In my last post, I provided some keys to success in Engineering. At Convocation last week, the Chancellor gave some detailed pointers on how to spend time – including class, study time, sleep and working. I thought I would elaborate a little more on the topic, and gear it towards Engineering.
In my experience, a significant problem first year students face is their newly found “freedom”. That is, no “guide” is present to manage their calendars and time. While this feeling is often exhilarating, it can be perilous – as one can feel as if they have unlimited free time. First, let us get rid of the notion of “free time” as there is no more expensive commodity than time – the minute that just flew by to read this is gone, and cannot be recovered. Second, because time is no longer free, it cannot be wasted. This must be understood if you are going to succeed in College, and have an experience to never forget.
Let’s look at a typical 7-day week, which gives us 168 hours with which to work, starting with our coursework.
Class Time (20 hours): A typical Engineering major requires 16 credits of coursework per semester in order to graduate in four years. This generally means that a student will be in class for 16 hours per week, but we will round to 20 hours to allow for travel and the fact that some lab classes meet for more than the credit hour allotment.
Homework and Study Time (48-64 hours): A general rule of thumb is that each credit hour taken requires 3-4 hours of work per week to read, study, and complete assignments. Thus, for our 16 credits of work, we require about 50 hours of work per week outside of the classroom. While it is true that this number will increase and decrease over the course of a semester and between different classes, you will benefit from leveling the academic load over time. This can only be accomplished if you study early (starting before the night before the quiz or exam) and you begin your longer assignments, such as term projects, when they are assigned, not near the due date!
With 84-100 hours remaining, we can turn our attention to your health and well-being.
Sleep (56 hours): Sleep will vary over the course of a week or semester, but one should strive for 8 hours per night. By planning ahead, you can avoid the all-nighters. Sleeping will also keep you healthy, which is important to your studies and social life. Also, note that research is inconclusive on whether one can “catch up” on sleep – so don’t expect to get most of this on the weekends!
Eating (7-14 hours): You’ve got to eat! Finding time to do so will ensure that you eat well – protein and veggies will help keep your mind sharp and focused.
Exercise (3-7 hours): Joining an intramural sport team or hitting the gym regularly each week will keep you healthy and energized. Its also been shown to help one focus in the classroom.
This should leave us about 20 hours. Taken together, that is a lot of time! So what to do with it?
Job (0-15 hours): Many college students need to earn funds to help pay for College. Our math shows that this will have to be part time (about 15 hours per week) in order to succeed academically and stay healthy. Ideally, your job should match your needs for funds with your academic pursuits, such as working for a Professor in a lab.
Organized Fun (7-10 hours): UMass Lowell has over 250 clubs and organizations which provide opportunities for students to learn more about their major, explore hobbies, delve deep into culture, expand their horizons, or to just have fun. It is a great way to meet people, especially those that may be from another part of campus or have different interests. For most organizations, the expectation is to meet weekly, with additional organized functions spread throughout the semester. To get more involved, volunteer to be a leader and contribute to the programming.
Professional Development (2-3 hours): Engineering classes prepare you to become an Engineer, but additional “training” is needed to become a professional. Take advantage of offerings through Career Services to learn more about potential careers and how to land a great internship, co-op, and first job. Essentials include developing resumes as well as interviewing and presentation skills.
Intellectual Curiosity (2-3 hours): I am somewhat amazed when students do not take advantage of College. I don’t mean the classes and class work – I mean the opportunities that only come with being on a campus. This includes attending talks, discussions, debates, lectures, readings, shows, concerts, and tours. Pick any day on the school calendar and something “interesting” is happening. Take advantage. This is the only time in your life when these opportunities will literally come to you.
Downtime (5-7 hours): One needs time that is not filled by planning – to rest, think, read, play a game or talk with friends. This is critical to your mental health – do not ignore it.
Unfortunately, the 20 hours available to these endeavors are never in a block, but rather, scattered throughout the week and across each day – which means you have to be diligent in your planning. Keep a calendar and plan out each day – this will help you stay on top of things, especially as each week is never the same (with the exception of your scheduled lectures!).
One key to making this manageable is taking advantage of those “scattered” hours. If you have breaks from 10-11 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday between classes, then do not waste the time – head to the library and complete a homework assignment or study during the hour. Do not view this as “only” an hour, but rather, as an hour not to be wasted.
A second key is to get involved. Yes, I am advocating that you fill your calendar with a job, club activities, events and outings in order to have a full College experience – while making sure that you fill your obligations to your classes (68-84 hours each week!). In my experience, students that do not have a lot of free time are the ones that succeed – because they do not have time to procrastinate, and therefore, take advantage of the time they have to complete their work on time. (See the first key to ensure that you take advantage of all of your available time!)
Finally, be flexible – these are general guidelines. Day-to-day and week-to-week activities and requirements will vary greatly. This only furthers the need for good planning.