Advice from The (Peer) Advisors: Doing Homework Is a Skill?

Image of Peer Advisor Gwen Umbach

Check out the following study tips from Senior Peer Advisor Gwen Umbach (CCAS ’20)!

On the second day of this semester, the slam of my apartment door startled me from a social media stupor yet again, to see my homework spread around me, long since abandoned. I hadn’t intended to spend thirty minutes checking my notifications, I actually wanted to get ahead on my work this time.

UHP students are notorious even within GW for doing lots of things at once, and for me one of the biggest challenges of college has been keeping myself focused enough to finish all those things. Though it’s always a struggle, this semester I’ve finally managed to implement some of the great advice I’ve gotten over the years, and I want to share a of the few things that have actually helped me not only start my work, but finish it.

As the brilliant Ben Faulkner pointed out to me, not all homework is created equal, and choosing what to work on first helps maximize time. Whether you’re a morning person, or one who only does homework when it’s dark out, knowing what time of day you focus best (not just when you’re the most
panicked) helps manage those assignments that require the most brainpower. Similarly, when I have lots of assignments to do in a night, working from hardest to easiest, or giving myself easy work between the hard assignments, has helped make my brainpower last much longer than it used to.

The second and the biggest change I made to my work habits was defining where I work. In high school, I always studied at home, and when I started college I continued that without any real thought, but over time it has become apparent that I am terrible at concentrating in my own home. After trying most places on campus, I have finally settled on the DC Public Library as my place for more intensive homework. For easier or less pressing work, I choose a different location—maintaining the sanctity of
the library as a hard-work-only zone has helped me stay on task when it matters the most. Regardless of what the best place is for you, finding it and committing to it makes a big difference.

The last, and hardest, piece of making a work schedule, has been the actual ‘schedule’ part: deciding when to work. This is the advice that I heard repeatedly from professors and advisors, and failed repeatedly to put into place: Block off time for homework, and if anyone asks you to hang out during those times, say you’re busy. In order to stay focused, not just during one afternoon but in the long term, consistency is key. That means tricking your brain into thinking that you absolutely have to sit down and work, even though there is nobody forcing you to follow through. This is a big adjustment to make from high school, where parents, teachers, and coaches oversaw most of our activities and knew if we skipped out on something. And it’s even harder when you start long-term projects like an honors thesis, that might require a lot of self-discipline. Last semester, I utterly failed at this. I ditched my scheduled work hours for activities with friends, campus events, and even peer advisor meetings. Now, though, I’m holding to that schedule (so far), and it has made a huge difference in the amount of work I get done.

It is both frustrating and heartening to realize that now, as I’m about to leave GW, I have finally discovered some strategies for working and studying that I can actually stick to. As useful as this would have been four years ago, it’s remarkable to think about how far my habits have evolved from where I was in my first year. I’ve finally accepted the reality that study habits are a skill to be practiced, and despite the many question marks in my future as a soon-to-be-graduated senior, I’m starting to trust that as time goes on, I will continue to improve at the skills that I’ve gotten a grasp on in college. Even when I still find myself hopelessly distracted, it’s comforting to know that if I’ve come this far, I can get even better in the years to come.

The Great Alone, The Review

On Tuesday, January 21, 2020 The Review had its first monthly meeting where we discussed Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone. Here is what we had to say. (Warning, spoilers!)

 

First, our general consensus is that the novel reads like a bestseller. The story checks off many boxes of fiction like romance, adventure, coming of age, trauma, and family crises. At the end of nearly every chapter there was a cliffhanger or new plot line opened, making putting down the book a challenge. Although there were important themes that were thought-provoking, the novel didn’t change most of us. If anything, the constant movement of the plot became tiring and fantastic, which made it challenging to read.

