Bigger Pictures: Perils of Perfection, Part 2

“If I waited for perfection… I wouldn’t write a word.”

           ~ Margaret Atwood

I’ve been a Margaret Atwood fan for decades. I came across her work in the late ‘80s when I took a Dystopian Literature course. Some of the books, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, I devoured years before. But I didn’t know The Handmaid’s Tale, or its Canadian author.

Margaret Atwood blew me away.

Not only did Atwood’s novel excel at the dystopian level, it also sparkled at the sentence level, and every self-respecting writing student of that distant age (like yours truly) developed an almost perverse eye for what happened in a text at the sentence level. To my developing eye, Margaret Atwood’s sentences were perfect. They shimmer with clarity and convey complex human thought lucidly, even if the character isn’t particularly lucid. This kind of thing doesn’t come through on Hulu.

So, of course, like any novice besotted with the work of a master writer, I got intimidated by her prowess. I mean, if I couldn’t write like that…well, what was the point?

Which brings us back again to our opening quote: If I waited for perfection I wouldn’t write a word. Come, unpack with me.

If I waited. Our great woman of letters tells us that avoidance isn’t going to get it done. Atwood knows writing something even just “good enough” requires work. (She also quipped that the greatest writing invention is the trash can.) Moreover, she implies that perfection at that earliest stage is out of the question.

And then we get I wouldn’t write a word, the frightening inertia that too often tags along with being overly perfectionist.  

I once went through a bout of writer’s block that lasted nearly two years. While there were more than a few factors that dried me up, I later determined that the biggest factor was fear, and a very special type of fear at that. I called it fear of criticism not yet voiced. The damning criticism that blocked the flow of words I once took for granted didn’t come from anyone actually directing criticism from the outside, all the nagging criticism lived in my only in my own head, whispered in my own voice. Criticism not yet voiced.

What I had to learn (the hard way, of course) is that I had to get out of my own way. Nobody else said the things I heard in my head. Workshop taught me to filter outside criticism, to consider the source and what have you. But once I realized that I had gotten in my own way, I was able to write again. I just had to get by criticism not yet voiced.

This little epiphany got me writing again. It can work for you, too.

By Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor

Bigger Pictures: The Perils of Perfection, Part 1

“The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement.”

         ~ George Will

As we rapidly approach the end game of the semester, it seems appropriate that we take a moment or two to consider the Penn student’s perennial perplexing predicament: perfectionism. (Loyal readers of this space should be well aware by now of your humble blogger’s penchant for alliteration – and if you weren’t… well, you are now.)

Perfection seems to be an intrinsic part of the Penn student body DNA. It starts before the acceptance letter from Penn arrives, when future Quakers set sights not only on achievement but on flawless achievement. In short, perfection.

In fact, the flawless achievement mind set often takes root at an early age, and left unexamined, can lead to all kinds of academics-related problems. Just a few, in no particular order:

  • Writers block – it is hard to jump into the writing process if you’re already worried about how the paper won’t pass muster, even if you haven’t written word one.
  • Non selective exam prep – this happens when you’re so worried about knowing absolutely everything for the test that you fail to prioritize and master the material most likely to be on the test.
  • Procrastination – why not avoid a task that you’re convinced will not meet your self-imposed standard of perfection?

You don’t need to be a Weingarten learning instructor to recognize how detrimental to academic achievement any of the above can be.

Some things, of course, need to be perfect or as close to perfect as humanly possible. But honestly, those things are few and far between. Stressing out and losing sleep over how everything has to be absolutely perfect is no way to live.

So, might I suggest going for simple excellence?

Striving for excellence is a different matter entirely than constantly grinding away at perfection. Excellence does not carry with it the notion of flawlessness that perfection brings along. Excellence accepts that working towards excellence can, in fact, lead to something that approaches perfection, even attain perfection.

In other words, don’t let perfectionism get in the way of excellence.

By Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor

Bigger Pictures: When Finals Attack

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“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

     ~ Benjamin Franklin

We have rapidly approached that most wonderful time of the year, when the season tickles the gizzard of every good girl and boy: Finals. It seems like only yesterday that we were feeling the pain of trying to sleep in dorms lacking air conditioning. Ah, yes. Treasured memories.

Anyway, with the season of Finals nigh upon us, let’s take a few moments and go back over a few of the basics as we all get pumped up for the last round up.

