Studying science or medicine is exhausting. And this is no secret; everyone studying and working in science or health-related fields knows it, and most everyone outside of these fields admires you for it.
From endless hours of studying, working in and out of the hospital, reading textbook after textbook and article after article—burnout is very real. You can feel exhausted to the point that you’re coasting on fumes.
So, let’s look to those students. Those of you who are powering through your program and wondering how you’ll ever make it as a professional after school What can you do when you feel like you just can’t do another day? Or, even better, how can you avoid getting to this point in the first place?
Here are some tips and tricks to make sure you’re getting the most out of your studying sessions without killing your drive in the process.
If you’ve ever mapped out what you spend, or what you eat in a day, this concept might ring true to you right away. If you haven’t ever done any type of planning, the idea here is that you’re almost always spending more money or eating a lot more than you realize.
When we move to your study habits, we’re willing to bet you waste a lot more time than you realize.
Impulse buys and impulse treats seem pretty negligible in the moment, but they certainly add up. The same is true for the number of times you check Instagram.
The moral of the story? Mapping out exactly what you do in a day can help you see if you’re spending extra time doing something (or nothing) that doesn’t need to spend that much of your energy or attention. This, of course, can mean watching a lot of TV every day, going out a lot, or even just lying on your bed scrolling through Twitter for hours before you’re ready to get up.
Sure, mapping out your time and finding an extra hour or so that you can redistribute into your day can go directly to studying, but it also doesn’t have to.
“Woah,” right? But we mean it.
There are loads of things you can do to make sure you’re getting the most out of studying that aren’t just studying more. For example, if you’re not getting enough sleep, you probably aren’t in the best mental state to retain all the information you pump into your head. Similarly, if you aren’t setting aside time to have full, nutritious meals, you might not have the energy you need to keep pushing on (and yes, we mean breakfast as an actual meal and not just morning coffee).
We all know that balancing a healthy lifestyle and studying medicine is easier said than done, but if there’s any extra time that you can put towards your own well-being, both your health and your grades will thank you.
2: Focus for high intensity intervals—and then take breaks
If you’re the planning type and already know where you spent your time in the day, you probably have certain windows of time carved out for studying. And yet…chances are that a lot of your studying time disappears mysteriously in the void that is social media.
We’re not saying that social media is all bad (we’re also not saying that it’s all good—that’s a conversation for a different day), but getting distracted by a notification can quickly go from a glance at your phone to half an hour spent looking at memes—and can rapidly turn your three-hour study session into an hour of studying and two hours of exploring the Instagram Discover page.
Maybe you’ve even bargained with yourself and convinced your inner dialogue that you’re distracting yourself with relevant information. But while googling “best lab coat for students” and “stylish biology lab coat” are important pieces of research, they aren’t going to help you pass your midterm. Try to leave the hunt for the best lab coat for science students outside of your designated study time.
In fact, try your best to keep distractions out of your study time altogether. If you aren’t the kind of person who can sit down and crank out four straight hours of studying, try studying with your phone data off in a totally silent space for 40 minutes at a time—like a “high intensity study session” while taking breaks in between. Make sure these breaks are short and sweet, though. Getting lost in a break can lead to the same problems as before.
3: Take time off
This isn’t always possible, especially if it’s crunch time before exams, but it’s still vitally important to consider taking what time you can for yourself! Working hour after hour, day after day can still drive absolutely anyone into the ground. When possible, remember to take a day (or at least an afternoon) off to go see a movie, go for drinks with some friends, go pet a puppy—whatever you need to take your mind off of work for a bit and keep your head on straight.
Taking a bit of time now and then can help you unwind and relax in a way that keeps your brain working, too. Having a clear head can be the crucial difference between a useful study session and a few hours staring at a textbook without anything getting through.
4: Keep your friends around
Co-suffering with friends is always better than suffering alone—so, get a study group going! Studying with people can be extremely helpful to help each other learn, to keep each other accountable and to commiserate a little. You can bounce questions off of one another, quiz each other on content, make sure you’re studying the right things, etc. Additionally—and perhaps even more importantly—studying with friends can really help keep your morale up. A quick joke and a laugh can help you relax a bit, and a little five-minute conversation between chapters can help you stay grounded and help you not lose grasp of that academic drive to push forward.
Generally speaking, studying with friends can help you in all sorts of other ways, too. It helps academically, of course, but also emotionally—studying by yourself every day can make you feel isolated, and that feeling is no joke. You don’t want “feeling alone” on top of the other challenges you work through at school.
5: Know how to stay motivated
Probably the most important thing to remember to maintain your momentum this semester is to never lose track of your core motivation. This motivation is different for everyone, but anyone who’s decided to go through this crazy degree is going through this for a reason!
Studying any science or field of medicine is a marathon, without a doubt. The finish line is likely nowhere in sight, so keeping a clear idea as to why you need to keep pushing forward and why you want to keep pushing forward can be crucial. You haven’t gotten this far only to get this far.
Finding or rediscovering your motivation is different for everyone. It might take reading through some motivational quotes, listening to some motivational music, talking to friends or advisors and mentors, or just visualizing your goals and dreams that lay ahead. Whatever it takes, motivation will likely be your strongest tool in persevering through both the good and the bad. Here, Med School Insiders talks about how planning, motivation, and all of this go together when looking for success.
All in all, it’s important to remember that nobody is a superhero, no matter how well put together they might seem. In order to do well in school and to keep pushing forward, we need to take care of ourselves. We need to sleep a decent amount every day, we need to have a diet that consists of more than just coffee and potato chips, we need to talk to other people, we need to spend a day every now and then in sweatpants rather than that college lab coat, and we really just need to make sure we’re in a healthy enough state of mind to allow ourselves to excel.
Remember, take care of yourself—your body and grades will thank you for it.