How to balance work and play?
July 27, 2008 8:43 AM   Subscribe

How to balance work and play when there is so much that I want to accomplish?

I'm a sophomore at Duquesne University, majoring in physics and math.

I really want to study enough. I have gotten 4.0's for the last two semesters, so my cumulative GPA is 4.0. I don't really want to depart from this yet, or if I do, not by that much. I'd love to keep 3.9 or better.

I think though that I left the last two semesters too much to chance. I only studied when I felt like I really needed to in order to pass a test, and that was just your usual cramming the night before.

I've been working this summer on studying more. I got my textbooks early and have been studying them, doing problems, and learning as much as I can. I've been studying more than I ever have before, but still it isn't as much as I would like.

Of course one motivation is to try to get another 4.0, but the long-term motivation is to retain understanding of all of this material, to get very good grades and get into a very good graduate school, because I would like to earn a PhD in physics. I've always been an over-achiever so I really want to do as well as I can.

Anyway, my Chemistry professor recommended 3 hours per week per credit for science classes, including the labs.

Chemistry is 5 credits, that's 15 hours.
Physics is 4 credits, that's 12 hours.
Calculus is 4 credits, that's 12 hours.
I have a Theology class, that is in the university's honor's program, so I'm going by the same rule there since there is a lot of reading and writing, compared to non-honors classes. That is 3 credits, so that's 9 hours.

This gives 48 hours.

This is a lot in and of itself, but there is still more I'd like to do.

I use a program called SuperMemo where I enter all of my notes and break them down into questions and answers. It helps with stuff that just has to be memorized. I built in a little time for that into the study time for all the classes since I'd have notes from all of the classes in it. However, it also has a final drill kind of thing where it drills on the stuff you didn't do so well on that day, so I'd like to put around 20-30 mins to that per day, so that's around 3 hours per week.

I also like adding data to this program regularly. I got a list of common vocabulary words on the GRE, and have been working on adding those. I'm trying to improve my vocabulary so am adding new words to this program when I can.

I also like to do my own study and research. For example, I got these CD's called the Feynman Lectures on Physics, that I've been trying to find time to listen to. I also regularly look up articles on anything I find interesting.

i've also been trying to write articles for my blog about science and math, to kind of solidify my own understanding and hopefully help anyone who reads it.

So, with all that extra stuff, I've come up with about 60 hours per week. That's insane, I think.

I have 16 credits, but with labs and recitations, it comes to 19 hours and 20 minutes of classes per week.

I'm in Delta Chi and am trying to get into the SGA. Luckily this currently only takes about 3 hours per week (2 hours for chapter meetings for Delta chi and an hour for SGA meetings every other week). On top of that though I'm the scholarship chair for Delta Chi for at least this semester. I'm also in IHS (Integrated Honor Society), though I'm not nearly as interested in that.

All right, so the essential point is that I want to do everything, but don't have enough time. I don't want to dip below 7 hours of sleep, because I'm afraid my brain won't be working at maximum ability and I'll be hurting myself despite all of the study time.

I really wish I could compress all of my classes to be one after the next, because I have sometimes 30 minutes between them when there's not really enough time to actually do anything worthwhile.

Anyway, i've been going through my schedule again and again, and I just can't see how it will work. I don't want to get burned out, either. I can find enough time, but only if I have maybe all of 2-3 hours in the whole week for myself to just, relax, and socialize.

But I really don't want to cut anything out, and I don't want my grades to suffer, either.

I really don't know what to do, because I feel overwhelmed just thinking about trying to execute such a mammoth schedule.
posted by Perpetual Seeker to Education (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have to take 4 required classes?
posted by k8t at 8:57 AM on July 27, 2008


Well, I have to get 120 credits before I graduate. I got 30 credits in my freshman year, and the average is 15 credits per semester. I changed my major last year, so have probably exhausted my electives. Any core class has to be honors, since I'm in the honors program, so it's either science, math, or honors.
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 9:04 AM on July 27, 2008

Either cut something out or bear being overscheduled. Unless you have a way to somehow create extra hours in the day, the simple laws of reality mean that you only have so much time. I guess you could start abusing amphetamines so you don't need to sleep and thus have more time to do all the things you want to do, but that seems like a poor choice in the long run.
posted by Electrius at 9:06 AM on July 27, 2008

Minor in math then, if you can't handle the load.

