Student Life

Time Management 101: Work Smarter

We all know people who are able to achieve a great deal in a 24 hour period while others, at the end of a day, wonder why they have accomplished so little. I know most of us are aware of the importance of time management for achieving our goals. However, for many it can be an elusive process, especially when there are so many things to distract us like email, social media and even academic distractions like reading journal articles that are not essential for the task at hand. However, scheduling your time wisely will help you complete the tasks that are urgent in a timely manner and then you can enjoy your social time and read those journal articles without feeling the stress of a looming deadline. It’s all about learning to work smarter.

Time management involves organizing and setting limits on the time you spend working on designated tasks and activities. This first involves prioritizing your activities by mapping out and ordering those activities from the most important to the least important. Make sure you create a visual for this. You can do this using something as simple a physical day planner or a digital one, utilizing the built-in calendar on your computer. You may prefer to use mind maps, which are also useful for organizing and planning your tasks. Let’s take a few minutes to get some help from the experts. View the University of Oxford time management video, which provides some wonderful examples and tips to assist you in developing your time management skills. Feel free to download the top tips PDF that was referred to in the video.

In preparation for developing your time management skills, you may find it helpful to get a good sense of how you normally spend your time. You can then analyze this information to help you improve how you organize your time. Learn more about this and other tips from Wellcast. Additionally, visit the University of Oxford supportive resources site and scroll down to the time management section to view an excellent selection of resources that you may find useful.

Dealing with Anxiety, Stress and Depression

Being a student at Uni is exciting! However, tons of reading, exams, essay deadlines and possibly adjusting to life in a different culture can be extremely stressful for some students. Stress is a normal part of life, but if stress becomes overwhelming, it is important to realize that help is available from your university as well as other sources. Be sure to contact your university counseling service as soon as you arrive at Uni if you think that you might experience a problem. They will be able to assist you. Additionally, psychotherapists, experts in helping people develop skills to cope with anxiety and depression, can be helpful. It is likely that your university counseling service will be able to provide guidance for finding a psychotherapist if needed.

If you find that you don’t need the assistance of the counseling office or a psychotherapist, but want to learn how to manage stress on your own, then mindfulness training and relaxation training can be beneficial options. One of the goals of both psychotherapy and mindfulness training is to help you become less distracted and less affected by negative thoughts associated with anxiety or depression that arise in the mind. Some of these thoughts may sound familiar: “I can’t take this,” “I’m a failure,” “It’s a catastrophe.” Although these thoughts may not disappear, mindfulness training can help one to focus on the present and not allow the negative thoughts to take over and fuel anxiety, stress and depression. For more information on mindfulness, visit the NHS website and the Oxford Mindfulness Centre.

Relaxation training involves muscle relaxation and deep breathing. It may also include visualization – the forming mental images, usually of a calming place. Learn more about relaxation techniques from the NHS website.

In addition to the resources above, there are four very important things that everyone needs to nurture positive mental and physical wellbeing. They are exercise, healthy diet, adequate sleep, and establishing supportive relationships. Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins, the body’s internal opiods, which trigger a more positive mood and also diminish pain. Endorphins are the body’s natural stress reliever.

Additionally a healthy diet can contribute to a positive mood. For example, those who are dieting are often tempted to excessively reduce their intake of carbohydrates. However, carbohydrates provide the body with needed energy. Fatigue can result if not enough carbs are ingested. Additionally, legumes, fish, nuts, dark colored fruits and green leafy vegetables are rich in nutrients and provide health benefits. Before embarking on any diet or exercise program, be sure to discuss the particulars along with your health history and any concerns with your GP.

Getting adequate sleep is more important than you may think. The student experience often includes late nights.  However, it is important to exercise caution, as sleep contributes to overall mental and physical wellbeing. Lack of sleep can stimulate feelings of depression and stress so do try to organize your time so that you get adequate amounts of sleep. Another benefit of exercise is that it promotes a more restful sleep but do not exercise too close to bedtime as it may be difficult to wind down. To learn more about the importance of sleep, visit the NHS website.

Another important factor in dealing with depression, stress and anxiety is to surround yourself with supportive people with whom you can share your feelings. A good talk and a laugh with a friend can go a long way towards relieving stress.

Looking for more resources on anxiety, stress and depression? Visit the MoodGym for a variety of resources and interactive activities. Also see the Mental Health Foundation and the NHS Mental Health Helplines. If you are a student at the University of Oxford, visit their Supportive Resources page.

Feeling like an Imposter in your UniVerse?

University can be a very intimidating place for students, sometimes causing us to question our academic ability and wonder if we’re really university material. This is particularly the case at universities which are extremely competitive. Within these environments, some students struggle with feelings that they may not be good enough even after they have been accepted on an academic program and are progressing. Some common experiences include feeling that your intelligence does not measure up to others. Feelings of inadequacy may arise when faced with complex lectures and long lists of readings even though your past history suggests that you are indeed capable of rising to the occasion. It is important to remember that this is par for the course and that you are not alone. If you can identify with these feelings then you may be suffering from ‘Imposter Syndrome.’ It is more common than you might think and people from all walks of life, including students, very successful academics, wealthy business people as well as movie stars, experience it.

