Tag Archives: sophomore

Self-Care 101

Many call it the “sophomore slump”. I guess it’s named that because classes start to step-up and social life begins to shift around. Of course, that’s just a generalization.

Coming back to campus for my second year, I initially felt much more comfortable and prepared. I think a lot of freshman year was getting settled in and figuring out how to adapt, so it was nice to come back to a place knowing where everything was and how things worked. Still, I felt that last semester was rough. I was distressed, lost at times, and I really didn’t take the time to take care of myself. 

And because I neglected to take care of myself, I got really sick during the latter half of the semester. It first started with pneumonia — at the beginning of Thanksgiving break, I went to NYC with some friends to explore. I felt a little uncomfortable the day before we left, but I shook the feeling off because I was excited to go on this trip we had planned for weeks. While there, I got multiple fevers and migraines, but I still went out to explore the city because we’d only be there for 3 days (stupid, I know). We also spent good money on this trip, and I didn’t want that to go to waste. I think a part of me didn’t want my friends to miss out on all the experiences that could’ve been, but looking back I really shouldn’t have tried in the first place.

After getting back to Baltimore halfway through break, I ended up going to the ER on Thanksgiving (which happened to be my birthday 🙁 ). There, I officially found out I had pneumonia and I spent the next couple weeks recovering. After having “recovered” I had to revisit the ER to get even more antibiotics. I missed even more class because of that. 

I think in a time where I missed 3-4 weeks of school (and forcing myself to go to some classes when I shouldn’t have), a lot of compounded stress made it much harder to recover. I was on the border of trying to get work done, catching up on deadlines, and recovering, and trying to do all those things at once didn’t really resolve anything. I did poorly on tests I could have made-up, but at the same time, the end of semester was filled with make-up tests I still had to take. 

Taking care of yourself.

It’s a super simple, yet oddly foreign concept to me. I like to try and do a lot of things, and because of it, I leave myself behind. Looking back, I realize I completely forgot to take care of myself because I didn’t think it was as important as socializing or studying. Now, I ask myself what could I have done to do more self-care?

First is realizing your own boundaries. I think students at Hopkins are involved in a long list of activities, classes, and clubs; I’m the same way. I know that I can handle doing a lot of different things, but at the same time, I know that I’d be a lot better at one thing if I’d just focus on that. I mean part of college is exploring, but I wish I’d drop some things I didn’t think were worth my time. 

Second is asking for help. I consider myself a pretty independent person, and I don’t mind doing things on my own. With that comes a certain amount of control on some aspects of my life, but I also sometimes overestimate what I can and can’t handle. Last semester I wish I had asked more favors of my friends, things like getting extra toothpaste or shampoo when they had to go to CVS, or picking up an extra sandwich on their way back from class. Although seemingly trivial, I think small favors like these would have gone a long way in times where I was really pressed for time.

I know this is an obvious one, but eating right, exercising, and getting a good amount of sleep. In college, it’s so easy to just escape your dorm at 2 AM and walk across the street to get an order of mozz-sticks. It’s also easy to make plans to exercise by yourself or with friends, and then fall out of routine the next week. It’s ALSO easy to plan on getting work done from 9:00 PM to 11:30 PM, then finding out talking with your friends took 2 hours and it’s now 12:30 AM. I think being harder on myself to follow routine things would have helped tremendously.

College is an exciting place, but it’s also distracting. Like me, a lot of my friends struggled with school last semester. I realize now that taking time for self-care is probably the most important thing I need to do not only here at Hopkins, but throughout the rest of my life. The transition from home and parents to college and self-sufficiency is a lot tougher than you’d expect, and I wish I had recognized that sooner. 

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On Failing A Test

I failed my first Nervous Systems exam.

There. I said it. I’d say there’s no shame in saying it, but oh there’s so much shame in saying it. I’ve never flat out failed a test before, and it pains me to say that I’m a Neuroscience major. I mean, if it were a class I was taking that wasn’t related at all to my course of study, I’d probably just drop the class. But this is Nervous Systems – this is the class of the major, the one class everyone freaks out about and the one everyone studies so extremely hard for. I have to take this class if I want to be a Neuroscience major, and there’s no way around that.

I studied hard for the test. I kept up with my readings, I went to every class, and I studied a considerable amount for the days leading up to the exam. I never wanted to fail (of course, no one does), but yet I did. Maybe I’m not time managing well, or maybe it’s because I’m living in a totally new environment. Maybe it’s all these excuses I’ve come up with in my head, and maybe the reality of it is just that I could’ve studied a lot smarter instead.

Nervous Systems is an amazing class, and no one will contest that. It’s taught by two wonderful professors, Dr. Haiqing Zhao and Dr. Stewart Hendry who pour their heart out into the material they teach. The class is taught in the traditional lecture-style, but the both of them discuss the course material in a very personable and appealing way. It’s an honor being able to learn from such intelligent and humble people.

Zhao and Hendry try their best to let us succeed. The class is very transparent and organized extremely well, and they provide more than enough resources to help us learn the material.

That’s part of why I’m so ashamed and disappointed in myself. I’m in a neuroscience class at Hopkins, where everyone around me is excited and willing to learn material from two of the best professors I’ve ever had, but I still failed the first exam. After I got my grade back, in the midst of being in disbelief, Dr. Hendry sent out an e-mail that really stuck with me:

“Here is a story, a composite in which 4 former Neuro majors are used as exemplars for many others.  Each of these four is currently a medical student earning both an MD and a PhD at one of the best med schools on the planet.  All of you would recognize the names of the med schools and all of you would be ever so happy to trade places with these four.  What they have in common is this: each of them failed the first exam in Nervous System I and all of them went on to earn A’s for this semester and A+’s for the next.  One student stands out because after failing the first Nervous System exam, she missed a total of 5 points for the rest of the year – both NS1 and NS2 combined.  And here is my point: lots of folks go into the first exam without much feel for how well Dr. Zhao and I expect you to understand the material. Now you do appreciate how well we expect you to understand it and I am sure all of you have a much better sense of what it means to really understand it.  If you have any doubts, look at the annotated key and pay particular attention to the answer to question 4. And then appreciate you would need to rent out Shriver Hall to hold all the people who have done poorly on the first exam in Nervous System I and then have gone on to earn A’s in this course and in the one that follows.  If you are disappointed in your score, let me encourage you to fix whatever let you down for this exam, and be another of those who recovered beautifully, so that I can talk about you next year to the next group.”

I’m not used to failing, and I never want to be. I’m not going to say that I’m okay that I completely screwed up the first test, but I’m going to come to terms with it because it’s already happened.

What’s left for me to do is to reset my study habits from the past couple weeks and to start anew. There’s a need for me to not only prove that I can do this to myself, but also to my peers, parents, and teachers too. I want to be able to succeed in an environment like Hopkins, because doing so really means that I’ve learned the material concretely and well. It means I know how to learn, to problem solve, and most importantly to grow.

Here’s to admitting my faults and learning from them. My next Nervous Systems exam is in a week, and I’m going to do everything I can to ace it.

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