Or do summer classes to take a lighter load during the school year.

Double majoring is cool and all, but if your ultimate goal is to go to grad school in physics, don't waste your time taking the extra math classes. No one cares about my double major, that's for sure.
posted by k8t at 9:19 AM on July 27, 2008

Currently, my weekday schedule is:

Go to work 9-5
Do Russian-English translations 6-10
Read books for thesis 10-1
Eat dinner 1:30
Go to bed.

When the semester starts (I have one left) it'll be a little different, but similar.

It's not as hard as you would think. I think I do about 80-84 hours a week (I translate and do thesis work on Saturdays too, and blog, and read Heidegger for my book group), and it's not a big deal--I defer getting drunk until late Friday and Saturday night, and actually feel pretty good most of the time. Because what are you really doing with your extra hours? Reading MetaFilter?

But on the other hand, you don't need to overload yourself nearly as much as you think. Most courses do not require 3 hours per credit, that's ridiculous.
posted by nasreddin at 9:22 AM on July 27, 2008

I would cut the blogs and the cd lectures on physics.

Your time would be much better spent if you want to get into a good grad school if you could find a professor who does research that you are interested in and volunteering in their research lab. Plus by gaining experience in the field that might reinforce some of the concepts that you are learning rather than trying to do lots of memorization.
posted by mcroft at 9:22 AM on July 27, 2008

Study Hacks blog has a lot of good tips on increasing the productivity of your study time, and also a lot of suggestions on how to make the most of your college career including not overwhelming yourself and having fun. He has a lot of students from really competitive schools like MIT sort of "make over" their schedules so that they have time to fit activities and studies into their schedules. Might be worth a look while it is still summer!
posted by sararah at 9:28 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding what mcroft said. During interviews for grad school almost all questions were related to work I had done at various labs during the summer and research reports that I had written. If you can get a paper out of one of these research experiences all the better. I'm sure that my good GPA and great GRE scores helped me get a foot in the door, but in the end graduate programs care more about your ability to do research than anything else.
posted by peacheater at 9:32 AM on July 27, 2008

k8t: Yeah I thought of minoring in math, but not sure if that'd change it much. I would do summer classes, but I can't afford it. The tuition is the same whether I take 12 credits or 18, so the summer classes would just be extra. tuition is $25,000 per year as it is.

nasreddin: That's interesting. I was quite busy last semester, too, but not sure if it was as much as I'm expecting this semester. Last semester, I was pledging, so after classes, studying and pledging and all, I'd get back at midnight and just go to bed, get up the next morning and repeat.

After that, though, I got considerably more lazy, especially since I moved in with the fraternity and so had all of my friends around. This semester, I'll have my whole pledge class around as well, with whom it's safe to say I'm even closer.

Anyway, regarding studying, well my professor said this was specifically for science courses, which I'm not surprised about. There's the reading, and primarily doing a lot of problems, etc. I'm not really sure, though. I know a pre-med major who takes similar classes, and he said he did about 3 hours per credit for Chemistry, but slept through Calc I (as did I, well not literally but it was very easy, and I rarely studied). I have Calc II this semester though and hear it is the most difficult.

Anyway, my philosophy for this semester is that it's better to do too much than not enough.

I think my big concern right now is that I am hard pressed to get that much work out of myself during the summer, so can't imagine how I will do so during the semester. I guess it is a different mindset during the semester though, but I'd at least like to try to start emulating that before the semester starts. Not to mention I'm itching for classes to start, anyway.

Yeah, in my free time, well yeah I tend to hang around here and browse some forums. I love philosophizing, so am on a skeptics' forum as well. I guess I'm not that attached to it, though. It's just something to do when I'm too lazy to do productive work.
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 9:37 AM on July 27, 2008

mcroft: True, I guess I could do that, though I really don't want to, lol.

As for research, I plan to do that, but was going to wait until I have at least another semester under my belt.

sararah: Thanks. I will check that out.
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 9:41 AM on July 27, 2008

Try reading a couple of articles at the Study Hacks blog. Start with the articles in the popular posts sidebar.
posted by snoogles at 9:41 AM on July 27, 2008

Oops, sararah got to it before me.
posted by snoogles at 9:51 AM on July 27, 2008

I'm going into my senior year at Winthrop, and I don't study nearly that much. Or at least it's not a constant thing. I've always found that paying attention in class and taking good notes was worth a few hours studying.

