Effective Revisions & Notetaking

Thursday, September 27, 2018

1. Take your notes by hand.

Hard pill to swallow: if you have tabs open on Urban Outfitters, Facebook Messenger, and The Cut, you're not paying attention in class. I find that taking my notes by hand, even digitally, makes it harder to multitask and helps me actually retain the information. The classes I performed most poorly in (ahem, PSYCH100) were the ones where I mindlessly retyped the slide decks while finding the best Cyber Monday deals (and then actually shopping the Cyber Monday deals, and then the "in case you missed Cyber Monday" sales). Handwriting your notes helps you organize them in more intuitive (non-linear) ways -- think cute arrows, groups of content, flow charts, etc. I still prefer digitally handwritten notes (via the OneNote app) over traditional pen & paper for better organization and archives, though.
2. Create a template to organize your thought process. 
What works for me is a loose Cornell template that (1) organizes the vocabulary/core concepts, (2) identifies concepts in increasingly granular detail, (3) leaves room for questions, (4) allows me to synthesize the information. I also include the associated/relevant readings and lecture title at the top of the page. I like that OneNote allows me to flag each of these things. (See also: How I use OneNote for work!)

3. Always make cheat sheets, even if you can't use them in class.
I've very rarely had to reference a cheat sheet during an exam because the process of making one is such good practice. It forces you to (1) review the key topics and concepts, (2) hunt down every single useful formula and its applications, (3) narrate the logic of different problems and solutions.

About 10 days before a major exam, my study routine is as follows:
10 DAYS PRIOR: Outline the major concepts and review the chapter summaries in the textbook. I like to plan my studying so that I have at least 1.5 days per chapter (depending on the course -- some classes have longer, more comprehensive units).
- I dedicate 1.5 days to each chapter or major topic covered on the exam. One full day to review slide decks, chapter summaries, and my notes, and then half of the next day (to test retention) on practice exams or questions. In math/econometrics classes, I spend the half day redoing any problem sets. I also make the Quizlet if I haven't done so already.
5 DAYS PRIOR: Take Practice Exam 1 "dry". Ideally, I'd have more than one practice exam to review with, but if I only have one, I'll revise the problem sets again. By "dry," I mean without any references to replicate the exam setting (even if you are allowed a cheat sheet). This helps me identify what I suck at.
- If there's a type of question I struggle with (a time period in history, an accounting concept, etc.) I spend extra time studying that from a different approach. If I didn't understand it from reading the slides or textbook, I'll try a YouTube video or going directly to office hours.
3 DAYS PRIOR: I create the cheat sheet. The example below sort of deviates from my favorite template, but I typically create a left column for key concepts and definitions, and then dedicate the rest of the sheet to breaking down the logic of different types of problems. For humanities-based courses, I do Cornell notes.
Good luck!

How to Source the Strongest Letters of Recommendation

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Whether you're applying to college, trying to get a summer research position, hoping to study abroad, or applying to a grad school program, you'll eventually need to ask for a letter of recommendation.

Here are my tips on how to get the best recommendation possible:

1. Have your resume ready.

This may seem obvious, but have your resume ready so that the person who is writing your recommendation letter can see all the things that you've done. This helps them come up with things to write about and have some more knowledge about you and your qualifications. You should definitely make the process of writing the letters as easy as you can.

The person you're asking probably sees hundreds of students a year and is asked for letters of recs all the time. They may not remember how you did in their class or what your interests were, even if you have had conversations with them during office hours. Help them out by providing some context to who you are! OCL will have another post about resumes later on, but you may want to include the following: your overall GPA (and your specific major GPA if that makes your GPA higher), your standardized testing scores (SAT, GMAT, GRE, etc.), relevant classes you've taken, work experience, volunteer experience, leadership experience, any accomplishments/awards you've received, and some interests.

2. Have your story ready (and write it out!)

Similar to having your resume ready, having your story ready helps your letter of rec writer understand why you're applying to X program or why you need the letter in general. It provides insight into what you want them to talk about. On that note, it's so important to know what the point of the letter is. Is your school looking for someone who is intellectually curious? Is your program looking for someone with demonstrated leadership experience? Do your research to find out what characteristics the person reading the letter believes are important. (LC: I also like to share the program description and add a few notes about how my specific experience with that professor/mentor lends towards stronger candidacy for that program. I've also found that professors can often connect you to past applicants/alumni of those programs for referrals or advice!)

