February 2019

The Toughest Major teaser image
At my alma mater it’s been said that bio-engineering was the single hardest major offered by the university, and biochemistry (my field) was the second-hardest.  Of course, now I’m taking my masters in bio(medical)engineering, and having experienced both flavors of meat science/engineering, I tend to agree with the sentiment.
But even for those of us who aren’t giving themselves stress-zits and grey hairs over the meaty biological sciences, school can be a challenge of time management.  (And for those of us who are studying some flavor of biology/medicine/chemistry/etc, well, our society is one that worships technology, and the science of healing broken meats biomedicine is the hottest of the technologies available.  So there’s lots of pressure.)
Here are the responsibilities I’ve had to juggle the last few weeks:
  • Schoolwork and classes
  • Chores/personal
  • Labwork
  • Professional/internship acquisition
  • Fun
Yes, fun is a responsibility too.  Everyone treats fun like that thing they do as default, when they are too drained to manage their other responsibilities, e.g. instead of studying for my midterm or doing three weeks’ worth of dishes, I played Fortnite until 3AM.  This is unmanaged fun, and it’s a sort of defense mechanism when your systems are overtaxed.

Managed fun is a necessary component to maximum productivity.  Too little fun, and you burn out.  Too much, and you’re using time on a process which produces diminishing gains.  When I was in undergrad, I ran some experiments on myself to see which sorts of fun were invigorating (video games, working out, sketching pictures, writing short stories, blogging) and which sorts were ultimately draining (scrolling through Facebook or reddit).
I chose video games as my testbed, and started experimenting with different lengths of time for recreation.  (If you’re having trouble keeping track of time, do what I did and set a timer on your phone).  Fifteen minutes did the trick for me, starting from the point where I was too drained to continue working on schoolwork.
You can tell how old I am, because the game I used as my testing ground was the original Mass Effect.  It was great because you can (mostly) save and quit at any time.
The sweet spot I found since then was to spend my day from 8AM to 5PM (probably good practice for holding down a 40hr/wk job) on schoolwork, with 15 minute breaks for gaming and food.  5PM was dinner time, and after that, I handled my chores and spent the evening doing unmanaged fun.
Of course, now I am a graduate student, with labwork and the never-ending hunt for an internship.  As with most important but long-term tasks, the temptation is to put it off, ignore the job hunt in favor of more urgent tasks and responsibilities.  Last semester, I dedicated the first two hours of my day to serial job applications, and this last week I’ve had an unending string of interviews, so what does that tell you?
This semester, my mornings are spent in lab, so I handle the job hunt at noon, sandwich in hand as I type out cover letters.  More advice on interview tactics is hopefully forthcoming in a later post.
Of course, this all falls apart if you don’t have the emotional strength to hold your life together so strictly.  Your body is an engine that sustains and supports your mind; treat it like one.  Get enough sleep – if you sleep properly, if you manage your time aggressively during the day, you will not need to spend your nights working.  There’s also the general advice that everyone knows but everyone ignores – eat enough and properly, hydrate yourself, blah blah blah.  They’re boring but effective – all the people claiming that they don’t bother eating breakfast should try it for a bit, and try to notice any difference in the quality of their lives and focus.  If it’s not worth it to eat breakfast, then don’t eat breakfast – but we are scientists, and if you really think that you can survive on 2 meals a day/6 hrs of sleep/whatever, then you should be willing to test this.
And always remember: play lots of video games (in strict 15 minute intervals).  It’s good for you.  Seriously.
Stay meaty, my friends.

 Elizabeth Broadwell

Elizabeth Broadwell is a Biomedical Engineering student in the College of Arts and Sciences

Related Content

Explore Grad Aggieland


Texas A&M Graduate Students Attend Science and Public Policy Workshop in Washington, D.C.  

Four Texas A&M doctoral students were selected to travel to the nation’s capital for a professional development workshop on science and public policy. Serina DeSalvio (Genetics & Genomics), Dallas Freitas (Chemistry), Alaya Keane (Ecology & Conservation Biology) and Molly McClung (Biomedical Sciences) attended the Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE) annually-held event, hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, from April 14-17.   

View All News

The grad school arc

If you’re just starting your Ph.D., especially in a STEM field, Serina talks in her latest post about the differences between each year of a 5-year Ph. D. program.

View All Blogs
Defense Announcement

Deep Learning for Molecular Geometry and Property Analysis

View All Defense