The three main themes in the book that we discussed were trauma and violence, the forms of love present in relationships, and the themes of feminism. First, we discussed the challenge of placing blame on Leni’s father or seeing him as a victim of PTSD. Hannah wrote Leni’s father’s character in a way that made reader’s conflicted and almost felt relief when he died, yet felt sorrow for his pain and how he had to deal with PTSD. It made sense given the time period that his suffering after being a POW in Vietnam would be glossed over and not well-played out, since many veterans suffering from PTSD at this time had similar experiences. What was interesting is that Matthew received therapy after his traumatic experience with his mother’s death, so it was not as if treatment was unavailable for people living in Alaska at the time. Leni’s father refused to accept treatment ever, making him not just a victim of his experience. Another great question brought up by my own mother who read the book after I did is whether Leni’s mother should feel blame for putting Leni at risk by following her father to Alaska.

For themes of love in the book, Hannah plays out neighborly love, love as a “sickness” with Leni’s parents, family love, and love as a form of survival. We did notice that there is never true platonic friendly love. Leni misses that even when she moves back to Seattle, where Hannah only develops out the love she experiences with her family. Large Marge and the other female neighbors help Leni and her mother survive in the wilderness and Leni’s father, again following the theme of love as a form of survival. Even Leni and Matthew’s love becomes a form of survival.

Finally, we discussed the themes of feminism and strong female characters in the novel. A clear example of this was the strong female neighbors and their protection of Leni and her mother. What we struggled with is that Leni did not seem to grow much as a character on her own. When she was in Alaska, she may have been lonely but she was not growing on her own and in her own will. When she left Alaska, she was a young mother and had to grow as such. The only true decision she made on her own was returning to Alaska, where she immediately returned to being in a relationship and growing with Matthew. It was frustrating that Leni could not grow as her own person, but perhaps that was the tragedy of her character.

Interested in joining The Review? You can sign up for emails regarding our meetings here. Next month in celebration of Black History Month we will be reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

Apply to be a Peer Advisor

Honors Peer Advisors are an integral part of UHP advising. They provide mentorship to incoming first-year students and advise on the UHP student experience, honors classes, housing, and all other facets of life at GW. If you have a knack for mentorship and lending a helping hand, this could be the position for you.

Are you interested in applying to be an Honors Peer Advisor? Applications are now open:

  • Apply here if you’re applying as a new Honors Peer Advisor
  • Apply here if you’re applying as a returning Honors Peer Advisors
    • Please note that the Peer Advisor Leader (PAL) application is only available to returning Peer Advisors. It is included in the returning Honors Peer Advisor application form.

The application deadline is Friday, February 7th, 11:59PM. Please contact benfaulkner@gwu.edu with questions regarding the application.

#HonorsProblems: How to Ace Finals and Finally Relax

Peer Advisor Daniel Kassl in front of some cherry blossoms

Be not stressed about finals, dear UHPers! Heed the wise words of Peer Advisor Daniel to get you through this challenging season.

Well, here we are again. For some reason, finals season just keeps coming around at the end of each semester. Someone should really do something about that. Nonetheless, we now confront four, five, or sometimes even six final exams that disproportionately affect semester grades, challenging us to recall all sorts of random, seemingly useless information from lectures (including, often times, anecdotal vignettes during which the class fell asleep) to be employed during these long blocks of exams.

That’s one way to look at it, at least. One thing’s for sure: finals are tough. In high school, my finals were only nominally final. Rather, by the end of the semester, we all knew our grades save for those folks who aced or bombed what were called our final exams. At any university, though, we’re pressed to comprehensively demonstrate our knowledge and understanding that we acquired throughout the long semester to prove that we have mastered material. That’s quite scary, and foreign to many first-year students here at GW.

The first step in succeeding during this finals season is establishing some sort of studying regime that works for you, which includes what time of day you study, where you study (whether in Gelman, your bedroom, etc.), how you allocate time to different courses, and most importantly (believe me), how you’ll take breaks. This isn’t to say that you need a binding, notarized document with a study plan on it—even though that would probably do the trick—but rather that you should visualize some plan to which you can hold yourself accountable.

If you’re like me, studying in the morning is a non-starter, studying in Gelman cubicles causes you anxiety, and taking breaks can often interrupt your flow of thoughts. So, figure out a routine that works for you if you haven’t already, and take initiative to adhere to it. And for God’s sake—take a break and reward yourself for working so hard once in a while.

