible, and stay on campus on weekends. It is hard to get a college dorm to replace the place where you grew up, but the more at home you can feel at school, the better.

Evaluate your options: All colleges are different, college isn’t for everyone, and that is perfectly fine. Evaluate if Castleton is the place for you, and if it isn’t, try something new.

This is by no means a one-size-fits-all solution to a happy freshmen year. But if I had done these things, my first year here could have been much better.  

Take a deep breath, and just know that everything will be okay.

-Isaac Ryea

Isaac is a senior multidisciplinary studies major with a concentration in special education. In his spare time, he volunteers for Special Olympics.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Like Your Class or Your Teacher? Here’s How to Succeed Anyway

Chemistry’s boring. I don’t like my instructor’s teaching style. I hate English. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. That class has nothing to do with my major or what I want to do with my life.

At Academic Support, we hear it all the time.

I won’t use this post to tell you why you should embrace Chemistry or English. I won’t defend your instructor. I won’t explain why a particular class will help you become a well-rounded person or succeed in your career. However, I will make a concession: your complaints may be legitimate.

But you’re not off the hook. First, if you’re old enough to be in college, you’re an adult – and thus responsible for your own learning. Second, when future employers and grad schools look at your transcript, there won’t be a column that explains your grades:

Ancient History C- (But her instructor was boring.)
English Composition D+ (But he never liked writing.)

There are no “buts” on transcripts. Your grade is your grade.

That said, you can keep yourself motivated even when you find yourself with a class or professor you don’t enjoy:

1.) Get Help When You Need It. Many people dislike math, writing, or other subjects they find challenging. If you’re struggling with a particular class, meet with your professor, form a study group, or visit the Academic Support Center for tutoring and other support. And don’t be afraid to ask questions: if your instructor’s assignments or notes confuse you, ask for clarification.

2.) Remember the Real World. In your future career, you will encounter difficult people, stressful times, and challenging situations. Even your dream job will have dull or unpleasant elements. Right now, college is your full-time position, so accept that you won’t love every class or instructor.

3.) Find Your Interest. Get excited about something in every course. Try applying something you learn in science to the world around you; consider history in light of current events. Maybe a character or text in a literature class reminds you of a person, event, or theme in your life. If nothing else, regard each class as a challenge. Tell yourself, “Yes, this isn’t my thing, but I want to prove that I can earn a good grade.”

4.) Keep Your Eyes on the Prize. Yes, it’s a cliché, but sometimes it’s the only mantra that works. If you’re in college, your goals are a degree and a career. Recognize that difficult class or professor as a small, but vital step on your journey to the life you want.

So as the British say, just get on with it. One day, your effort will be worth it.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Procrastination: Don’t Put Off Reading this Blog Post!

According to 19th century psychologist William James, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” A lot of things have changed in the past hundred years, but we are still plagued by procrastination. It’s part of the human condition. One of the most important – and most challenging – skills to learn is how to manage those inevitable bouts with procrastination

In order to beat procrastination, you need to face it. Acknowledge that that is what’s happening. Don’t kid yourself that because you always seem busy, you must be getting the important things done. The master procrastinators I know are always busy doing legitimate tasks. Busy-ness is the best way to mask the fact that you’re avoiding something else.

Once you’ve acknowledged your procrastination, you have to make a firm commitment to overcome it. This takes great courage and perseverance for several reasons:

1.) Like any change, it’s hard.

2.) You have to deal with your personal fears – of failure, of less than perfection, of commitment, of success. (The idea of being productive and efficient is very scary if you generally aren’t!)

3.) It won’t gain you popularity, and it might not be fun.

It’s easy to see why so many people put off dealing with procrastination. Avoiding procrastination requires a combination of attitude and technique.

Let’s start with attitude. You have to convince yourself that you can manage your behavior with regards to time. Yes, you can.

Let go of perfectionism. Conditions are rarely perfect for working, and people are rarely capable of achieving perfection in their work. Strive for personal excellence and satisfaction instead.

Appreciate deadlines: don’t fear them. The adrenaline rush caused by an approaching deadline may be exactly what you need to get those creative juices flowing!

Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. You are responsible for turning that light bulb over your head. It’s not magic, and it only happens after you’ve invested some time and energy.