  1. It’s always better to sleep than stay up and cram. Decades of research says so. You want to be sharp and rested rather than dopey with sleep deprivation.
  2. Don’t study one subject to the exclusion of everything else. Sure, you’re worried most about Math 114, but that doesn’t mean you blow off Bio and Econ study. You’re just setting yourself up for disappointments in classes you thought were “safe” if you go down that particular road.
  3. Don’t attempt to read everything you didn’t read during the previous 15 weeks. Seriously. We get two “Reading Days”. You cannot read all that in 48 hours. Rely on your lecture notes. If you don’t have lecture notes, rely on the kindness of classmates and get yourself some.
  4. Spread out your Finals study time. You don’t have to wait until the last day of class before you begin to study.
  5. Don’t freak out over cumulative finals, especially if you’re taking a third or fourth “midterm” during the last few days of class. Studying for that last “midterm” means, by definition, studying for the cumulative final in advance. Look at you go.
  6. It’s not too late to make the acquaintance of a friendly and knowledgeable Learning Instructor at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center. We can help.

Don’t panic.

By OLR Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor.

 

Study Strategies: Dos and Don’ts for Reading Days

How many times have you said, “I’ll get this done during Reading Days?” I know I have said it at least ten times this semester. This semester’s reading days are Thursday, April 26 and Friday, April 27. Reading days (and the weekend before finals) are a great time to get prepared for your final exams and papers, but those two days go by very quickly. In this post, I’ll share some dos and don’ts for Reading Days success.

DO create an action plan. As soon as you can, look at all of your syllabi to get a better understanding of what exactly you have to do for your final assessment for each class. Do you have a final paper? How long is it? What kind of outside research does this paper require? Do you have to do a presentation about your paper in class? Do you have a final exam? Is it cumulative? Is there a study guide? Create fake deadlines for yourself before the actual deadline by bringing your paper or study plan to the Weingarten Center or by taking your paper to the Marks Family Writing Center. Making an appointment will create an accountability measure for yourself.

DON’T start the day before. The worst time to start looking at exam material is a few hours before you take the test. If you create a plan and familiarize yourself with your professor’s expectations for the final, then you will know how much time you must devote to studying for that particular exam. Similarly, starting your paper the day before the deadline won’t yield the best result. You may need to get books from the library or interview someone to complete your assignment, so advanced planning is critical when completing these papers.

Do prioritize. The end of the year comes with lots of fun activities that may get in the way of your exam and paper preparation. You are encouraged to balance work and fun, and the best way to do this is by putting all of your activities, fun or not, onto a calendar. We have April-May calendars in the Weingarten Center that are perfect for this activity. Once you see when everything will be taking place, you can make some choices. Perhaps choose one fun activity to do during the weekend before finals, and sandwich it between study/work sessions for your exams and papers.

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Don’t try to cram. Depending on how much time you have to study before your exam, you will have to make some choices about what you study. If you are short on time, focus on reinforcing the material that you know well and reviewing the topics that you can easily learn, rather than getting held up on the most complicated parts of your coursework. This strategy is the best way to get through as much as possible in a short amount of time.

For more tips on making the most of your Reading Days, visit us at the Weingarten Center! We’ll be holding two “Study Hacks for Reading Days” workshops on 4/23 and 4/24. Additionally, we are open for 50-minute appointments or shorter walk-ins if you would like to consult with a learning instructor individually.

Best of luck on your final exams and papers!

By Staff Writer: Cassie Lo, Learning Instructor and Research Fellow

Student Voices: Creating Positive Environments

College is advertised as a place where students can learn, grow, and interact with their peers. The college setting is known for bolstering interpersonal relationships in virtually every setting, including college dorms, dining halls, and even group study rooms in open spaces.

Before coming to college, both of us had imagined a college experience that would challenge us to explore the unknown, meet unfamiliar faces, and succeed academically. This image of the perfect college experience soon became dependent on the people in our immediate surroundings. From the friends with whom we became acquainted, to the professors with whom we interacted, these key relationships provided a strong and positive foundation for our now flourishing college careers.

Interpersonal relationships are an important part of students’ academic success. We have found that surrounding ourselves with the right people, inside and outside of the classroom, is an essential component of achieving academic success.

