Things you can do to stay ahead of the curve
By Adrienne Beason, Staff Writer
As the timers in the last of the final exams stop and the classroom doors close for the semester, students around the globe feel relief, elation and their first free breaths. While the odd student is lucky enough to have scored a summer job in their field of study and the highly motivated will embark upon a summer semester, most of us seek jobs that will allow for the least amount of thinking. And who can blame us? The long hours, the stress of trying to commit an array of facts to memory, a slew of projects and papers all due at once – it’s exhausting, to say the least. Taking time for mental and physical rejuvenation is an essential part of the end-of-semester-detox. But what are you losing by slacking off all summer long?
When you reconvene in the fall, it’s not uncommon to look at your prof, freshly launched into his or her spiel and think, I have no idea what you’re talking about.
When you reconvene in the fall, it’s not uncommon to look at your prof, freshly launched into his or her spiel and think, I have no idea what you’re talking about. You may immediately feel at a disadvantage, as though you’re already behind, and then, for the disorganized or undisciplined, it’s easily a slippery slope to confusion and frustration.
Now, let’s be honest. We all know deep down that it wouldn’t be a bad plan to have enrolled in summer classes, perhaps knocking out the courses that don’t directly relate to our majors. Maybe in retrospect we’ll think, why didn’t I pursue my degree with all the fire and rage of a long-toothed predator? But not all of us are willing to do that.
You know you need to recharge your batteries. You also know you need stimulation to maintain a competitive mental edge during the summer. So how do you strike a balance between working to live and not living to work? The following tips will suggest ways to not only avoid losing ground over the summer, but to even advance closer to the finish line: the successful launch of your career.
Free Your Mind and Take Care of (Non-Academic) Business
Somewhere along the way, perhaps by the middle of the second month of semester, you start to let things slide. After the first wave of mid-terms, you begin labeling non-academic parts of your life as periphery elements and move them to the outskirts of your mind. At first it’s only as superficial as you merely give up on staying on top of your favourite TV shows. Maybe then going to the gym falls to the bottom of your priority list. Eventually, you stop doing your laundry, cleaning, going out and socializing, or even calling your family.
After exams, it’s important to calm yourself and free your mind from the cage of your memorized facts. Don’t forget them, by all means. Just find a way to de-stress.
“Students are brain drained by the end of spring term,” says Pamela Rambo, Ed. D of Rambo Reasearch and Consulting LLC. “They are running on empty at that point. To my way of thinking, the task… is… to renew themselves mentally for the next phase of their education.”
Like shaking out a pose you’ve been holding for a long time, you must first find a way to reboot your brain. Perhaps consider looking into a fun (non-credit)class in an artistic area. Rec centres are often an excellent source for everything from salsa dance lessons to pottery to Italian cooking workshops to yoga. Look at doing things that are not possible during the school year – read for pleasure, go to the movies, check out a museum or art gallery. Reconnect with family and friends. And get outside and get physical. Now is the time to jump back into a fitness routine that you’ve been neglecting, (or ease, depending on your body).
Once you’ve cleared your mind, it’s time to look at other areas in your life that need attention. Water your plants. Give your car some TLC. Assess what you’ll need for summer and the coming year and give your wardrobe an autopsy for a fresh start. Lastly, give yourself some attention. Go to your doctor and get a physical.
You may be inclined towards the thinking that reading ahead is for keeners that probably don’t have a life – a lot of us are. But how often during the semester have you thought, if I only had more time?! Keeping an eye on the prize, (graduation or long-term career goals), even during summer vacation, will minimize confusion in the coming semester and streamline your journey to convocation.
Assess your academic plans for the coming year and figure out what will make your life easier. Try reading supplementary materials to enhance your understanding, or even watch documentaries on the subject. If you’re concerned, you can consider getting a mentor in your chosen career field or a tutor on upcoming topics. Ellen Bremen, Communication Studies professor and author of Say This, NOT That to Your Professor advises that you can also get the jump on the upcoming year by visiting campus and finding out if you can grab the syllabi for your upcoming classes. This does not require the prof to be there, and even an old syllabus is usually fine as they don’t change that much year to year. What if you’re already miles away, back home? You can easily have it emailed to you.
Bremen also says that if you do happen to stop by and your fall prof happens to be around, stop in and introduce yourself. This is a great way to get a feel for them and express any concerns you might have. (“I’ve always had a tough time with Calculus.”) Maybe they’ll even offer you some advice.
