Studying – A survival guide

Agata Piotrowska
Wednesday 8 February 2023

This week we share with you another of our Alumni and PGR spotlights!

Edinburgh’s Meadows, by A.Piotrowska

“Hello again! You might have read my previous posts on distance learning or the PSC. If you haven’t, then, I’m Clémence, a freshly graduated alumna from the Museums & Galleries Studies MLitt. Nice to meet you!

In previous articles (Our alumni’s PSC journey – a multi-layered learning story and St Andrews learning, only away from St Andrews), I briefly touched upon how my studies quickly became synonymous with ‘intense juggling’. My course ran from January 2020 to June 2022. When I started, I was working two different jobs and volunteering for my local museums. As the course went, I moved from two jobs to a single new one, but with more hours. My volunteering blended with the course, as assignments became on-site projects. When dissertation replaced everything else, I started a new volunteering with the National Trust for Scotland, and also took on the PSC journey mid-year. Add in the fact that, as most people, I was quite keen on keeping a social life, and you can imagine my weekly schedule was quite a jigsaw.

Because my course was part-time, my experience may not exactly match yours. However, I believe every university student deals with similar struggles – maybe, instead of two jobs, you are involved in a student society, a sports club or just craving an occasional drink with your friends. As exams time come and go, stress increases, and carving time for yourself might become more difficult. So today, I’d like to share some tips to make sure you don’t crumble under the pressure. They’re not revolutionary, and you’ve probably read and heard them before, but I believe it’s important to hear them again, and take them in.

My first piece of advice (from one overwhelmed person to another) is that you have a right to take time off.

It seems obvious, but we both know that when it comes to studying, and making sure you succeed, it’s often easier said than done. So I am going to repeat it. You have a right to take time off. Watch a series, go for a walk, see your friends for a feast of cake and coffee. Your studies are important, but they’re not going to take you far if you burn out mid-way. Every so often, allow yourself to take a day off and restart your brain. You’ll feel much lighter from it.

For the days you must spend at your desk, there are some nice habits you can consider taking to make it less overwhelming. Visualizing your goals and achievements is one. I’m a very visual person, and my diary follows a strict colour-code that allows me to see in one glance what time is dedicated to what. Pre-defining your working times, and listing what you expect to achieve in them might help you be more efficient. Be careful, though, to be realistic with your goals, as to not become depressed with what you’ve not achieved. If it helps, you can also list everything you’ve done at the end of the day. It will help you realize that you are actually doing great.

Maximising your working time is also essential to lowering stress. I’m easily distracted (there are always dishes to do or kettles to boil), so I’ve had to find ways to limit these distractions. Working in the library is a good one, to remove yourself from the temptations of your flat, but even there, they are coffee machines and phones. There are plenty of phone and laptop apps to help you – I personally use Forest, but you can also go Cold Turkey. Invest in a teapot to have ample tea supplies, prep snacks that feel like a treat, and define steady working slots with plenty of breaks to eat them (I like to go 2h/20 minutes, but everyone is different). 

Finally, make time for what makes you happy. For me, it’s doing 15 minutes of yoga first thing in the morning, going for a short walk at lunch time, socializing, cooking amazing food, and making sure I spend at least 10 minutes a day reading something non-academic (the more dragons, the better). If it helps, make a cool mind-map of the things that help you relax, and implement some as you go – it can be as simple as eating a chocolate bar a day.

That being said – don’t get stressed over relaxing. Too much organizing can quickly become more stressful. Try and listen to yourself, how you feel, what you need. Can’t focus? It happens and it’s ok. Forcing yourself is not going to help, so have a tea, change task, and come back later. You’re in a great streak and don’t want to stop? That’s fantastic, keep going!

Success is all about balance. I hope you have or will soon find yours. In any case, remember – you’re doing great. You should be proud.”

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