Get Things Done…Now!

I recently had a meeting with a student where I was trying to help him think about all of the things he needed to do in order to keep moving ahead with his career plans. Most important in this regard, I reminded him how critical it was to contact the graduate program he was really interested in attending—it was actually on our campus. It was application time, and I told him that it would serve him well to talk to both the staff who dealt with applications and the faculty who were in the graduate program. I emphasized that it was one thing to read about the program, but quite another to talk to someone about what could be the next few years of your life. Moreover, having a one-on-one conversation would make you stand out (in a positive way) as the program decided whom to accept.

After spending some time talking about things, I calmly said, “So when do think you’ll contact the graduate program office?” I was not trying to be hard on him or make him feel guilty that he had not contacted anyone yet. I just wanted him to understand that I thought there were real advantages to contacting the program relatively soon. His answer to me was not what I expected, given his enthusiasm for continuing on to graduate school: “I am really busy, so I’m not sure when I’ll get around to contacting them.” Given his unexpected answer, I thought about whether I should press the issue, but instead I told him I hoped he could do it soon and wished him good luck with his future plans.

procras-town-sign-1865304_1920-2This kind of thinking by this student was not necessarily new to me, but it really got me thinking about the more general problem of college students not getting things done in a timely fashion. It includes the student described above, but also students waiting until the last minute to complete class assignments (written work and reading), and students failing to study in a timely fashion for exams. Finally, there are those students who procrastinate and impact their ability to obtain research assistantships, internships, jobs, etc.

As we all know, trying to solve the procrastination problem is extremely difficult. But, students need to have some way of overcoming the delays that can lead to low grades and missed opportunities, let alone the stress and pressure that result from waiting too long to get things completed. Here are some pieces of advice for students to help overcome procrastination:

1) Don’t think you need to get everything done at once. In my opinion your best bet is to work on things in a distributed fashion, getting a little done every day. The way to achieve this is to set up a schedule, a time management plan that you commit to and will follow throughout the semester. I have written about this in another post (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/01/20/dont-delay-set-up-a-study-schedule/)—check it out!

2) Write it down! It is not enough to have a plan in your mind. You need to force yourself to write down everything you need to do. This can be on your phone, in a planner or agenda, or on a “To-Do List”, anything that forces you to take the time to actively think about your schedule.

3) Reward yourself! In my way of thinking, you can reward yourself in two ways when you complete various tasks. First, you can reap the psychological reward of completion, by crossing out everything on your schedule, agenda, or list that you finish. It feels great to get things done! Second, you might consider giving yourself a small monetary reward for every task you complete. Then, at the end of some period of time use that money to buy or do something you really like.

4) Think about what it will mean if you do not get things done. Will you be happy when you do not finish your 5-page paper written? Doubtful. How will feel pulling an all-nighter right before an exam? Tired! The key is that you want to get things accomplished and feel good about yourself.

procrasworkspace-2167299_19205) Blah! Blah! Blah! Toss the excuses and take control of your life. Excuses are simply not going to cut it, and are often BS. Be aware of all the excuses you can give for not getting something done (e.g., “I like when I’m feeling pressured,” “I’m too busy”, “I’ll get it done later”), and fight the urge to use these excuses. You may feel better giving these excuses, but they aren’t getting things accomplished.

6) Get motivated. Making sure you complete various tasks requires you to be motivated. One way you can do this is to always set goals, both short term and long term. Setting these goals ties in nicely with developing a schedule that guides you through the semester (#2 above). In addition, you need to set the kind of goals that will move you toward you career after college—what do you want to be after graduating and what do you need to do to achieve this career goal.

7) Avoid punishing yourself when you do not complete a task. There are bound to be times when you want to do something, but you don’t complete it. Accept that this will occur and don’t be too hard on yourself. You don’t want to have a negative impact on your motivation level, and (more important) you want to figure out the best way to avoid having this happen in the future.

8) Remember that overcoming procrastination is a battle. Your inability to get things done is not something that occurred up overnight. In fact, procrastination can be viewed as a habit that developed over time. Because of this, it will take some time to get rid of this habit and replace it with behaviors that work for you to get tasks completed. Start fighting against procrastination today!

I hope you will take my advice and get things done…now!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

 

Special Guest Writer–Amber Sexton: Preparing for Medical School–What Should Be Your Major?

From a young age, I was entirely certain of the career path I wanted to pursue- medicine. While I totally understand that everyone reading this might not say the same, I know some of you have the same career aspirations as myself. So, for those of you with every intention of going to medical school, this is for you!

Let’s rewind almost four years to the summer before my matriculation here at the University of Kentucky. Though on the edge of huge change in my life, there were a few things I was very sure would remain constant as I began college, one of those being my passion for medicine. So I knew what my end goal was, but I still had one important decision to make.

medschool-major-operatingroom

What should I major in?

You all faced the same question with lots of inward reflection and thought, I’m sure. For me, and I imagine for you as well, the decision was multi-faceted. Of course, my biggest concern was “what major/degree would help me most in applying to medical school?” I considered which major would be impressive to medical school admissions committees, which major would “diversify” me in an applicant pool, which major would best prep me for the MCAT (the standardized test required of all medical school applicants), and which major would be best to juggle alongside the prerequisite courses I planned to take.

With these questions I couldn’t answer, I sought advice from my older brother who, at the time, was a fourth year medical student preparing to begin residency. I applied his advice to my own journey. Now, as I prepare to graduate from UK and begin medical school in the fall, I will pass the same advice given to me to you:

Truthfully, with respect to admission to and preparation for medical school, it does not matter what major you choose.