Bremen mentions that another benefit to your syllabus is you’ll know what your textbooks are going to be. Try to get a hold of them. First off, they may be cheaper in summer. Secondly, you can flip through a chapter here or there and familiarize yourself with the material. If you’re a slow reader, this may just give you the head start on the readings you need to stay on top of your upcoming workload.
Nobody likes to admit they’ve made mistakes, but growing and improving requires just that. Look back over your academic progress over the past year. What were your weaknesses? Math? Public speaking? Writing? Study skills? Whatever they are, now is your chance to take the steps you need to strengthen them. Try reading up on them, seeking a tutor or participating in a study group, depending on what your Achilles’ heel is. For convenience’s sake, it may be worth your time to form an e-study group. You can meet online once a week and discuss budding developments in your field of study. Lastly, if you just finished a course like Biology 200 and you’re moving on to 300, breeze over your notes once a week. You’ll keep your mind on top of it and it may just become that much clearer with the extra revision.
Develop New Skills
Summer can also be an excellent time to work on creating new abilities that you know you’ll need later on. (You certainly know you’re not going to have time once fall hits.)
One skill the majority of us can count on requiring is the ability to network. Ever heard the saying it’s all who you know? Well, it’s not just an idle maxim. Do whatever you can to develop quality, friendly relationships, because you never know how or when they may pay off. And six degrees of separation is particularly relevant in the business world.
If possible, use this time to learn the systems of your chosen career path. Perhaps you can go to jobsites that resemble your ideal future workplace and ask around about how their processes work. At the very least, it will give you a sharper understanding of what your prospective job may entail. The sooner you have achieved technical competence, the sooner you’ll be able to apply creativity to your work.
Many students seek an occupation, when they should be seeking a career. Become an expert on your chosen topic. Learning whatever you can on the matter will lubricate the process involved in getting your degree. Perhaps it’s possible to email a leader in your field. Tell them you are a student in the subject matter of their expertise and (respectfully) ask them what their work is like and any other questions you might have. You never know your luck!
Lastly, consider expanding your knowledge by participating in an internship, where possible.
Tutor and career councillor, Gaye Weintraub says, “I strongly encourage my students to intern or work in their field. One of my students majoring in interior design is not only interning for a local design firm but building her portfolio by redesigning living spaces of her parent’s friends. One of my international business students worked as a car salesman at a local dealership during the summer. While it didn’t directly relate to his major, he did gain a lot of experience in negotiations and sales tactics.”
“Put what you’ve learned while at school into practice through an internship or volunteer program,” says Sara Sutton Fell, expert in the online job market and CEO of FlexJobs. “You can test out career ideas while gaining work experience at the same time. Even internships or volunteer programs not directly related to your career aspirations are a good way to gain general work experience and keep your mind active, while adding to your resume. “
Energize Your Summer Brain
For the majority of students, summer is synonymous with drinking, sleeping, partying, camping, and lazing around on the beach. It’s simple enough to keep your BBQ commitments and stoke your brain with creative fire at the same time.
It’s obvious enough to say read. But it’s important to interpret and apply what you read. Try talking to others about it. Find books that will give your career a jolt and intersperse them with books for pleasure.
Don’t forget recreation that will stimulate various parts of your brain. Play an instrument. Solve a puzzle. Play a sport.
Writing is another obvious tip, but this is one of the most dependable ways to keep the mind engaged. Boost your online presence by starting a blog at the same time as you hone the skill you’ll need to conquer those essays in the fall. Try recording your thoughts or keeping a journal of the things you learn over the summer. Write down words and ideas that interest you.
Try doing for something for someone less fortunate. Volunteer for something that interests you, be it helping out at a soup kitchen, spending time at a nursing home, or taking care of kids at a summer camp.
Sara Sutton Fell says, “One of the best things you can put on your resume… is volunteer work. This shows employers you are willing to go above and beyond to use your talents for the betterment of others.”
“Make a contribution to society and remember that you are a privileged person and that privilege comes paired with responsibility,” says Stacey Cunitz, Director of Admissions and College Counseling at The Crefeld School in Philadelphia.
Whether you are able to invest a little or a lot into keeping your mind sharp over summer and possibly even advancing your knowledge and understanding in your field of study, don’t forget to be curious. Ask questions and don’t forget why you started down this path in the first place. Every little bit helps. So, when you head out to the lake for some rays, don’t forget to tuck your book under your arm.
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