How to be a better Student

Now that I am halfway through my second masters degree, I have learned a thing or two about being productive. I would love to share some of the knowledge I have learned, so that you too can be more productive. But even more, I would also like to know what you would add or take away from this list. Here is some practical advice I have adopted which could possibly help save you hundreds of hours:

1. Project Management: All systems tend towards disorder unless energy is added. You must add energy to your school work! I have heard so many people complain about assignments, readings, et al. The simple truth comes down to how much energy you have added to the system. If you do not put energy into the system, it will tend toward disorder and chaos. One of the first things I do every semester is take all of my assignments (readings, projects, presentations et al) and put them into one Excel document with conditional formatting so that I can stay on top of all my deadlines – I have become a Project Manager of my school work. If you see that you need to read 4,000 pages for one class you should plan accordingly. At this comprehensive level most people read 30 pages per hour, so you would need to budget 133 hours for simply reading. Transferring your notes into a document for annotated bibliographies and papers is another story, but if you use kindle it becomes much faster!

2. Kindle: Read books on Kindle or Kindle e-readers, highlight, add electronic notes, export/import notes to a searchable database such as Evernote. If you are a student, the days of nostalgia and paper books are over. The major complaint I hear is from people who love to read, “oh, I just love the feel of a book in my hands.” Well, fine, you keep doing that and the rest of the world will leave you behind. When you truly realize that you can highlight and export all of your excerpts and notes from kindle, you will realize how many hours you have saved and never think twice about it again. So much of our lives are spent waiting, if you have a kindle app on your smartphone, imagine how much you could accomplish while sitting at the dentist or your commute on the bus. Take advantage of these times.

3. Evernote: Take all notes using this application. You can sync it with your phone, tablet, computer, etc. And it is a fully searchable database. If you pay a few dollars, you can even have the software recognize writings from pictures you have taken. (i.e., you can even scan handwritten notes and they will be searchable!) And if you ever have an epiphany, you can write it down in your phone or simply do a voice recording, and then you can refine it later on your computer!

4. Dropbox: Saves files on your computer and on a cloud. You can access files on any computer, phone, or tablet. Need I say more? If you are not already using a cloud, I am not sure which planet you are living on.

5. Zotero: Best program ever! If you do research, this is a must have. It helps you store bibliographic info in a very efficient manner. It works through your web browser and hooks up with Word or Open Office. Do you remember having to learn MLA, Chicago, Turabian, etc. Well, this program will put all of your endnote and bibliographic data into the proper format and even allow you to switch formats. Plus, you can add notes to the Zotero database so you always have access to your own personal annotated bibliographies.

6. Dual Screen: If you are like me, you have at least 10 windows open at any time, being able to see as many of them as possible at any given moment speeds up the process tremendously. I cannot say enough good things about having two screens. I use a 14in laptop with a 22in monitor as an extended desktop.

My Pilates instructor, Krista Loveless, is hardcore.

7. Exercise: Exercise breaks are amazing. I go for a run, bike ride, or workout in the gym nearly everyday. It helps give me energy. I am also a very competeitve person and have even written out the workouts I will be doing for the next 20 weeks. It keeps me on top of my school and fitness. Exercise does not take away from the energy you need to put forth in your other endeavors, it simply adds to it. I have had many epiphanies while running, I often write papers in my head while on a run. Other people like to listen to audio books while running, but for me it is a perfect time for creativity.

8. Hydrate: Drink water. Seriously.

Do you agree with my tips for being a successful student and person? What would you add or take away?


Rule 42: Obey the Fundamental Laws of Physics, Part 1

H2G2: A Post-Grad Survival Guide

Rule 42:

Obey the Fundamental Laws of Physics, Part 1

Will obeying the Laws of Physics actually help me in the pursuit of higher education? Read on and you will believe! The numbers and equations are not scary, I promise 🙂

Case Study: Pretend you are driving a McLaren F1 (a $1million car, I like this dream), you hit the gas and its 627hp V12 engine mightily roars. Right out of the gate you can accelerate 0-60mph in 3.2 seconds, incredible! But what happens as your speed increases? To simply accelerate from 180-200mph (a change of merely 20mph, one-third the original change) it takes 7.6 seconds! It took more than twice as long to only accelerate one-third the original change! And as your speed increases it becomes ever difficult to continue increasing your speed. Max speed ever recorded in a McLaren F1 is 243mph, and I am sure the driver kept trying to push the accelerator harder and harder just so he could reach 244mph, but it never happened.

Why was he unable to go faster? It is because he could not supply enough energy! His engine only had 627hp and the fuel consumption rate was incredibly high.

Now let’s take this to the next level: you are flying an amazing space shuttle and you are approaching the speed of light (186,000 miles per second). As you go faster, you realize that you need more and more fuel just to go a little bit faster. It keeps getting more and more difficult. You soon realize that you can’t reach the speed of light, and you conclude this because you finally come to the realization that you need an infinite amount of energy to move this fast. I repeat, it would take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate an object with mass to the speed of light. The speed of light is the upper limit for the speeds of objects with positive rest mass. (Thank you Einstein, this is all solvable through E = mc2)

So what? Who cares? I’m bored; let me go now….you are so close, hang in there!

You have been a student for many years; after all, you are in graduate school. There was a time when little energy was needed to get you through. You would even sleep during lectures because you already knew it and you were the guy who would always ask questions trying to stump your professor. And then, you started advancing and realizing that you needed to put more energy into it, and it was hard! And then you saw the next step and it seemed so close, but it took like 20 times the effort or more. ThM Thesis and PhD Dissertations will feel as if you are trying to travel at the speed of light. Thanks for the encouragement right? But wait, it gets worse!

Consider now the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics: in an isolated system, that system will tend toward disorder unless energy is added. Do you remember what your bedroom looked like as a teenager? I prove my point!

This is helpful because it makes us realize that the energy needs to be focused. If the McLaren F1 had a bad fuel injector, then the fuel which was being fed into the engine would not all correspond to energy in that isolated system. There would be wasted energy, and because the energy would be lacking, the system would obviously tend toward disorder. This is why it gets worse. If your energies are not focused onto the Thesis or Dissertation (or whatever the goal may be), you will tend toward disorder! And this is fatal; you will never achieve that goal which you had set out to achieve.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Rule 42…

p.s. H2G2 stands for “Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy” and I named this Rule 42 because 42 is the answer to everything according to H2G2. And yes, Rule 42 is the answer to everything…