Once you believe you can manage yourself through time, work on your technique:

1.) Become a list-maker and a prioritizer. Before you go to bed at night, make a list of tasks you need to accomplish the next day. Note which things are most important in terms of time or significance. Write them down so you can’t conveniently forget them or rationalize them away.

2.) Make sure your goals are realistic. Break huge, overwhelming jobs into smaller, doable chunks.

3. ) Tell the people around you what are you are planning to do. The added pressure will help you stick to your plans.

4.) Get started with something! Keep your planning and prioritizing simple, but don’t waste time debating where to start. When it’s time to work, pick something on your list and plunge in. It all needs to get done.

5.) Have patience with yourself. Once you start, give yourself time to focus on the task at hand. If it’s hard to get focused, try a different perspective or approach.

6.) Reward yourself when you’ve achieved a goal. Take breaks when you need to – but make yourself get back to work and finish things. Whenever you finish a task, cross it off your list.

7.) Pay attention to the things on your lists that never seem to get done. If they’re not worth doing, drop them from your list and forget them. If they are worth doing, acknowledge that those are the things you’re really avoiding and get help dealing with them.

If you need help dealing with your procrastination, don’t delay getting help another day! The longer you wait, the more overwhelming the looming tasks become, and the less likely you are to be able to salvage the semester – and your well-being.

-Becky Eno

Becky Eno is the Academic Counselor at Castleton University. She also teaches in the English department.

 

 

Get Ready, Get Set, Get Organized!

stress_000The last week has been a blur. You’re adapting to a new schedule – and maybe changing that schedule as you add or drop classes. Professors are inundating you with syllabi and assignments, you’re planning to meet up with friends, and you’re trying to fit homework around your job or extracurricular activities. The semester’s hardly begun, but you’re already overwhelmed.

There’s no question about it: the start of the semester can be chaotic. (Even faculty and staff may find new routines stressful.) However, choosing an organizational system – and sticking to it – can relieve tension throughout the semester and help you be a more successful student. Here are some tips to keep your academic and personal life in order all year long:

1.) Use one binder per class. You need a dedicated three-ring binder – or at least a notebook and folder – for each class you take. Even if your professor puts your notes and assignments on Moodle, you should still have a physical location where you can store handouts, drafts, and other documents. Keeping track of deadlines will be much easier if you keep all the materials for a specific class in one place. Take notes on a laptop or other device? Make sure you set up an electronic folder for each course on your schedule.

2.) Plan ahead. Buy a planner. There’s nothing like being able to see all your commitments and deadlines in one place. You can buy a planner at the Castleton Store; if you prefer an app, check out myHomework. Whether you choose a traditional planner or an electronic one, invest in one that will show you a week at a time. This will give you a sense of how you should structure your free time for the next few days.

3.) List it. Planners and planning apps show you the week at a glance. A “To Do” list lets you list your priorities for the day. For example, your “To Do” list for a given Saturday might look like this:

To Do

            -Write draft of history essay.

            -Start research for psychology paper.

            -Go to the gym.

            -Get a haircut.

            -Call Grandma and wish her a happy birthday.

“To Do” lists can be paper or electronic; choose the format that works for you. Note: you can also create “To Do” lists for specific projects. This can help you break down large assignments into smaller, more manageable tasks.

4.) Pause. When you’re juggling multiple commitments, life can get confusing. Being a full-time student is full-time work – and most students also have outside jobs, extracurricular activities, or family obligations. Occasionally, even the most organized and conscientious among us lose track of our priorities. When you find yourself stressed, overwhelmed, or unable to focus, stop whatever you’re doing and take a deep breath. Take a few more breaths, and then write down everything you have to do. Look over your list. Which items do you need to do? Which do you need to do now? Which tasks could you put off for a few more days? Are there any you could reschedule or even skip? We’re not advocating shirking responsibilities or blowing off assignments, mind you. But if you have to study for a biology test, finish a history paper, and attend a club meeting, make sure the test and paper come before the extracurricular activity. Sports, clubs, and socializing are all important, but academics should always be your first priority.