The final step involves understanding that a final exam is, in fact, final. I cannot adequately explain the frustration I’ve had five minutes after leaving an exam when I remember that I made a mistake—and now there’s nothing I can do about it. But that’s also the beauty of it—there’s nothing I can do about it! You shouldn’t worry about what you can’t control, and unless you’ve mastered telekinesis (in which case we should chat) you cannot change what you wrote in your final paper or on your exam.

At the end of the day, you’re an Honors student and are prone to pre- and post-exam anxiety like this, but I strongly encourage you to take a step back and a deep breath and understand—literally—the finality of final exams. You’ve worked diligently and tirelessly for a semester, and now you should take advantage of the holiday break to catch up on TV shows (I strongly recommend Curb Your Enthusiasm), read a non-academic book (I plan to read The Shining over break), and enjoy having much, much less to do. You deserve it.

My Favorite Tips to Boost Studying Productivity

Worried about the upcoming finals season? Don’t be! Peer Advisor Sarah has some excellent tips for you all to consider as you navigate this horrifying jumble of exams, papers, and presentation!

After enjoying a peaceful few days off for Thanksgiving break, you might come back to school and find yourself drowning in homework. You might have three papers, two finals, and a project due within the next couple of days.

Although it may feel overwhelming, and you might feel tempted to get right back on a train or plane and go back home, you can get everything done. With final season approaching, here are my favorite tips to increase productivity so that you can get the most done with the least amount of time.

  1. Make a schedule. It can be easy to spend all day working on the pretty, color coordinated study guide for your econ exam without starting the paper you have due the same day. Plan out how long you’re going to spend on one task, and plan when you’re going to switch to the next one.
  2. Get rid of the phone! When I’m studying, I usually give my phone to a friend and instruct her not to give it back no matter how much I beg. If that doesn’t work, there are apps to help you stop going on your phone. I use Flora, which lets you plant a garden, but kills the garden if you go on your phone (the guilt works).
  3. Find a spot that works for you. Whether that’s the quiet of Gelman fifth floor, or the more casual atmosphere of SEH, find a study spot where you can focus. I personally like studying next to windows.
  4. Change spots. Don’t stay in the same cubicle for eight hours. Just leaving the building and walking to a new location to study can clear your head and make you feel more awake.
  5. It’s okay to take breaks. If you are spending an entire day studying, you are not being your most productive. Take a break with your friends, or by yourself, and when you go back to Gelman you’ll be able to focus much better.

Join The Review!

Are you looking to read more in the new year? Do you wish you could read more contemporary literature outside of the classroom? Consider joining The Review, the UHP’s book club! We are a small group of individuals who share a love for reading, yet find it challenging to find time to read for fun in our busy college schedules. In The Review, we will be reading a piece of contemporary literature each month, and will be reviewing each book and share our thoughts with the rest of the UHP.

Our first meeting with be in January 2020 where we will be discussing the novel The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. Winter break is a great time to get ahead on some reading!

If you are interested in joining and would like to hear more before our first meeting, please add your email to our interest form here!

#HonorsProblems: Navigating The Impostor-Syndrome Horror of Honors Classroom Discussion

Peer Advisor Natalie Stands in front of a pillar

Academic terror.  Sheer intimidation.  My first day of Origins, I considered dropping out of the University Honors Program.  Was I smart enough to be here? Could I get high enough grades? Could I contribute thoughtfully to discussion? These were the doubts rushing through my mind.  

I was surrounded by brilliant peers discussing their desire to be the next generation of philosophers.  The professor asked weighty philosophical questions, and the students had profound thoughts on modernity, philosophy, and society.  

I had never read an original philosophical text in my life.  

Though only a few semesters ago, I was misguided in my intimidation.  After becoming more immersed in the UHP community, I am now able to recognize the importance of self-reflection rather than comparison.

Chances are, I’m not going to be the smartest person in the room, the most well-read, or most well-educated.  But, there is one thing I can control; I can always be the hardest working.

Instead of becoming frustrated with the vast intellect of my peers or their quick grasp of concepts, I focus only on my level of effort. 

