A newsletter for ISS students, alumni, faculty, and staff.
Vol. 3, Issue 2 // Winter Quarter 2020
By Aimee Kelly, Assistant Director of Academic Services, ISS
Happy New Year and Happy New Decade to our ISS Community!
The transition to a new calendar year is often a time of reflection. And, chances are you’ve made a resolution or two as you identified priorities and goals for the year. We know that many students in our program, as well as those who graduated, came to ISS because they value education and to complete a long-held goal. We also know that it is hard work--for those of you balancing home, work, and school responsibilities--it can be a struggle to do “all the things.” So, the theme of this quarter’s newsletter is academic wellness, focusing broadly on the struggle that comes with limited time and the stress that often comes as a result.
In my view the very best segment we’ve included is based on the tips, advice, and words of support offered by current and graduated ISSers who responded to a survey we sent out earlier this month. We’ve summarized the responses into four topics including time management, academic skills, communication, and resilience. Reed, our librarian, and I wrote a piece on digital wellness--something both they and I spent time researching in 2019. With some adjustments in how you use digital technologies, it’s possible to free up some time and reduce stress. Our colleague Ricardo Hidalgo from UW’s Hall Health discusses self-care practices to help manage the stresses that you might be dealing with as you navigate your way toward degree completion.
There’s a wealth of knowledge here! While it might be tempting to try a lot of these ideas at one time, we recommend picking one or two new strategies on which to focus. One of my favorite strategies I recently learned is to identify a few goals to work on for a shorter time period--and an academic quarter provides a good structure for this practice. Don’t try to do everything--identify some priorities, and focus on those!
While the University of Washington offers many great resources, some of the very best tips for academic success come from our students. This is especially the case in Integrated Social Sciences, where our diverse student population navigates the challenges of balancing home, professional, and academic responsibilities. So, we surveyed our student and alumni population for their insights, asking about difficult circumstances they overcame while in the program and the best single piece of advice they have for ISS students.
We received responses from 21 individuals, including seven current students and 14 alumni, with thoughtful, detailed responses. Not surprisingly, most of the responses dealt with time-management and school/work/life balance. Each quarter we survey incoming students, and these two challenges are of significant concern. Our respondents also recommended excellent academic strategies and gave insight to how they made it through some difficult times in their program. We found so many excellent suggestions—too many to include verbatim—that we hope to place these suggestions on our webpage in the near future.
So what did these students suggest to help manage the challenges they faced?
When it comes to managing time, students recommended the following practices:
1) Plan ahead, in the broadest possible way. This involved reviewing work, family, and school schedules, and identifying priorities.
2) Develop a weekly schedule or routine, including time for reading, time for fun, time for family.
Graduate Hayden Perkins described his initial challenge balancing work/school/and family time. “The key was to ensure I delegated enough time to each without sacrificing one, or over-committing in any. I made sure to spend time with family as much as possible after work, do homework in the evenings, and have at least one day on the weekend to spend solely on family activities.”
Some folks did this planning early in the quarter, while others preferred to manage their schedule on a weekly basis. For example, one anonymous current student wrote “At the beginning of every week, I quickly review the requirements for each class and then map out my approach for how I will complete the tasks”;
3) Follow-through with the schedule! Chris Daniels, an ISS graduate, put it succinctly: “Schedule your study and writing time like you do work time. Not negotiable and very consistent.”
It can be pretty tough to “absorb” what you’re learning in upper division classes, especially with limited time and lots of materials to make your way through. One strategy to help with this is to be intentional and strategic in how you approach course content.
ISS Graduate Katrina Rachel emphasizes the value of knowing and following your course syllabi (something your instructors will wholeheartedly agree with!). Student Jessica Love’s strategy is to “read with intention and purpose”, which she accomplishes by watching the lectures and reading the instructions before reading course materials. In this way, she can read “with the intention of extracting the most relevant information.” She highlights the most important content on materials she’s printed out (or on paper copies of books), and uses that to inform her responses. Molly O’Brien, another current student, emphasizes the value of reading daily and setting aside time to process what you read through note-taking. And while you are at it, be sure to note page numbers, something Eric Hufnagel points to for strengthening writing skills.
