Weekly Featured Article

A Year in Review: What Have I Learned This Year? (**Warning: Long Read**)

Another year (almost) gone by.


Well, like I said, almost

It truly was a great one – very different from first year, in that it was much more challenging than ever, however everything that I have learned this year truly made it all worthwhile.

So what have I learned this year?

Stay organized


Every time that I had felt organized this year, I felt in control. I wrote a post about staying organized earlier in the year, and one of my goals for the year was to try to practice what I had preached – that is, utilize some of the methods I mentioned in the post to stay organized.

Although I certainly had times this year where I was not at all organized, the times that I was, I truly felt on top of the world. And certainly I have only become more organized since getting a new smartphone!

Take sufficient breaks

I’ve always been told to take breaks while studying. But no one ever really told me how to take breaks, or for how long. 

One of the things that has helped me this year has been understanding when I need to take a break – essentially, rather than just creating a schedule and factoring a couple breaks into it, I found it most efficient to take a break when need a break. I started to learn a bit more about myself and my own work limits, and I found that when I begin to get distracted, less focused on work, or when my eyes start to tire (usually after about an hour and a half or so of solid working), that is when I need to take a break.

Not only that, but I learned to take breaks that work for me, and that will have me fresh and ready to go by their end! My average break is between 5-30 min long, and I try to pick an activity to do that will reward me for my work, but that will have me ready to go by the time it’s done. If it’s a quick break, I often use that as a snack or tea/coffee break – sometimes, a quick bite is just enough to get me ready to go for my next round of hardcore studying. If it’s a longer break, I try to go for a walk, go spend a bit of time with my sister or my parents (or my brother, if he’s in the neighbourhood), do some cleaning up, or read a book. I try my best to stay away from watching TV or playing video games, because I find that I may get too distracted (and then that 30 min break turns into a 3 hour and 30 min break!). Regardless, I learned to find the break activities that helped me most in being refreshed and prepared to start working again.


THIS. Seriously, procrastination is not fun. And in times of crisis (such as when your hard drive crashes), you’ll wish that you had finished that paper and handed it in weeks in advance (so that you won’t have to ask for an extension when you lose all of your work a week or so before it’s due)!

Time management shouldn’t be a one day event. It should be an ongoing process, which means you should constantly be trying to stay on top of your stuff, and then setting aside time to go out and have fun once you’re all done. However, you should also be realistic – don’t pretend like you’ll actually get that 15 page paper done in two days when you also have class and work. Be realistic about your abilities, and don’t overwork yourself.

Eventually, managing your time will become easy – but don’t get discouraged if you’re not at that stage yet (I know I’m not)!

Back up your work

Buy a USB or a portable hard drive (preferably the latter) or an online cloud service and back up your work. That means saving it in more than one spot, just in the case of, say, your Mac crashing twice in one year, forcing you to pay over $800 in repairs and subsequently scrambling to re-do two papers that you had already completed.

Don’t think it can’t happen to you. Because as soon as you least expect it…BAM! You’re hit with a surpass heavy work load and an even heavier receipt from Apple.

**NOTE: Just as an aside, this really did happen, and I have two words for you if you are planning on buying an Apple computer: Apple. Care. There’s nothing more frustrating than losing the entire content of your computer and then having some ‘genius’ tell you that he is “now going to educate you about why you should have bought Apple Care.” I strongly encourage you to either purchase the insurance with the computer or don’t purchase the computer at all. They are great machines, however things can and do go wrong, like with any other computer.

Scattered Desk, Scattered Mind

The cleaner my desk and/or room, the better I seem to work and feel. Weird, eh? Now, whenever I’m about to sit down to work, I try to clean up my desk, and it really helps!

Review right after class

I have found that reviewing right after class/as soon as I can following my class, the better I can remember concepts at the end of the semester. It really helps things become ingrained in my mind. Not to mention that it helps me come up with some questions to ask during tutorial.

If you’re behind, don’t get discouraged

Let’s face it – I’m not perfect. I get behind in school sometimes. And unless you are perfect (and if you are, please tell me how you do it), you probably get behind on your readings or studying sometimes, just like me.

But fear not, my friends – if you are behind, it’s not the end of the world. What’s more, I have found an easy trick that you can use when you’re behind in your studies, and it works great:

  • Just like you can skip a question if you’re stuck and then return to it on an exam for the sake of time, you can put aside a reading or put aside reviewing your notes if you fall behind. If you don’t get a chance to study one week for whatever reason, just skip it and move on to the next week so that you are moving in time with the course – this way, you can keep up with the course as it moves along without falling behind more and more each week by trying to catch up. Try and use any extra time you have along the way to go over this old stuff, and spend extra time on it later on before your exam to be sure that you know it well.

Just remember that you can get caught up. However, trying to get caught up right away can often lead to you getting even more behind. Keep this in mind, going forward.

Travel Lots

Noula & I in front of Nikolaikirche, Germany's oldest church, in Berlin

My girlfriend & I in front of Nikolaikirche, Germany’s oldest church, in Berlin

Going to Germany this year has truly opened my mind up to the fact that they are places all across the world that I still have yet to explore – whole worlds and ways of life that I have yet to experience and appreciate. The trip this year has sparked my interest in traveling, and I now have a thirst for world experience that I hope to quench in the near future!

Be unsure – But don’t be unprepared

I had a really great conversation with a TA of mine this year about the future. I told him how I, like many students, am genuinely concerned about what I’m going to do after graduating. Not only that, I told him about how I am concerned that I am not in the right program, and that was adding to my stress about what my life would be like post-university.


So what do you do when you are unsure? What do you do when you are unsure of your program, and unsure of yourself?

What he told me was simple, and yet I had never really thought of it before. It’s okay to be unsure, he told me. Being unsure is about of growing and learning about yourself. However, make sure that, by the time you are done, you will have a direction.

What do you mean by that? I asked him. What he had meant was to use my time in university to explore my academic interests, and to learn what I like. But, in cases like my own where I have found almost everything I have learned interesting, I should choose a general direction for my schooling – with a specific goal in mind – in order to avoid being lost later. Therefore, as the title states, it is certainly okay to be unsure of yourself – however, come up with a goal and a plan to reach it, and this can provide you with a bit of security in case you can’t figure yourself out in time.

There’s lots more that I have learned this year, so stay tuned for Part 2 later on – I will publish it post exams!

Best of luck to all of you on your exams!

~ Christopher Ford


Just a couple of beauties out for a day on the town…Little sunny out, though!



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