Some stress is an inevitable part of college and life in general; however, with a little planning, you can avoid the sensation of moving from one crisis to the next. Sometimes, a little structure can mean the difference between dreading your responsibilities and enjoying them.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

4 Reasons Why This Could Be Your Best Semester Ever

A portrait of a mixed race college student at campus

Even if you think the college – and the whole world – has overdosed on positive thinking, there are good reasons to be optimistic about Fall 2017. Here’s why you should look forward to this semester:

1.) It’s new. Whether this is your first semester at Castleton or your final semester as an undergraduate, the start of term is a chance to start over. You will be taking new classes and probably meeting different professors. No matter what high school or past semesters were like, this is an opportunity to discard bad habits and replace them with positive ones. Cluttered folders? This semester, you’ll keep them tidy. History of procrastinating? This time, you’ll make sure you start projects early.

2.) You’ve done it before. Even if this is your first semester at college, you know what works for you. After all, you were a student for twelve years before you arrived at Castleton. You know you need to start studying long before exams. You know you need to have another pair of eyes look over your essay before you turn it in. You may be making a transition – from high school to college or from mediocre study habits to strong ones – but some of the territory will be familiar.

3.) Help is available. Lots of factors can affect your ability to succeed at college. That’s why Castleton provides different types of support. Need help with math, writing, or a particular class? The Academic Support Center (ASC) offers tutoring. ASC counselors can also answer your questions about paying for college, managing your time, and studying effectively. If you find yourself worried, anxious, or depressed, you can schedule an appointment with the Wellness Center.

4.) Surprises are just around the corner. You don’t know what this semester holds. You might find you’re better at math or public speaking than you thought you were. You might discover a passion for Latin American literature, ceramics, or molecular biology. That Soundings event you dreaded might be fascinating after all. And you might make a new friend in that general education class you have to take. The discoveries you didn’t plan are what make college – and life – exciting.

So take a deep breath, and start studying! This semester will be a busy one, but you’re going to embrace the challenges. After all, you don’t know where they’ll lead you.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

T.I.M.E: Some Tips for Starting Your College Career

You will learn by the end of your college career that your time spent at school is more than just your classes and homework. The skills you learn in college, inside and outside of the classroom, will carry over into your professional and personal lives after graduation. An acronym all college students should know is T.I.M.E.

1.) Time management can be very difficult for many students. There are 168 hours in week, 2688 of them in a sixteen-week semester of college. About a week, maybe two, of breaks. 12 to 18 hours per week will be spent in the classroom, then two to three times that should be spent studying for those classes, then, if you’re lucky, 56 hours for sleep, a few hours for eating… you get the idea. You’re left with only a few hours during the week to do what you please. One of my high school teachers gave me advice I still cherish. As we waited for the bell of our final high school class, she said, “When you go to college, you can do three things: you can study, you can party, and you can sleep, but you can only do two of the three things.”

2.) Involvement. Do it. Get involved. Turn off Netflix and Facebook, go outside, and throw a Frisbee. Go outside and lay in the grass or by the pool. Talk with students who live in other dorms. Close friendships that are made in dorms are important and worth holding onto, but remember life exists outside of your hallway or your suite. Join your student government, or your major’s club, or a volunteer club, or do all three. If you commute, stay for a weekend here and there. Make friends other than your parents and siblings, as well as whatever dogs, chickens, goats, or hedgehogs you might have— all of which I had when I commuted to community college.

Volunteer, tutor, join a team, join a club, join another club. Fill your week, but remember to save time for yourself and time to socialize. If you have a hard time making friends, go to your school’s cafeteria, sit down with some people you haven’t met before, and ask them five questions: What’s your major? What year are you in school? Where are you from? Do you have any pets? Do you have a job? Do you play any sports?

3.) Movement. Simply, move. Playing sports takes care of this one. Some of us don’t participate in sports, so go to the gym. It’s not as scary as it sounds. If you’re nervous like most other people, go with a friend, or ask someone to be a “brofessor” and show you what it’s all about. Still not convinced? Go outside like you did to cure your Netflix addiction. Most colleges have somewhere you can walk where you can feel safe and unjudged. You don’t have to walk for miles, but once you feel the enlightenment of the outdoors, you’ll never want to go inside again. Learn to ski or snowboard, ride a bike, swim, do something other than sitting down.