I know for us the difference between a major and a minor is about 6 hours. So switching that could be advantageous for you. My roommate was planning on majoring in History with a German minor until he realized that he only needed one more class to make that a German/History double major. The morale of the story here is that minoring in Math won't hurt as opposed to majoring, and you can always up it later.

If you're going to drop anything, I would have it be the blogs. But not in a way you might think. If you're writing the blogs as a way to solidify the material in your head, that's studying in my book. So why not consider it that?

Also, my professors have always told us to study as much as we need to and not to set a time in stone. If I get something after 10 minutes even though I've blocked an hour for it, I get 50 minutes of free time. On the other hand, if I need another hour I do it and worry about that next activity later.

Something else I've heard from students on both end of grad school and professors is that grad schools like GPAs slightly lower than 4. They said it shows you can overcome adversity and deal with things when they don't go perfectly. Obviously there's a lower limit to this.

I've had semesters where I was booked solid. It was Hell. Extra curricular activities are great, and I'm not knocking any of them individually. But too much will seriously test your sanity. I would consider dropping something, or at least seriously cutting back on it.
posted by theichibun at 10:50 AM on July 27, 2008


Thank you very much for your suggestions.

That's the thing I've been thinking. I just found this article that talks about working in short bursts, and not doing more than about 2-3 hours of intensive work at a time. I like that idea.

One thing I've thought of is that if I didn't require much studying for the last two semesters, I probably won't require as much as the average student next semester.

I just wish I knew how much I will need, or how much I should plan for. I don't like the idea of walking in without a plan.

That Study hacks site seems to suggest breaking it down into tasks, instead of just generic studying. I'd like to practice that idea though before classes start, but obviously don't have real assignments yet. Maybe I can do things like, read this chapter or do these problems by this date, or, I don't know yet.

I already consider the writing as a form of studying. I originally put 3 hours per week to that I think.

As for extracurricular activities, I'm thinking of dropping the SGA, and maybe just focusing on my position in Delta Chi for now.
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 11:17 AM on July 27, 2008

N-thing study hacks blog, and his book - How to Win at College.
You should read these posts.

As a science major, I'm not sure about the necessity of doing all of the assigned reading. Try attending the lecture first, the lecturer will probably repeat everything you would have had read, and fill in the blanks from your books.

And Sundays are great days to study.
posted by ye#ara at 1:56 PM on July 27, 2008


Thanks, I've already read those posts.

About reading: Really? I always thought one should at least get familiar with the section(s) before lecture so as to be familiar with it.

Also, I already have Sundays filled in pretty much, as well as Saturdays, except for after 8:00 PM. I could only squeeze in 40 hours during the week, so had to put a lot of time during the weekends.

What I'm not sure about right now is how much time to give to reading, as well as problems. I currently have them with the same time, though I know that's probably not correct. Maybe something more like 75%/25% (problems/reading) would fit more.

I already plan to try to reformulate all of this after getting more familiar with the methods discussed at that site, but have no idea how much might be necessary.
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 3:13 PM on July 27, 2008

Take the 3 hours/week standard with a huge grain of salt. Professors always tell you that, and as with anything that's that much of a commonplace, it varies from person to person. It's probably truer of science classes where you get to count the labs as part of your hour count, but in my (liberal arts honors/law school) experience I never spent that much time studying (or otherwise preparing for class, which is generally included in the 3 hour figure). I honestly wouldn't have known what to do with the extra time for most of my classes. It sounds like your past experience says that you don't need to go the full 3 hours either. Part of the college experience is learning where your limits are -- how hard you need to work, when you can relax, when you've relaxed a bit too much. I understand (boy, do I understand) wanting to have a plan, but flexibility is important as well.
posted by katemonster at 3:15 PM on July 27, 2008

The particular thing I picked up out of your plan is that you want to do 20-30 minutes of Supermemo reminder-quiz stuff each day, and that you sometimes have up to 30 minutes of 'not useful time' between classes. If you could manage it somehow, maybe you could change your Supermemo use to something you do in those random spots of time.