A number of graduates also spoke to the value of getting work done ahead of time. Craig Smith observed that his work was of higher quality and was less stressful to complete if he started early. Similarly, Nick Rabena wrote:
I always found myself as an average student who had to work a little bit harder than others to understand assignments and the reading material. A strategy that worked for me was giving myself artificial deadlines and committing to my own deadlines. If an assignment was issued on Monday and due by Sunday night, in my mind it was due by Saturday morning.
All of the responses to our survey acknowledged some sort of challenge. In many cases the challenge related to the difficulty of integrating a significant undertaking into one’s life, or of a new academic skillset. In some cases, students spoke of significant, unexpected changes in life circumstances – car accidents or health challenges, or even expected changes, such as the birth of a new child. Regardless of the situation, both students and graduates stressed the importance of communication. Tina Torres reminds us of ISS’ purpose:
Don’t give up - communicate. We all have moments when we just want to throw the towel. ISS is the most supportive program, in part because it’s designed to give us a second chance to complete what we weren’t able to do before. So communicate where you’re at, don’t go silent and disappear! ISSers, staff, advisors, directors, professors and other students want you to succeed. We’re rooting for each other!
One alumna, Isebelle Fraser, further reminds us of the strength it takes to ask for help: “I know it’s not fun and it can make you feel like you aren't capable on your own, but that is not true. It takes a lot of courage and self-awareness to realize when you need to reach out for help.”
Lastly, our students and graduates provided gentle reminders and tips to keep moving forward when the hurdles feel like they keep piling up. Sometimes, it means focusing on smaller tasks. As Zachary Duhon writes: “Do something, anything, every day to keep bettering your position within the program, no matter how insignificant it may seem. It will help propel you tomorrow or maybe in a month. Keep choppin’ wood!”
Other times, letting go of minor setbacks and disappointments to focus on the main goal, however you define it, can be helpful. Kristen Ballou reminds us to: “Try and keep an eye on the prize, end of assignment, end of reading or paper, end of project, end of class, end of quarter, end of..... baby steps.” And if nothing else, in the words of Dan Strader: “Be kind to yourself if things don’t go as expected.” It’s okay to be disappointed or upset about an outcome of an assignment or a class, but take it as an opportunity to learn. After all, learning is what this is all about—and sometimes the lessons go beyond academic knowledge!
By Reed Garber-Pearson, ISS Librarian and Aimee Kelly, Assistant Director of Academic Services, ISS
Chances are that as an online student you spend a lot of time with digital technology. After all, you are required to be online to complete much of your coursework. And for many online students, being online is a form of connection and community in learning. From keeping up with your family on your smartphone, to staying connected on social media and completing your homework on Canvas, the hours that we all spend online adds up quickly. According to the Internet Trends Report 2018, the average American adult spent almost 6 hours connected to digital media daily. Sometimes this can have effects on our mental health and mood. If you’ve found yourself struggling to keep up, feeling depressed or overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Researchers have found that being connected digitally can affect sleep, induce depression and create anxiety.
As a student in an online program, using digital technologies is a necessity. So what are some ways that you can be successful as an online student, while managing your screen time--and potentially gain back time? We’ve summarized some suggestions from a few resources we find useful: UW’s Student Life Center and Purdue University. We also draw from Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, written by Georgetown professor Cal Newport.
Take an inventory of the applications you are using. How much time do you spend online everyday? Why do you choose to use these tools? What technologies are essential for your professional, academic, and social life? What technologies are not essential?
Reflect on your current values and goals. How do you need and want to spend your time? What do you care about?
Examine the impact of your use of digital technologies. Do they support your values and goals? Does your usage impact your time for other areas of importance to you? What positive and negative effects do you experience?
Try a digital detox! Some folks like to start slowly by committing to one day or one hour when you don’t log into certain websites or apps. You can even try being online for only a specific time each day. Others suggest going cold turkey. Try an approach and see how this makes you feel.