Now, with a surplus of options, here are a few helpful things to consider when narrowing your choice:

  1. First and foremost, choose something you have genuine interest in studying. This subject will be something you immerse yourself in for four years. Don’t choose to major in electrical engineering if you hate math but you think it will impress a medical school admissions committee. Not only will you make it much harder to succeed in your coursework, but also you’ll make yourself absolutely miserable. The two things that will impress admissions committees are a great GPA and a great MCAT score. To bust the myth of biology and/or chemistry degrees: while some of you choosing to pursue medicine may have a genuine interest in studying biology and/or chemistry in depth, these two majors are not one-way tickets to medical school. So, don’t feel pressured to choose one of them as your major.
  2. Understand that there are specific prerequisite courses that medical schools require you take prior to beginning medical school. Though these are mostly consistent from school to school, you should check with each specific medical school you’re interested in to ensure you take what is necessary. If you choose a major other than biology, chemistry, etc., also remember that it is your responsibility to work those prereqs into your schedule. You’ll want to have the bulk of these prerequisites completed prior to sitting for the MCAT.
  3. Be prepared to explain why you chose your major. If you choose to major in theater and vocal performance, for example, yet you want to attend medical school, you should have strong reasons for why you chose this major and, of course, why you want to be a doctor. If you major in something rather atypical for pre-med students, interviewers at medical schools will almost always ask you about it. Don’t worry- they aren’t necessarily trying to grill you, they genuinely want to know you and your interests.

operation-afamerc-medschoolAs for me, I chose to pursue a degree in psychology. After taking one psychology class in high school, I became incredibly interested in studying psychology in depth. I believe that as a professional expected to treat humans, it’s absolutely imperative to somewhat understand their behaviors and motivations. I wholeheartedly believe that my degree in psychology will help me to become the best physician I can be.

Best of luck with all of your endeavors!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

 

The Importance of Grades

After teaching for almost 30 years, I have come to accept that not every student will earn a good grade in my courses—to me a good grade is an A or a B. This was a bit tough for me to deal with when I first started teaching, because I had naively assumed that everyone wanted to get a good grade. I had always “gone for the A” in college (even with a busy work schedule), why wouldn’t my students too. Some students may be in a real bind as far as good grades because their ability to devote time and effort into my courses is limited by job responsibilities, military service, or by personal difficulties (including mental issues). However, there are a number of students whose lack of motivation and willingness to give their maximum effort in my classes is driven by a view that grades are simply unimportant. This latter group of students includes those who think about “Cs for degrees” or may even feel that getting a D and just passing one of my courses is OK.

In my world, what is a bummer about the students who choose not to strive for high grades is that they probably can get good grades, but something is standing in their way. If these students think that grades are simply unimportant, are they correct? It is my opinion that these students, for the most part, are incorrect and that earning good grades in college is worth pursuing. Let me add that in taking this position I am not saying that having a higher GPA means you are a smarter person. Of course, many factors will impact your GPA over and above your intelligence.

good grades-booksLet me offer 4 points in support of my thinking that good grades matter:

1) If you want to pursue a doctoral or professional (MD, DDS, Nursing, PA, PT, or OT) degree good grades are critical. As I have talked about in other places (careersinpsych.com and https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/careers-in-psych), these programs are only taking the best of the best. Thus, your college grade point average (GPA) carries a lot of weight. It is possible to have a relatively low GPA offset by high scores on your entrance exam (e.g., GRE, MCAT, GMAT). However, selection committees (fair or not) will typically view a relatively low GPA in a negative light.

2) For certain jobs, especially high-paying jobs, good grades can be a “tie-breaker”. That is, if you have a 3.7 GPA and another job applicant has a 2.7 GPA, all things being equal, you will likely get selected for the job. Now I can hear some of you saying that “all things being equal” hurts my point because no job candidates are exactly the same. I agree. Nonetheless, grades are likely to be a part of the job selection equation, along with other characteristics like job skills, leadership qualities, ability to work with others, creativity and experience. My point is simply that grades can make the difference between candidates, and that it is better to have good grades than not. I will add one other point about certain jobs. Your GPA may be critical when you are looking for your first job out of college, but the value of your GPA may diminish over time–work experience may then carry the day.

3) If you get good grades in what are perceived as tough courses, this can work to your advantage. This does not mean that everyone should be taking a lot of difficult science and math courses in college. You just need to be aware that selection committees for graduate and professional school (possibly even certain jobs) will look at your transcript. Therefore, it won’t hurt that you took some science and math courses and did well in these courses. Keep in mind that those individuals making a decision about your future want to be sure that you were not taking a bunch of “bunny” courses to inflate your GPA.

goodgrades-arrows4) High grades can open up various opportunities for you in college. Let me give three quick examples. First, there are a number of scholarships that open up while you are in college. As you can imagine, these scholarships are not going to students with low GPAs. Second, it is typically the case that faculty will choose students with the highest grades to work in their lab or conduct other research. I am one of these faculty members. I look for the brightest and most motivated students to join my lab; high grades help me determine which students to select. Is it possible that I have missed a “diamond in the rough”—a student with high potential but low grades? Of course, but I feel over the years high grades have been a good indicator of productive research assistants. Finally, when it comes times to securing letters of recommendation you will probably have a better chance of having a faculty member write you a letter if you have done well in school. Moreover, the stronger your academic record, the better your letter.

In closing, I want to reiterate that grades are not everything. You may have qualities (e.g., leadership skills, creativity) that can overcome poor grades. In addition, I do not want to discount the importance of networking or experience in helping you move forward with your career. Finally, good grades require a lot of time and effort. The cost of high grades may be a loss of some sleep and social time. Still, in the end I feel the benefits of good grades outweigh the cost. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.