For college students across the nation, October marks the beginning of midterm season — a period marked by increased workload and a plummet in students’ mental health. During this time, students experience a range of emotions from high stress to anxiety. Is there a culture at Brandeis that promotes overworking and excessive studying?  How can students effectively manage midterm stressors, and are there adequate resources at Brandeis to support students during this time? 

Vandita Wilson, MPP ’22

The culture of overwork and stress at Brandeis is no different than that at most other colleges, and it might actually be less. The culture of overwork is endemic to the college way of life today, brought on by the difficulties of financing an education, obtaining a job post graduation and adapting to a new interpersonal environment fraught with potential pitfalls. I find that while Brandeis has resources, oftentimes they are buried in an email with too many items/events listed. Each unique resource deserves its own email with a compelling subject line and captivating copy. These are briefly mentioned in orientation, lumped together with one another into a presentation that glosses over how valuable it is to access such resources. Meanwhile, Brandeis' institutional culture promotes activities that exacerbate stress. Professors should include information on how to access resources and make themselves more available to each student. They're the main face of academia; as such, it is incumbent upon them to offer mitigating remedies.

Vandita Malviya Wilson is an MPP Candidate, Class of 2022 at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

Prof. Teressa Mitchell (PSYC)

I’ve been in academia almost continuously since 1983. One thing I’ve learned about surviving the academic calendar is to approach it like surfing. We spent the first weeks of the semester paddling out to where the waves form and now it’s time to stand up on our boards and surf those waves as best we can, knowing that even if we fall off, we’ll make it back to the beach.

We can increase the likelihood that we’ll not just survive but will thrive. We underestimate the power of basics like eating, sleeping and exercising, but optimal brain function is inextricable from optimal body function. We learn best by studying in small, steady bursts, not marathon cramming sessions, by relating new knowledge to old knowledge and by working in social groups rather than alone. These approaches are also better for managing stress.

What else can students do? Enjoy college life. Focus on learning, not on grades. Take the classes you want, not just those required by your second or third major. Don’t compare your accomplishments to others’. Get to know people on campus who you would never have met had you not come to Brandeis. College years are a golden time in your lives that will happen only once and if you forget to find the joy, you will have lost something precious.  

Teressa Mitchell is an assistant professor of psychology specializing in developmental cognitive neuroscience and psychology. 

Sophia Phillips ’23

Yes, absolutely. I think it's not just a Brandeis thing, but I do believe that Brandeis' academic rigor combined with the types of people who go to the school contributes to the excessive studying. I think that a lot of us, myself included, base our self-worth on how well we do in our classes; grades are a point of pride for so many people. To be honest, the grades obsession here borders on toxicity, and it takes away from the overall culture of Brandeis. It's something that we need to change.

It's hard to juggle school in general, let alone midterms, but ironically, I think the key to managing stress is focusing on your own health and wellbeing first. If you're constantly stressing and spinning and your nerves are frayed, you're not going to perform at your best. You can always recover from a bad grade on a midterm, but your physical, mental and emotional health is something that is much more important to have. And no, I think Brandeis does not have great resources at all, especially given how ridiculously high our tuition is. Nobody should have to pay that much without receiving adequate professional support at school, at the very least (they should also serve better quality food that's ethically produced and nutritious, but I digress...).

Sophia Phillips is a junior majoring in Health: Science, Society and Policy.