This is the time of the semester when “You look tired” becomes an acceptable alternative greeting to “Hello!” Cold weather, combined with a later sunrise (daylight saving time notwithstanding), makes it dramatically more difficult to get out of bed in the morning. The three Ps (problem sets, papers and projects) remain as relentless as they did at the beginning of the semester. Prelim round two banishes most of the good intentions you had around living some semblance of a balanced life, and the crunch becomes the kind of pressure that makes or breaks a person. Shake it all together, pour over rapidly plunging temperatures and waning sunshine, and we have a recipe for deteriorating mental health.
Fortunately, most of the important and powerful people in this university realize this, and are doing their very best to reduce the stress levels that students experience. Some very sound policies exist which (in theory) prevent too much overlap of critical grade-determining exercises, and most of the movement from Day Hall seems designed to make life easier for students.
But for all the dialogue that exists about student stress and mental health, I’m flabbergasted that no one has proposed the obvious solution.
All of these problems would disappear if we extended a day to more than 24 hours.
There are obvious benefits to adding extra hours to the day, and they extend beyond just providing more useful hours to get things done. Extra hours would, above all, provide some flexibility to students’ lives and help relieve the constant fear of falling behind. When assignments and exams begin to overlap, the combined effect is more than the sum of its parts. Simply spreading out a workload is often enough to make it seem manageable.
A good illustration of the point I’m trying to make lies around the much-debated-and-eventually-approved schedule changes beginning in spring 2014. The schedule adds additional academic holidays in the spring semester, at the expense of shortening the final exam period. In answer to the objection that the new schedule would cause overlapping finals and increase, rather than mitigate, student stress, proponents of the schedule argued that a computer program would be implemented to minimize stacked exams. Unfortunately, no computer program will ever be able to perfectly balance the exam schedules of thousands of undergraduates (especially those that insist on taking unique classes across various disciplines), and all it takes is one student to crack under the pressure of multiple finals in quick succession. Adding extra hours — say, three, which would more than adequately cover the 2.5 hour time slot of a regular final — would add an extra dimension of flexibility to exam scheduling and make overlapping finals less likely.
Obviously, some of the details of this proposal need to be specified. The one that immediately comes to mind is the placement of these extra hours. Placing them in the daytime would have the advantage of increasing daytime productivity, but there is a very real danger that those hours would simply become space to create more work. An extra three hours in the afternoon are no good for mitigating stress if they are filled with additional classes. Short of finding some way to reign in the ability of students to overachieve, placing these extra hours in the daytime may not be an effective strategy for reducing stress. The alternative, and I would argue the generally sounder choice, would be to place these extra hours at night. The vast majority of this campus is diurnal, and creating extra nighttime hours would lessen the sleep deprivation (and presumably by extension, stress) levels on this campus. As a bonus, those who still feel the need to work late into the night would still be able to take advantage of the extra three hours of productivity.
Of course, placing these three hours at night would eliminate the benefit of increased flexibility in exam scheduling discussed above. Finding a sound and effective implementation of this idea will take wiser heads than mine, but I trust that the administration of this campus will find a solution that truly begins to address the root of the problem.
Deborah Liu is a senior in the College of Engineering. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. First World Problem appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.