November 30, 2020

BETTEZ | How to Work Smarter, Not Harder … From an Engineering Senior

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My motivation is absolutely shot. I have absolutely no idea who that sophomore was who took four lab classes simultaneously one semester, but she absolutely wasn’t me. I suppose it’s a combination of COVID-19 making my classes all online as well as my senioritis, but I’m hardly the student I used to be. Instead of reviewing the week’s material in the A.D. White Library on a free Friday afternoon like I did as a freshman (haven’t done that since then), I curl up in my bed after every lecture I attend, exhausted. But thankfully, my grades haven’t slipped too much; I like to think that for every ounce of motivation I’ve lost, I’ve gained a little more savvy in how to work with efficiency. Learning how to work smarter when you can’t work harder. So for every student with creeping combined quarantine and seasonal depression slipping in, here are my tips on how to scrape those passing grades when the motivation runs dry.

1. Don’t Invest in a Planner

I used to be hopelessly dedicated to my paper planner, but in an effort to reduce my paper use once, I decided to give online planners a try and they’re much better. Not only are they more flexible and easy to edit, you can easily make something occur every day or every other week without having to painstakingly hand write it in every time. You can also access them on either your phone or laptop, so you don’t have to pull out a little book every time you think of something you need to do. Take advantage of the fact that you’re hopelessly addicted to your phone and put your assignment reminders in there so you don’t forget.

2. Stop Going to In-Person Lectures If Its Taped

Okay, this one might be a bit controversial, professors please don’t be mad. I have always been the kind of person who always went to lecture pre-COVID, even if the professor sucked. I always figured that if I failed a class, I’d want to know that I did everything I could. And I followed with that for as long as I could this semester, until I missed a class and realized that it’s way easier to pay attention and retain information on your own time; you can take breaks when you need, and rewind when you miss something. But be careful; it’s easy to fall into a trap of letting them overwhelmingly pile up without watching them. I make myself watch them that night if possible, and at the very least within 48 hours. Anything more, and you’re playing a dangerous game. 

3. If At All Possible, Don’t Do Work in Your Room

When I lived in a dorm, I steadfastly refused to do work in my room. Maybe part of it is that I have three siblings so the quiet of the dorm is eerie to me, but I always made a point of going to campus. Not only is it good for associating a location with doing work to make yourself more productive, it also just makes you feel like more of a person. It’s easy to feel lonely in college, and especially during COVID-19. I learned the hard way at the beginning of this semester that the longer you spend alone in your room, the harder it feels to leave, and connect with others. It’s better to hang out with your friends working on the same problem set who can help you and joke around together in Duffield than subject yourself to a quieter, but more productive, time. Even during COVID-19, go to your friends rooms or apartments if possible, or meet up on campus with masks on. Even without friends to see, a school environment can help your productivity and keep the quarantine depression at bay.

4. Put Your Assignments Into Said Planner the Second You Hear About Them

At the beginning of the semester, I was plagued by a constant fear of missing assignments. This one is pretty simple; just don’t put it off. The constant worry and checking Canvas wastes more time than you think. I also put an assignment in my planner at a certain time every week to check all of my classes for assignments I might’ve missed.

5. Don’t Only Go to Office Hours, Go to the Same Ones Over and over if you can.

Even for an office hours veteran like me, going during COVID-19 is a force. But going can save you a ton of time on your problem sets, especially when the misunderstanding is right under your nose. I think some people still have a notion that you should only go to office hours if you’re struggling in a class, but I even go to classes I have As in: It saves me a lot of time. Instead of hunting through the last six lectures for a topic, the TA knows exactly what slide it’s on, and can direct you to the right equations. And if you go to the same ones with the same TA every time, they’ll get to know you and in my experience are extra helpful because now they know you … unless you’re a jerk to your TAs, which I highly discourage.

Your success here at Cornell has little to do with your natural smarts, and far more to do with how you use them. I tell my students every year: they all have what it takes to not only survive, but also thrive in Cornell’s tough academic environment.

Michaela Bettez is a senior in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at [email protected]. Bet on It runs every other Monday this semester.