3. Schedule a chat and be ready to chat.

I think it's super important to connect (either in person or through a call) with your letter of rec writer, so they know how important the letter is. If your writer has time, schedule a thirty-minute call with them just to go over your resume/your store/what things your program wants in applicants, etc. This is a good way to show your rec writer that you're serious about whatever you're applying to and it's an easy way for them to clarify any things with you that they may not have time otherwise to reach out about. 

4. Have dates ready.

Know when your letter is due and make sure you tell the person writing your letter of rec. I offered to remind my letter of rec writers a couple weeks before my letter was due and they told me that'd be helpful for them! Your letter of rec writers probably have other deadlines and things happening in their life. Sending them a reminder a couple weeks before the letter is due is a perfect way to make sure they're on track. It's also a good way to stay organized as well if you're applying to multiple programs with multiple due dates. I really like to use Google calendar to set up reminders for myself on when to do things like reach out to my letter of rec writer. You can also set up emails with a delayed send (though be sure to delete them if your letter of rec writer has already finished your letter!)

Bonus, write a thank you letter or a card or get a small gift! Regardless of whether or not you get into whatever you're applying to, it's important to thank your recommender. They took time out of their busy lives to help you and you should be grateful! This is also nice in case you need to ask them later on for another letter. They'll remember that it was a pleasure to help you.

Hope this helps,

The Catalogue: No. 16

Sunday, September 9, 2018

I've always found that not taking care of yourself/struggling/sadness/depression/etc. is super romanticized especially in academic institutions. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with the entire spectrum of human emotions and being vulnerable, I can't seem to understand why so many of us idealize things that hurt and suck. We try and normalize not eating or not sleeping because "I was studying so hard", instead of making it sound as disruptive as it actually is. (On the other side, I can see that all of this has made being mentally ill more de-stigmatized. But I still think there's a line we need to tread carefully on moving forward.)

So here are some ~interesting~ thoughts and articles (worded well by other people since I'm not always great at formulating the thoughts I have):

Depression's Upside | Jonah Lehrer, The NY Times
It doesn’t matter if we’re working on a mathematical equation or working through a broken heart: the anatomy of focus is inseparable from the anatomy of melancholy. This suggests that depressive disorder is an extreme form of an ordinary thought process, part of the dismal machinery that draws us toward our problems, like a magnet to metal.

But is that closeness effective? Does the despondency help us solve anything? Andrews found a significant correlation between depressed affect and individual performance on the intelligence test, at least once the subjects were distracted from their pain: lower moods were associated with higher scores. “The results were clear,” Andrews says. “Depressed affect made people think better.” The challenge, of course, is persuading people to accept their misery, to embrace the tonic of despair. To say that depression has a purpose or that sadness makes us smarter says nothing about its awfulness. A fever, after all, might have benefits, but we still take pills to make it go away. This is the paradox of evolution: even if our pain is useful, the urge to escape from the pain remains the most powerful instinct of all.
We Need To Stop Romanticizing Mental Illness | Lara Kahn, Thought Catalog
Mental illness and low self-esteem are terrible things. But it seems that the movement to de-stigmatize them has gotten horrifically confused with a movement to romanticize them. [...] A culture has developed that idolizes mental illness, and encourages self-harm, self-medication, and even at times ending it all and becoming immortalized as a romantically tragic soul. [This] can feed into the [wrong] attitude that has become more and more prevalent: that doing the raw, tedious, unexciting and difficult work of therapy is not the answer. That embracing mental illness, glorifying it as tragedy, and staying insulated in a community where no one will ever tell anyone that mental illness is not a way to live, is the answer [when it is not].
Project LETS (Lets Erase The Stigma) | Think globally, act locally. Project LETS is building sustainable peer-led resource systems in communities through LETS Spaces & our Community PMHA Model.

I don't want to be a damsel in distress, because there is nothing that great about being in distress. It sounds cheesy, but I'd much rather be happy.


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