Many universities, including Oxford, recognize that this causes a great deal of stress for students and affects their progress. Recognizing the symptoms and developing strategies for how to deal with them are extremely important. Hugh Kearns (Flinders University, Australia) has given workshops at universities around the world, including Oxford, to help students develop strategies to combat imposter syndrome. He has also developed additional resources to help students with research and writing. Kearns’ expertise is in self-management, positive psychology, work-life balance, learning and creativity. His book, The Imposter Syndrome: Why successful people often feel like frauds, describes the imposter cycle, and explains that imposter feelings develop out of our early life experiences. He also talks about how these feeling can manifest themselves as self-sabotaging behaviors. Lastly, he provides what he calls “imposter busting strategies” to help us with our thinking, our language and our actions as a way of working past those imposter feelings.

The imposter syndrome may be even more pronounced for students with dyslexia or other learning difficulties, as many university programs are reading and writing intensive. It is important to note that these difficulties in no way diminish the intelligence of students and, with the appropriate accommodations, they can perform just as well as students who do not have learning difficulties. In addition to the research, writing and organizational resources developed by Kearns, students with learning difficulties should also take advantage of assistive technologies and other available resources that support their learning needs. To learn more about those resources, contact your university disability office.

Sweat to Success

We all know that physical activity is good for us but do we really understand the impact it can have on our learning and education. In a world where academic success and achievement is the goal of so many, how do we have the time to balance study, work and exercise.

At a time when many students around the world are beginning their studies at university, college or school, it is important that we try and engage ourselves in some form of exercise or physical activity. However, with competing demands on our time how do we know what is the best balance for achieving our personal and academic goals.

Well, according to the The World Health Organisation (WHO) it recommends that people between the ages of 18 and 64 years participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the course of a week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity. It is suggested that aerobic activity is performed in bouts of at least of 10 minutes.  

Research has found that participation in aerobic exercise (activity that causes you to sweat and increase your heart rate and breath faster such as running, walking, swimming, cycling etc.) can improve memory, attention and the ability to multi-task. So how does exercise and physical activity impact on our ability to learn?

In a study conducted at the University of British Columbia, scientists found that aerobic exercise improved the size of the hypocampus compared to participants who were involved in resistance training. If we look at the areas of the brain involved in learning and memory the hypocampus plays an important role in long term memory formation and the ability to recall facts.

So, as you start your academic / school year, look around and see if there are any practical ways to increase your physical activity. For example, walk or cycle to your class, join a sports club or gym, or go for a jog with a friend.

More widely, other general health benefits of exercising and physical activity will include:

  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduced risk of type two diabetes
  • Improved mental health and mood
  • Increased bone density
  • General weight management

It is always important to consult your doctor before commencing physical activity. 

Know your entitlement: Disabled Student Allowance (DSA)

The Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) is a UK government grant that provides financial support for qualifying undergraduate and postgraduate students who have a disability.  Students with a wide range of disabilities and conditions may be eligible for support under the scheme. The DSA is based on your individual needs and not on your household income and the grant does not have to be paid back. The requirements specify that your disability must impact your ability to study and you must qualify for funding from Student Finance England. Grants are available for both full and part-time students. However, you must be enrolled on a program that lasts at least one year.

The majority of those who apply for the DSA have Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD).  These include, but are not limited to, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia. For those with Specific Learning Difficulties, a diagnostic assessment performed after the age of 16 will be needed as proof that you have a learning difficulty. At the University of Oxford, this assessment should be conducted within three years of the course start date for undergraduates and within five years for postgraduates. Additionally, the assessment must be performed by a psychologist or qualified specialist teacher. If you need a formal diagnostic assessment for a learning difficulty, contact the Disability Advisory service at your university. If you are a student at the University of Oxford, then more information about Needs Assessments can be found at The Oxford University Assessment Centre.  Students with other types of disabilities and conditions will need to prove eligibility by securing a letter from a GP or Consultant with details about the condition, any treatment being given and the accommodations you need for your studies.

DSAs may be used for a variety of tools to support your learning. For example, funds can be used to supplement the cost of a computer if it is determined that one is needed. It may also cover specialist equipment like assistive technologies and other resources that are needed as accommodations for your studies. Funding may also cover the cost for non-medical assistance. This may include using the services of a note taker, reader, proofreader, transcriber, or study skills coach. You and your Needs Assessor will discuss the options best suited for you. The Assessor will also assist you with ordering the equipment you need.

For more information and to apply for the Disabled Students’ Allowance, download the form on the Disabled Students’ Allowances page at GOV.UK. If you are a student at the University of Oxford and would like more information, follow the link to their Disability Advisory Service for assistance. Additionally, the Oxford University Disability site provides a wealth of information and resources including a video titled Dyslexia Unbound, which provides insight into the experiences of three Oxford students with dyslexia.  Also, the Oxford University Disability Lecture Series may be of interest.

The Disabled Students Allowances Quality Assurance (DSA-QAG) web site will also be able to provide an up-to-date and detailed process of claiming the allowance. It is worth noting that the full DSA process can take up to 14 weeks – from your initial application to delivery of equipment. Our advice is to apply as soon as possible. Further information on the DSA process can be found online, DSA Timescales.