There is no denying that the start of the semester is hard for many students. After three weeks away, getting adjusted to the food, campus, dorms and workload might seem very difficult. However, the new semester may also bring opportunities to take interesting classes, join exciting clubs and make new friends. The Justice looked at some popular self-care and academic advice, in order to share tips with students on how they can make the most out of the new academic session and implement self-care practices during the long winter months.

Many sources cite organization as the biggest determinant of success when it comes to academic achievement. The Purdue University, Lowcountry Graduate Center and the University of Utah all emphasize the importance of staying organized and creating a routine both before and during the semester. One of the best ways to do this is by purchasing a planner and writing down important due dates for each class. Such key dates are often listed in the syllabus provided by the professor. While the dates of lectures, discussions and readings might change because of the weather or any other emergency situation, the same is often not true for exam days or paper deadlines. Creating a visual representation of what the semester is going to look like can help students plan ahead, ultimately reducing some of the feelings of stress and incompetence that accompany such big assignments. It can also be incredibly helpful in handling overwhelming weeks and remaining focused. For those who prefer to use online tools, Google Calendar allows its users to use different colors for each task and to import calendars from other sites. 

The University of Utah also highlights the importance of establishing relationships with faculty members. Although they may seem scary at first, professors are typically excited to meet with students and discuss interesting research, academic endeavors and even personal hobbies. Office hours also provide a perfect space to ask questions about the topics presented in class and to find out what questions other students have. Brandeis historically has also made  an effort to encourage students to meet with faculty members outside of the classroom. For the fall 2018 semester, for example, the Union, the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences and the Office of Provost, sponsored the “Take Your Professor to Lunch or Coffee” program, in which students could obtain coupons (either directly or through a raffle) to take their professor to lunch in the Faculty Club for free, promoting student/professor bonding.

If talking to the main instructor still seems intimidating, meeting with class Teacher Assistants can also be a good way to expand knowledge on the material and create a support network within the class. That being said, taking advantage of both the TAs and professors is the best way to guarantee success in the class. Additionally, Brandeis offers myriad academic resources for undergraduates — including the Roosevelt Fellows, the Undergraduate Degree Representatives and the BUGS tutors — that specialize in study skills and tips and that can advise students on the best classes to take depending on their major. Students should always remember that these are resources for them to utilize and that there is no shame in asking for help.

While academic achievement is important, remaining healthy and taking care of oneself should always come first, especially during the winter months. This time of the year can be especially challenging for some because of the shorter days and reduced exposure to sunlight, which can lead to feelings of tiredness and disruptions to the normal sleep/wake cycles, according to the NHS. Spending time in the sun during the day can help reduce fatigue and feelings of sadness. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is also crucial, especially since the normal cycles guided by the setting and rising of the sun are often altered. 

By keeping a routine, students can help their body adjust better to the environment. Moreover, according to Harvard Medical School, sleep is crucial in learning and memory consolidation. Thus, working hard, staying organized and using academic resources will not help students build a solid base of knowledge unless they sleep the right amount regularly. Lack of sleep is also associated with a weaker immune system, which makes all members on campus more susceptible to disease in a time when illness is prevalent. Apart from sleep, the Mayo Clinic suggests that being physically active can help prevent and manage several health concerns, boost mood and energy levels and lower stress levels. While exercising in college is a challenge all students seem to face, it is crucial to allocate a specific time of the day to working out. There are multiple sports teams — on varsity, club and intramural levels — that people can be a part of, or they can attend other group exercise activities like yoga and zumba that can make physical activity engaging. 

The spring semester brings forth new challenges, but also new opportunities for students to set goals for themselves. When deciding what to focus on — whether that be academics, extracurriculars or a job — students should always keep in mind that health and self care influence academic outcome tremendously. Finding time to relax, to engage in physical activity and sleep should be a priority for all. 

Some tips from fellow students: 

“For any quantitative courses: keep a notebook of any problems you don’t get right on the first try. Write your corrections in the notebook, and revisit them periodically to study” 

   —Fox Baudelaire ’20, Biological Physics UDR

“When you hear that the typical course load is 4 classes/semester, here’s a good way to choose those 4:

     -1 class that fulfills a major requirement

     -1 class that fulfills something for the CORE (like            creative arts, foreign language , etc.)

     -1 class that’s exploratory - like for another major    or minor you might be interested in adding on, etc.

     -1 class that is completely and entirely for fun/out of pure interest!

Try to balance!  You can go onto ‘Browse Course Syllabi’ on LATTE to see what particular courses entail.  Are all your classes exam based?  All essay based?  All have assignments at the same time?  It’s good to have variety and not overload yourself with too much of the same thing at the same time.” 

          —Ben Katcher ’20, Roosevelt Fellow

“One of the most formative lessons I have learned since starting college is knowing when (and to whom) to ask for help! College can be a tough ordeal--personally, professionally, academically, and more. There’s so much to do and keep tabs on. And so, I think one of the most constructive things to keep in mind is that there are always so many incredible resources and people that are happy to use their own passions, heart, and expertise to lend you a helping hand. For me, that’s crucial to staying healthy. We all do a lot, so delegating and receiving support is so important for our immediate and sustainable happpiness and success.”  

      —Alison Hagani ’22, Sociology UDR