As a Science student, I find that the most unnerving thing about the end of every chemistry lab is having to muse on sources of error. What, I have learned to ask, can be improved on for next time?
This question can apply to settings beyond the lab bench i.e. personal life—which is just as much of an experiment as a titration.
After all, there are expected results, but also unexpected deviations. Slips. Spills. Sudden accidents.
Reflecting on the past few months isn’t much different from reflecting on lab data. Term 1 is a time for many of us first years to test the waters of university and to figure out what habits to build on (or discard) for Term 2. So, with the first term officially over, I’ve been thinking through what I did well over the past 4 months and what I can improve on in second term.
Here are 7 things I want to change in 2019. Hopefully, this compilation will give you some ideas for what you may want to do differently, too.
Studying and staying on task
1. Misdirected concentration
Confession: I usually doodled during lectures. In Chem, instead of drawing orbital diagrams, I’d draw anime characters. In English, instead of taking notes, I found myself sketching the people around me. This doodling habit got in the way of my learning—I’d often walk out of class thinking I’d missed something.
Change: I will fully engage in class by raising questions and contributing ideas during discussions. I will set aside free time for doodling after studying.
2. Incorrect timing of material absorption
Confession: I found myself cramming in desperation (and confusion) before my midterms because I’d always think there’d be enough time to review everything 2 nights before a test. I was wrong.
Change: I will stagger review throughout the term the way I did in the latter half of Term 1 (which helped to boost my marks), and attend more office hours (which really saved me for Calc and English!).
3. Elements of the procrastination table
Confession: After a long day of attending lectures, I would collapse in my room and reward myself by picnicking on snacks while watching ancient Chinese dramas online. However, this reward has mutated into a means of escapism—I binge-watch instead of getting work done.
Change: I will dedicate at least 2 hours of preview and review for each course each day, and limit my recess (i.e. feasting on junk food and submerging in the online ether) to 1 hour at most. This way, I hope to finally evict myself from Quadrant 4 (a.k.a. procrastinative tendencies) of Covey’s 4 Quadrants of Time Management, and instead, migrate to and become a citizen of Quadrant 2 (a.k.a. on-task behaviour).
Self-compassion and staying in touch
4. Closed system
Confession: I would don a prickly casing and distance myself from human contact whenever my day didn’t look too bright, especially if I didn’t meet the (overly ambitious) expectations I’d set for myself (e.g. getting everything right—plus the bonus marks—on a quiz). I always thought that being alone would make me feel better, but I realized that it didn’t. What did was opening up and talking to others.
5. Dissociated bonds
Confession: I have let a couple of close high school friendships fall by the wayside since starting university. I suppose this is what it means to revert to strangers: growing apart until it is too late to catch up with all the things we missed out on in one another’s journeys.
Change: I will stay in touch with old friends by regularly sending them a check-up text.
Sleep and staying active
6. Ocular orbitals (a.k.a. eye bags)
Confession: Before I moved into residence, my dad would force me to go to bed by 10:00 pm. Now that he can’t see me, I sometimes sleep 2 to 3 hours past that time and spam the snooze button 5 hours later. This corrosive practice has reduced my energy and my ability to engage in class.
Change: I will maintain my energy by creating a bedtime routine to sleep earlier (10:00 pm at the latest) so that I can rise earlier and be well-rested.
7. Activation energy
Confession: The last time I worked out has been lodged in the pluperfect past of July 2018. I’ve been swimming sporadically, but I doubt that’s enough to even meet the daily physical activity requirements I had in grade 8.
Change: I will stay active by scheduling in daily exercise and play at least one afternoon of sports, e.g. tennis and badminton, at the SRC or ARC every weekend.
By setting some specific, realistic goals, I hope to do a better job of staying on task in class and in my studies, staying upbeat and in touch with others, and staying awake and active—all in the new year.
Remember: a lot of value lies in the process of trial and error. If a study style didn’t work out for you last term, or if you didn’t exercise as much as you wanted, don’t feel bummed out—take Term 2 to experiment with a new approach, a fresh set of goals, and a newfound sense of motivation.
Chemistry, after all, contains “try,” and maybe you, too, will make the effort to think about the lessons you learned about yourself in your first term and what you want to change in the second.
In Dr. Emmett Brown's immortal words: “Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one.”