OPINION: How to thrive this semester – Five Tips from a perpetual student


Audrey Korte

Having a dedicated and organized work space is important for success even if you’re living and working in just one room.

Wichita State is the fourth university I have attended. From Ivy League to State schools, I’ve done a little bit of everything. Mostly I just muddled through until something went wrong, and then if the Gods of academia were on my side, I’d learn to do better next time. Here are five things I’ve found useful over the years. 

  • Do some housekeeping

Last semester I taught and attended virtual classes from our family room or from my bedroom. I had a kid’s desk in my bedroom — something grabbed from the garage in a pinch — and a broken desk chair. Sitting on my bed all day or typing at the children’s desk with that broken chair caused recurring back and shoulder problems, so I tried something else.

When I’d teach classes, my family would vacate the TV room, much to their dismay. Because three of us have jobs that involve working with people confidentially, we were all moving in and out of that one room day and night based on our careers’ needs.

For me, the result was moving my laptop and books from bedroom to living room to kitchen in a constant circle. Every room became infected with my mess.

When my brother moved out of the house over break, I claimed his bedroom as my office.

The first thing I did was some cleaning. Then I bought a new desk chair. It was a significant investment, but my body is rejoicing. I added a bookshelf and three tables for my overflowing graduate school work. I placed my work table by the window, so natural light illuminates my face on ZOOM calls. I also hung up some photos and artwork. I then added another chair, which will probably act as more of a catch-all than a place to sit, but it’s there in case I get fancy.

It’s been a game-changer. Having a dedicated workspace, large or small, is crucial to your success.

So take the time to set up whatever space you have so that it is as functional as possible, knowing that you will spend a lot more time there than usual this spring. Even if it’s a tiny desk and your bed, you can make sure you’re well-equipped by getting a standing desk, a decent chair, and a desk organizer.

  • Post your schedule

In my opinion, nothing replaces a hard copy calendar — even the best app or phone calendar can’t compare to a cheap planner you take with you. Writing it down feels like making a commitment.

There’s something about a day planner and wall calendar that makes life so much easier. I suggest you get both — one you carry with you and one you keep on your wall or fridge.

Write your schedule down and set aside time every Sunday to make a new one for the week or to update old ones.

Now, the pièce de résistance. Use different color pens or highlighters to block out your time. Get some stickers; go junior high on it and make it pretty.

I use different color pens for teaching, coursework, meetings, and work. I have a five subject notebook for classes and a stack of legal pads for reporting. These small steps help me keep track of everything.

  • Don’t say yes to everything

It’s easy to feel pressured to be available 24/7 with this weird virtual world we’re living in. I have my student’s needs to consider, my own graduate work, The Sunflower’s publishing, applications for jobs and scholarships, and the family to think of. It’s a lot.

Additionally, I regularly work with groups in Sierra Leone and on both U.S. coasts. The time differences mean I’m often working when I’d prefer to be relaxing or asleep. That can be frustrating.

But the biggest issue isn’t other groups or the time changes. It’s me. I say “yes” to everything. In fact, I volunteer for stuff I don’t have time to do, especially when I get excited about something.

If you’re a “yes” person like I am — continually pushing yourself to do more, than consider this my personal invitation to say “no.” It can be a difficult skill, and I have by no means mastered the whole “no, not right now” thing. But for your health and sanity, work on this.

At the very least, don’t say “yes” to something without consulting your fantastic schedule (both the pocket and wall version in case they’re not the same).

  • Build healthier party habits

There’s a reason why you feel like crap after a night of partying. Part of it is because you are likely dehydrated. Part of it is because you are likely imbibing massive amounts of carbs and sugars, depending on what you’ve been eating or drinking.

Even if you’ve made some bad calls throughout the evening, you can make good calls before bed. It’s much easier to do so with friends, so get them on board. When I used to go out with friends regularly, we had a ritual of coming home from parties or clubs and making each other drink 32 ozs of water. It’s a game-changer.

While you’re probably not hitting the bars much these days, I have no doubt that partying ensues. Make pacts with your friends to take care of yourselves and each other, especially at the end of the night — make a “recovery” plan and stick to it.

Tea and honey can help your lungs. Gatorade helps your electrolytes. Rice, bananas, applesauce, and scrambled eggs are all cheap ways to get food in your system if you’re too amped up to eat.

Water helps everything.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that COVID-19 is still a threat. So mask up, social distance, wash your hands and maybe consider saving the parties for the post-pandemic future. But if you should find yourself at a party despite the dozens of good reasons not be there during the pandemic, please take these suggestions.

  • Build healthier exercise habits

Get yourself in the habit of working out, and your brain and body will thank you. You can’t work 24 hours a day, seven days a week — believe me, I’ve tried.

After COVID-19 hit, I was too freaked out to go to the gym, and I finally realized I wasn’t going to get in shape magically, so I made an immensely grown up purchase. I bought a rowing machine.

You, however, have cheaper options.

WSU students have a YMCA membership through Wichita State, and the Y now offers virtual classes. All you need is a wee bit of space, and you can work out from home.

Walking may seem a little “old lady” to some of you, but it helps with muscle tone, flexibility, stress relief, and heart health. Get outside for a good walk (or jog) around your neighborhood a couple times a week. Go with a friend for accountability or just bring your favorite headphones and be your own company.

This time of year, I suggest scheduling your walks or runs ahead of time based on the weather.

Just don’t forget to put it on your calendar.