If you can't do that (no laptop, or whatever) then see if there's anything else that can go in the random times. Maybe you can do your theology reading between classes? Perhaps you can keep a notebook with you and sketch ideas for your blog posts?

Or when you say you 'regularly look up articles on things you find interesting', perhaps instead of just reading them as you think of them, you could print them out and only read these random interesting things in your random free time, making notes of the ideas that you want to find out more about. This way you make use of that random time and also limit the time you spend on 'increasing general knowledge', which is (in my experience) a pursuit that can expand to fill all available time.

Basically I guess I'm saying that it sounds like you are pressed for time, and you have (up to) a couple hours a week that you can't currently figure out how to use. These are ideas for how to use them.
posted by jacalata at 5:47 PM on July 27, 2008

katemonster, I agree with you on liberal arts classes. Actually with science classes, that does not include the labs, because the labs are separate one-credit classes.

jacalata, good idea. I have an entire hour between my physics lab and the physics lecture on Mondays, for instance, or 35 minutes between calculus and theology on Thursdays. I'll try to use these times if I can.

Some things I'm thinking of right now include:
  • Try to plug the holes in my schedule during the day, between classes and such, so as to minimize the time required at night.
  • Maybe work hard all week, then take Saturday totally off.
  • Implement some sort of Sunday ritual to regroup and also plan the upcoming week.
  • Try to do intensive work in no more than 3 hour bursts so as to maintain peak focus.
  • Perhaps schedule certain times of the day for specific things, like doing problems for a few hours, or reading a little to prepare for the lecture. I'm thinking problems will take up at least 75% of the time I study for each class.
Well, it seems the primary focus will be doing problems, since that's probably the hardest part of any science or math course. The question still remains, how much time to devote to working on problems for each class? It's hard with them because you never know how long each one is going to take.

Thanks everyone. These replies are very helpful.
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 10:13 PM on July 27, 2008

Regarding reading: yes, really.
As long as you keep up with the class material, you can keep up with the new stuff said first in class. Cal Newport also mentions in his book that pre-reading material in technical classes is not a winning strategy. The way I see it - we're not discussing books or philosophies in these classes. We're trying to understand concenpt. No point sitting in a hour long lecture, if you've already assimilated the material. Your time is better spent doing practice exams, for example.

Both Sunday and Saturday filled up?
Make sure you have a day off school to re-energize, do something active and turn off your brain. Six days a week of focused work are much better than seven days of unfocused work.

Yes, problems are more important than reading. You'll go back to your class notes and textbooks when you solve problems. Better off starting a problem set and figure out what you do not know as you go along.
There are two opposing strategies on how to approach them - either to do them all at one sitting, which can save a lot of time over switching tasks, or use the method described here, spreading it over the week. Each one has it uses.

You might want to look into Holistic learning [preview version halfway down the sidebar]. I've read the full version of the e-book, and I've found the way he outlines the learning process useful and insightful.
posted by ye#ara at 11:54 AM on July 30, 2008

yeara, thanks so much. That makes sense.

I reformulated my schedule and have Saturday totally off now. I love that idea.

I tried to follow the advice on that Study Hacks post about doing problems, and so fit in a few longer sessions for working on problems throughout the week (Sunday, Wednesday, Friday) and shorter ones on other days. We'll see how it works.

So, about reading, would you recommend not doing any reading for technical classes unless I need to review a certain concept or equation?
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 12:29 PM on July 30, 2008

if you just got out of a lecture, and you have no idea what is was about, then, sure, go ahead, read up until you can grasp the concepts. and keep you books close by when you're doing your problem sets. rote reviewing your books? boring and wasteful.

by the way, Study Hacks is focused on liberal arts. his advice about notes should be taken with caution for science majors. you want to have as many sample problems as possible, and personally, i like having most of the equations proofs in my notebook, rather than look for them in textbook, in case i didn't understand something.
posted by ye#ara at 10:55 PM on July 30, 2008


Interesting that it is focused on liberal arts, when the author is in science isn't he?

Anyway, I realize that. I usually write down all example problems the professor goes over and write down all steps to work through it.

Thanks for your suggestions.
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 2:12 PM on August 1, 2008

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