Reduce your screen time through intentional use of technology.
Identify the digital technologies that best serve your values and goals or are essential, and delete the rest!
Consider removing certain applications from your smartphone and use them only on a computer. Or, consider setting limits on your technology usage.
If you know that checking social media or browsing the internet is distracting you at work or while studying, start writing your discussion posts or other coursework offline.
By Ricardo Hidalgo, MA, LMHC at UW Hall Health
What is stress? Stress is made of stressful thoughts and images in the mind, a rush of adrenaline, and corresponding sensations and tensions in the body. Anxiety and fear are other words for stress. Fear is as natural and healthy a response as is the pain we feel when we put our hand in the fire.
Fear is a helpful message that says, “Danger! Pay attention! Take care!” The question is: Is there real danger (immanent), or imagined danger, like the thought, “I won’t be able to get it all done,” and the feeling that something awful will happen if I don’t?
Usually, when we talk about stress management, we are talking about ways of getting rid of or reducing the tension or fear. The only way to reduce fear is to feel safe again. Fear/stress activates our fight/flight/freeze response so we can get back to safety.
But what happens when we cannot find our way back to safety, as in our fear of failing to complete a writing assignment or getting our degrees; or fear of losing our loved ones; or fear of losing our health, etc.? We remain in the fight/flight response longer than is healthy for our bodies, so they start shutting down to conserve energy. This shows up as tiredness, fatigue, lack of energy, loss of motivation, or depression.
To feel safe again in the face of failure and loss, we can come to accept these as inevitable in life and to realize that, while uncomfortable and painful, they are not dangerous. We have all already survived both. They are like an injury or illness from which we heal.
There is a saying that states, “F E A R can mean two things – Forget Everything And Run, or Face Everything And Rise.” We can spend the rest of our lives running and distracting and avoiding, or we can face our fears and rise above them to do what we love and live our lives fully. We get to choose. Only one of them qualifies as self-care.
Kelly McGonigal found research that shows that stress is not bad for us. What is bad for us is the belief that it is bad for us. (See her TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend)
To summarize, the impulse to manage stress is probably always motivated by our fear and resistance to our stress, which only adds to our stress. It is not stress that needs to be managed, but our response to stress.
When we respond to stress by simply acknowledging, allowing and accepting it, we are switching off the sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight), and switching on our parasympathetic nervous system (that returns us to calm). We could call this “permission to be stressed.”
When I first learned of this, I’d tell myself, “I get to be as stressed as I need to be for as long as I need to be,” to counter the years of messaging that told me that I should not be stressed, I had no reason to be stressed, and to get over it. Meeting stress with acceptance is self-compassion and is the first step back to our longed-for calm. This is self-care in the face of stress.
In the spirit of self-care, Hall Health has this resource page on Mindfulness.
Our community of students, alumni, faculty and staff are up to great things! If you have an update you'd like to share, please email us!
- Spring 2020 Registration begins February 14th! For more information, check out our resource on all things registration.
- Please join Mental Health Therapist Ricardo Hidalgo and ISS Adviser Bridget Norquist on Zoom, Wednesday, February 19th from 12pm-1:30pm (Pacific Time) for: “A Conversation About Perfectionism and Procrastination.” Participants are welcome to attend part or all of the webinar, and will be able to ask questions anonymously. Register here to attend.
- The ISS Graduation Celebration will take place on Sunday, June 14th, the day after UW Commencement. Let us know your plans for attendance with this survey. ISS Advising will send more information in May!
- Congratulations to ISS Alumna, Officer Peyton McCulley, who was recently accepted to the MS in Forensic Psychology program at the University of Arizona!
- Need some inspiration? Check out ISS Student Lauri Hennessey’s article on Thrive.com about returning to school after 30 years and loving it.
- Congratulations to ISS Student Andrea Benson, whose years of restaurant management experience, along with her ISS coursework and personal dedication to social justice, helped her to become Market Manager at the Poulsbo Food Bank!
- Aimee Kelly, Assistant Director of Academic Services for ISS was nominated for the 2020 UW Distinguished Staff Award!