4.) Education is the reason you are going to college, so study skills are important. If you missed out on study techniques in high school, go to the Academic Support Center and ask for some help—immediately. Unless you are one of those students who doesn’t study for anything, yet somehow gets good grades, you need to know how to study. (And even if this worked for you in high school, it won’t serve you well in college.)

Part of navigating – and enjoying – college is learning to communicate with faculty. TALK with your teachers. Talk with them face-to-face, by e-mail, phone, letter, even carrier pigeon. Although you may believe otherwise, they are people; they do not turn off like a robot as soon as class is dismissed. Get to know a few. Attend a social gathering where teachers are invited without some sort of grade stipulation.

If you only take away one thing from this post, let it be this: you only have so much time while you’re in college. Remember to spend it wisely.

– D. Austin Martineau

D. Austin Martineau is a senior majoring in English and Education at Castleton University. He is also a writing tutor at Castleton’s Academic Support Center.

Finals, Summer, Then What?

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In a few days, Spring 2016 will 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 summer. 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 academic year gives you a clean slate. No matter what happened this spring – 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 found that you were better at math or writing than you thought you were. Perhaps you discovered a love for film studies, Spanish, or botany. In any case, you learned something about your strengths and interests.

Second, 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 left my papers to the last minute, so they weren’t as strong as they should have been” or “I let my social life 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 teaching is not the 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.

Have a wonderful summer! We’re already looking forward to seeing you in the autumn.  

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

 

No Time for Worries: Why You Shouldn’t Waste Time Building Confidence

snow-leopard-rescue-2

What would you do if you had more confidence? Change your major? Apply for that internship at the company where you’ve always wanted to work? Let yourself pursue the dream you won’t admit even to yourself?

Now you’re shaking your head. For one thing, you just don’t have what it takes – the aptitude, background, or money – to reach that mythical place. Second, you lack the confidence to take that leap. You’d have to work on building your confidence before you could go beyond googling “wildlife conservation volunteer in Patagonia” or “internship at Disney studios” – if you ventured that far. After all, there’s no point in hoping for what’s out of reach.

There’s no question about it: building confidence is hard: far more challenging than increasing your muscle mass or improving your calculus grade. That’s why I want you to stop worrying about your confidence levels. Forget about them. Yes, surround yourself with inspiring quotes and murmur heartening mantras if they make you feel good. But don’t try to fix your insecurities. Don’t indulge them: just ignore them.

Instead, I want you to do what you would do if you had more confidence.

That means applying for that internship at the magazine in New York. That means pursuing medical school if you dream of a career in medicine. That means approaching someone at a graduate school or company for an informational interview. That means contacting the art gallery about showing your work.

What it doesn’t mean is ignoring your shortcomings. You may need to take more classes, gain more experience, or improve your craft before you start law school, land that coveted position in advertising, or publish your work. Effective people aren’t delusional about their background or talents. What differentiates them from less successful people is their approach to their goals. They assess their abilities honestly, consider how they could increase their chance of success, and then act accordingly.

For example, an old friend earned a bachelor’s degree in photography. For several years, she supported herself as a newspaper and freelance photographer. Later, she became interested in health care. At that point, she wasn’t qualified to get a job in the field. Nor was she ready to apply to graduate programs in health care. However, she researched graduate programs, took prerequisite courses, earned excellent grades, and volunteered at her local hospital. She is now halfway through a physician’s assistant program and doing splendidly. My friend recognized switching careers would be tough, but she identified what she had to do and took steps toward her dream.

And these lessons don’t just pertain to the classroom and career. Try applying them to your personal life as well. Would you hang around with your current group of friends if you had more confidence? If you were happier with yourself, would you stay with your significant other? Plenty of people remain in relationships they find stifling, dissatisfying, or even abusive because they’re convinced they couldn’t do better for themselves. Don’t wait until you’re more secure to make new friends or break up with that person: take care of yourself now.

At first, faking confidence will be difficult. Any hint of rejection may set you back. But ignore those discouraging voices in your head and keep going with your job hunt, graduate school search, or other efforts. Soon, you’ll find yourself more oblivious to your insecurities: at times, they may even disappear completely. From time to time, they’ll resurface, and that’s okay. Doubt is part of the human condition. But this time you’ll know how to handle your doubts – and you’ll be able to live your best life in spite of them.

-Dorothy A. Dahm