Fresh Start: Inside the 4.0

 

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Another year already?

I seriously cannot believe it. Moving onto campus for the first time, I was so unaware of the crazy journey that was ahead of me. Halfway through now, I also can't fathom that I'm already into my junior year. I guess it sounds weird, because everyone says that time in college moves so quickly and "before you know it, it's over" but, honestly...

The last two years have not flown by. They haven't. 

Every day has passed with every minute taking its full 60 seconds, and I've felt the breadth and depth of the challenges that I've encountered. There are many, many more days ahead, but I'm so grateful for the journey that college has been so far. 

My Sophomore year at Spelman College was pretty insane, and I wouldn't change any bit of it. Biology majors have it pretty rough, and sophomore year is when students generally finish out their core requirements. So I pushed through Cellular and Molecular first semester and Genomics second semester with A's in both. Managing an internship at Morehouse School of Medicine, two campus jobs, and extracurriculars on top of coursework wasn't easy, but definitely possible! I have no answers or "tricks," but can offer some strategies for STEM majors navigating the first half of the college journey. 


So, here at Spelman, there are the super-Spelmanites who fly from class to class, job to job, meeting to meeting, with heels on and nails done at all times. I've met some, and they're absolutely amazing.

Then, there are those of us who finally get to sleep at 5am and wake up at 7am for 8am lecture, pinching our earlobes to stay awake, packing lunch in a napkin and shoving it to the bottom of our purses so that we can sprint across campus to make it to a meeting that begins three minutes after a monstrous laboratory exam, sleepily showing at that event we promised our friends we would go to before heading to the library for an all-night study session... never making it around to eating whatever that was in the napkin, anyway. 

Well, that's the daily grind. Theres no getting around the mid-semester whirlwind. What does make it a bit easier, though, is a good plan. I cannot manage life at all without my planner, and a little bit of time micromanagement goes a long way. 

When things get really hectic, I draw out a couple of weeks that I really need to focus on planning out and fill them in. This one is from London- I had a bunch of assignments due between trips to Morocco and Italy.

When things get really hectic, I draw out a couple of weeks that I really need to focus on planning out and fill them in. This one is from London- I had a bunch of assignments due between trips to Morocco and Italy.

In my small planner, I assign a specific color to each subject so that I don't waste paper writing what class each assignment is for. This helps me to tell, at a glance, how much work I have to do for each class by looking at how much is written in a particular color. Meetings, events, and study sessions I write in black so that I don't stress out by mistaking those reminders for more work!

Another easy and useful way that I manage the day, minute by minute, is a time log. Especially during the semester, I make these every day (Sometimes my best friend actually makes them for me, and incorporates time for us to study. She's really pretty amazing.)

STEM majors tend to have lots and lots of books and references to carry around. You would think that fields known for technological advancement would spare student's the burden of carrying around gazillion pound textbooks and thousands of laboratory notebooks, but some professors just don't get it. Now I know it's not the most fashionable thing to do, but most of the time I use a backpack. I've tried the whole purse-as-a-school-bag thing, and it just doesn't work for me. Honestly, I'd rather hold onto my spinal integrity than have Michael Kors carry around my physics notes.

In high school, a 4.0 was really not too difficult to secure. Of course, hard work, but didn't seem impossible. College? A completely different story. One thing about grading that I didn't really understand: a - sign next to your A will be the difference between a 3.9 and a 4.0. Every single semester, up until Spring 2015, one A- separated me from a 4.0 and it was so frustrating! By the beginning of my fourth semester, I was absolutely determined to earn all A's with no minuses, but with the regional Miss Black and Gold pageant, being a resident advisor, and getting into my more difficult core requirements for the biology major, I sort of let go of that conviction. 

During the Alpha Rho Pageant, I was pretty much tied up from 5pm until really, really late at night. Whenever I wasn't in rehearsal, I had to disappear from campus life in order to focus.

During the Alpha Rho Pageant, I was pretty much tied up from 5pm until really, really late at night. Whenever I wasn't in rehearsal, I had to disappear from campus life in order to focus.

Well, it happened, and although it wasn't an accident (lots of late nights), I finally understood that the best way to secure a 4.0, for me, was to work my absolute hardest without obsessing over the final letter grade. Finding joy in tackling and internalizing the course material is rewarding, and is guaranteed to pay off with a high mark. The ability to have fun with class material by testing yourself constantly in different, exciting ways affirms that you truly understand it. Because I was so involved on campus and with my work during that semester, I was forced to make use of every single second- standing in line at Starbucks, during breaks in pageant rehearsal, brushing my teeth- seriously anytime! Some apps that allowed me to maximize my study time:

  • Evernote

  • Noteability

  • Quizlet

  • CNN (seriously helped for planning debates when I took Argumentation)

  • Khan Academy

  • Study Blue

  • MCAT Flashcards by Kaplan

  • CK-12

Good memorization strategy is key to biology. I love drawing pictures to link concepts, structures, and definitions.

Good memorization strategy is key to biology. I love drawing pictures to link concepts, structures, and definitions.

It's amazing how much more doable difficult concepts feel when you've got a professor's guidance. This was one problem that I worked on for 30 minutes with my professor during her office hours- the same problem that I struggled with for days before I visited her!

It's amazing how much more doable difficult concepts feel when you've got a professor's guidance. This was one problem that I worked on for 30 minutes with my professor during her office hours- the same problem that I struggled with for days before I visited her!

Establishing good relationships with professors also cannot be discounted. Don't be afraid of being talked about as the "teacher's pet" or whatever people might say. We're adults now, and your grade is your grade. Know what the professor wants, and be intentional about making sure that he or she knows you by name. When its time for letters of recommendation to be sent out, people will be running around trying to find a faculty member who might remember their face! Meanwhile, you'll be getting more applications out because you have your letters lined up. Taking full advantage of office hours is a great way to secure these relationships. I always make sure to visit each of my professors, at the very least, once at the beginning of the semester, once around midterms, and again a couple of weeks before the final exam. If your professor knows you well, there are also participation points that can make the difference between the A and the minus. Get that A! 

Although the Miss Black and Gold pageant helped me to get involved socially (a bit more than I actually anticipated), some nights it was absolutely essential that I hid myself in the cut and got down to business. Generally, it helps me to have my best friend to study with me (she's also a STEM major and we take many of the same classes), but sometimes I need to take time to be completely by myself and tackle some work from top to bottom. If you've got to just excuse yourself from the world sometimes- that's okay! Market friday is every week, parties are every day, and your friends will be there after you've got the concept down and your amazing grade on the exam to prove it.

Studying with friends is a lot of fun, and it can help to move study sessions along faster- making more time to review more material.

Studying with friends is a lot of fun, and it can help to move study sessions along faster- making more time to review more material.

When it comes down to making it work for you, there are strategies that can only be realized by discovering them, yourself. Try different study groups, make cool reference sheets, postpone the Starbucks trip a few minutes and hit up a professor's office hours, but most of all- trust your brain and have fun finding out all that it can do. You can do absolutely anything that you put your mind to. 

As you move through the highs and lows of this year, you will be brave in defeat and grateful in victory! Praying for you today, tomorrow, this semester, and every semester to come. 



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