By re-centering my focus on personal work ethic, I can curb frustrations that often arise from comparison.  I can’t control the grades I will get on a paper or exam relative to my peers, but if I am confident in the time and work I put into studying, I should be satisfied with the outcome.

This mindset has not only allowed me to succeed in my academics but also in my internships.  Rather than accepting the status-quo of other interns, I prioritize my individual effort. Being proud of my attitude and the work I complete allows me to thrive in a workplace environment. 

Whether in Origins classes or internships, if I’m proud of the effort I invest, I have no other choice than to be content with the result.  As UHP students, it is normal to fret over the brilliance of our peers. But, recognizing that we are all selected as unique and valued members of this community is essential in becoming the best versions of ourselves.

Somehow, I Manage: Figuring Out Life at GW with the Help of Michael Scott

Peer Advisor Michelle offers words of wisdom on managing life and college with a little help from our favorite regional manager of a Pennsylvania, mid-size paper provider, Michael Scott.

With midterm season underway, this high-stress period may induce mini-existential crises. It is around this time when students reflect on how their semester is going. Some may be satisfied and ecstatic with the progress they have made, while others might be thinking “where has the time gone and what in the world have I even done?” To help guide this reflection in a more productive direction, I recruited Michael Scott for his expertise on life. Thankfully, he has a plethora of knowledge to impart on you all. So, here are some quotes from our favorite Dunder Mifflin Regional Manager applied to the context of GW life:

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. – Wayne Gretzky” – Michael Scott

            This one is pretty self-explanatory. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and try new things! If you always remain in your comfort zone, you might miss out. Note, you might think that I am referring to internships, but I am also referring to experiences in general. The Foggy Bottom bubble is very real. So, I encourage you to gather a group of friends (or go by yourself because solo adventures are also super fun) and visit the other neighborhoods of DC. District Connections or Facebook events are a great way to start your search for the many things happening around DC. Also, asking upperclassmen or professors works too!

Sometimes I’ll start a sentence and I don’t even know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way.

            This quote is most emblematic of Honors Origins. Many of you may be intimidated by your Origins professor because they are just so intelligent, and it truly seems like every word out of their mouth is the most profound idea you’ve ever heard. It’s borderline Plato vibes. However, I promise that you will get more out of these discussion-based classes if you, wait for it, participate and discuss. All the professors are understanding and legitimately want to know what your perspective is on the topics. They won’t shoot down your ideas or call you stupid. Instead, they’ll follow up with questions to help you get a better grasp on the concepts and learn how to defend your ideas. It’s a great place to practice your speaking and analytical skills.

I am running away from my responsibilities. And it feels good.

            So, I would suggest not following Michael’s lead and hopping onto a train to escape from everything. I know I went into college thinking I could do it all and flawlessly balance classes, social life, student orgs, an internship, etc. However, being busy in high school is not the same as being busy in college. I too have an issue with overcommitment and am known to run around campus from classes to meetings to events. But it is important to recognize your limitations and learn that it is okay to say no. Be intentional in your activities because putting in just enough effort isn’t fair to that commitment or yourself. You should be fully engaged in the work you do because your time is valuable and should be put towards what you care about.

I-declare-bankruptcy!

            Please budget your GWorld. I know it might seem like you have a lot of money and can afford that $8 Chipotle bowl or $5 Chick-fil-a sandwich, but it will add up. At the end of the first semester my first year, I had a friend who was running low on fund and ate instant oatmeal packets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for an entire week… To avoid running out at the end of the semester, plan and budget right now by incorporating cooking into your routine or sacrificing that Peet’s/Starbucks coffee. For example, try to utilize resources like the free coffee in the Honors Townhouse (BYOM: bring your own mug).

I understand nothing.

            Ask questions! Don’t be afraid to go to a professor’s office hours when you don’t know what’s going on (but you can still go if you do know what’s happening). They might seem intimidating but they’re here to help you. You’re paying for these classes, so why not get the most bang for your buck and take advantage of that resource? Additionally, you might not even realize you’re confused until you unexpectedly get back an unfavorable grade. Sure, you might think “oh, in high school I only studied minimally,” but study habits from high school aren’t always transferrable to college work. You may have to adjust the way you study and that’s totally normal and acceptable.