From Chieme:

Chiemela Ohanele

At Penn it is easy to be consumed by the daily pressures brought on by academics or extracurriculars. However, Rani and I have found that the constant positive reinforcement of a persistent friend or a model mentor can make these daily difficulties easier to withstand. Whenever I am concerned about a class or overwhelmed with responsibilities, I can turn to Rani to encourage me to get the job done and to put my best foot forward even if I am burnt out and ready to give up. Through my friendship with Rani, I have learned how essential it is to have these constant cheerleaders in my life. Not only have these motivators given me the courage to persist through adversity, but they have also given me the confidence to know that I am capable of achieving the goals that I have set out to accomplish.

From Rani:

Richardson_Rani_HeadshotApril2017

Our relationships outside the classroom are critical for thriving academically, but the attitude we have toward our coursework plays a role as well. Contrary to what we had expected, sometimes, campus culture can also include negativity about schoolwork. It is normal to hear people around you discussing how pointless the class is and refusing to do the homework. During exam week we hear people saying how they are going to fail the exam, and it affects not only their focus and productivity, but it affects others as well. It can be very difficult to do well in a class if one internalizes this type of mindset.

Chieme and I have adopted an attitude of positivity. When we have classes together, we sit near each other and our comments on the coursework classroom material are usually positive and hopeful, if there are any at all. In classes where I don’t have friends like Chieme to foster a positive attitude, I try to sit with quiet people or those who also have a similar outlook on the material. Surrounding oneself with positivity seems to supply the courage and energy necessary to attack the material in a more productive way.

* * *

Overall, we have enjoyed our college experiences. Our friendship, work ethic and positive outlook have gotten us far along our respective paths.

  • So, try to find people who push you towards the goals you have set for yourself.
  • Try to find those constant motivators who will encourage you to think beyond the campus culture and to embrace positivity.
  • Look for ways to create constructive friendships and in-class interactions that will promote academic success.

Contributed by PENN Students: Chiemela Ohanele and Rani Richardson

Study Strategies: Wrapping Up Spring Semester!

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While it might not feel like spring outside, the semester is starting to come to a close. As we start to prepare for final papers and projects, it can be too easy to start to feel overwhelmed. Don’t let your impending deadlines get the better of you this semester. Weingarten has some tools that can help.

  • First, we suggest laying out all your deadlines on a calendar. This helps you see what tasks are coming up (Stop by Weingarten to pick up one of these calendars).

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  • Next, work backwards from your larger project deadlines and/or exams. Break down these tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks.
  • Create deadlines for these mini-tasks and write these deadlines on the calendar as well.
    • These mini-deadlines will help to make sure you are staying on track with your assignments. These deadlines are personal, so if you need to move some around or reschedule, you can! Just make sure you are not falling too far behind.
  • Make sure to note any other personal obligations you have on this calendar.
  • Call Weingarten at 215-573-9235 to schedule an appointment with a learning instructor who can help you utilize this calendar, make a plan for your studying, or help you manage multiple papers and assignments.
  • Schedule time to attend the Study Hacks for Reading Days workshops:
    • Monday, April 23rd from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. at the Weingarten Center
    • Tuesday, April 25th from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. in ARCH 110
    • Register at goo.gl/iGH4rk
Enjoy the rest of your spring semester!

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Remember Weingarten is here to help!

By: Kelcey Grogan, Learning Instructor and Research Fellow

Study Strategies: What does this problem want me to do?

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Solving problems in STEM courses often requires identifying the correct procedure for solving a problem. If, under the time pressure and stress of an exam, you jump right at a problem, you may choose the wrong procedure to solve it.

To train yourself to look before you leap, when working on problem sets, ask and answer the questions, “What does this problem want me to do? How will I give it what it wants?” for each problem.

Rashmi Kumar, Ed. D., STEM Specialist at the Weingarten Center, consistently teaches her undergraduate and medical students to ask these questions before they jump at the problem, so they are more likely to pair it with the right procedure:

What does this problem want me to do?

Define the goal of the problem

It might make the work a little more fun, and you will be faster and better at problem-procedure pairing on the midterm:

How will I give the problem what it wants?”

Identify the procedure that should be paired with the problem

Imagine…

Susana is about to solve a STEM problem. She asks herself,

What does this problem want me to do?

She answers,

Hmm, it wants me to calculate the torque at a perpendicular force.

Then she asks,

How will I give it what it wants?

And answers,

First I have to convert the units into the expected format. Next, I’ll need to identify the right equation. Then I’ll be ready solve the equation.

Simple and easy, right?

Practice it until it is an automatic habit and you will do it under pressure.

And for added fun, try saying “problem-procedure pairing” ten times fast!

By Staff Writer: Nicholas Santascoy, Learning Instructor