And I knew exactly what to do. But in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do.

Three words: four-year plans. You’ve been tasked with mapping out your next four years here at GW and deciding what potential classes to take. It’s a lofty assignment. You might think that you need to have everything figured out, but you don’t! Sometimes we have no idea what we are doing next and that’s okay. Remember, you’ve only been here for 6 weeks and still have so much time to explore your interests. Stay open minded and take each step, one at a time.

I am dead inside.

            Imagine how tired we are. Midterms are here and you’re getting minimal sleep, your body is essentially pumping coffee, and the dark bags under your eyes make you look like a panda (most likely minus the cuteness factor). Work is stacking up and fall break can’t come sooner. But, even if you think you can hang on until fall break, don’t push off self-care. Please remember to take a break because there is a limit to how much your brain and body can take. Overworking yourself will make you less productive, disorganized, and even more stressed. Plus, it’s flu season and sustained stress without healthy habits increases your likelihood of getting sick. Take time away from your work to do a face mask, go to Helwell, spend time with friends, or whatever you need to de-stress.

Café Disco: Everybody dance now!

It’s never a bad time for a dance party. When you are stressed out and can’t handle reading another word of black text on white paper, pull out your speakers, play some upbeat tunes, and just dance. Get your body moving to recharge, build up that energy, then refocus with a more positive headspace.

Only thing that could make this day better is ice cream.

            Ice cream is the solution to everything. Period. (p.s. everyone should try Jeni’s ice cream)

#HonorsProblems (But Not Really): The UHP Community

Peer Advisor Bridget discusses the benefits of the UHP community.

A distinct image comes to my head when I think of college finals. You’re both anxious about the impending exams, papers, and projects, and excited for the well-deserved break and the chance to see friends and family. Perhaps the weather is finally chilly, or the summer heat is picking up. The semesterly student-faculty dinner offers a study break and the chance to laugh with old friends and professors over an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. Afterwards, you head back to the Townhouse for extended study hours and coffee, hot chocolate, and as many Trader Joe’s snacks as you can imagine. 

            It is hard to define “The Feeling” that I and other students get from the UHP community. However, I can say that one of the greatest things I’ve gotten out of my experience in the UHP thus far has been its strong sense of community and support. Whether it be the highly personal advising, the many events that involve lunch, or the small class sizes that foster strong professor-student relationships, the UHP community should be taken advantage of as much as possible.  

Sometimes it feels like at GW, or any other large institution for that matter, you are just a number, or that your personal concerns and needs aren’t being taken care of well enough. The beauty of the GW UHP is not only the liberal arts focused curriculum, but also the sense of community that often comes from smaller institutions. In honors, we get the best of both worlds, where students can benefit from the resources that a large, research-based university like GW offers while also experiencing the tight-knight community.

Perhaps I am biased as a peer advisor, an upperclassman, and a UHP student-staff employee. However, if I had to offer any piece of advice to UHP students is to take advantage of the honors community. Go on hikes. Drink our coffee. Get to know your professors. Get into heated intellectual arguments over lunch (insert plug for the monthly Food for Thoughts). Utilize UHP alumni. Apply for a research assistantship position. Talk to your peer advisors beyond your mandatory meetings.

And finally, lean on this community for support. Entering college can feel like you’re setting off to tackle one of your life’s greatest challenges completely alone. Just know we are here for you!

Apply to Be a Peer Advisor!

Honors Peer Advisors are an integral part of UHP advising, providing mentorship to new Honors students and providing a student perspective for the Honors community at large. They advise on honors experiences, classes, housing, and all the facets of life at GW as a Honors student.
Are you interested in applying to be an Honors Peer Advisor? Applications are now open!

  • Apply here if you’re applying as a new Honors Peer Advisor
  • Apply here if you’re applying as a returning Honors Peer Advisors
  • Apply here if you’re interested in a leadership position with the Honors Peer Advisors. Please note that leadership candidates should also fill out a regular application.

The application deadline is Monday, January 28. Please contact uhppeers@gwu.edu with questions regarding the application.

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