Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Exam-time habits of Grad Students

I cannot believe that it is already the third week of school, almost October, and almost the official first day of fall (this Friday!)…This is definitely my favorite time of the year but all of this crisp autumn air and pumpkin-flavored goodies comes with a price: First round of exams!  The first test is always the worst.  At least that’s always the case for me.  Test number one is the student’s way of analyzing which parts of the notes to focus on, which parts of the book to omit, and what future tests will be like.  It’s like riding a wild rollercoaster for the first time; you can do your best to prepare for the big drop but it always takes your breath right out of you.  There are parts you expected, and others that are completely new.  And like a rollercoaster, this first exam can even make you a little queasy.  But after you shake off the adrenaline you feel accomplished and are ready to ride again knowing exactly what to expect in round two.  I would compare the first exam to one’s first boxing match but exams usually don’t result in black eyes (or do they?).

This week’s coming attractions include two tests: Monday is pharmacology and Wednesday is pathophysiology.  The pharmacology test encompasses the basics of drugs and their effects on the body.  While there are no actual medications to learn on this test, it’s going to be a challenge since it’s essentially the foundation of drug-patient reactions.  Like the good little grad-student I am I have read the chapters, highlighted the notes in no less than five different colored markers, and have still managed to convince myself that I don’t know a word of it.  But this is typical.  In my experience working with other graduate students on the weekends in the Graduate Lounge I have learned many habits that we as higher-lever-learners have managed to engrain into our brains.  As twisted as some of them are, we can’t hate because we all do it.  The first was just stated…

1.  We manipulate our brains into thinking that the right answer cannot in a million years be the right answer. 
            In order to better describe the phenomenon, let me give an example.  The other day I was eating my turkey sandwich in the grad-lounge and overheard a conversation about the drug Morphine.  Morphine, as most of us know, is a drug used for pain.  It also has the insane ability to make you sleep like Rip Van Winkle.  While one student was describing how morphine induces sleep another chimed in stating that maybe, just maybe, it actually puts you in a hyperactive state.  She then went on to justify how morphine could produce rebound effects and that in some cases patients might feel awakened and not sleepy at all.  At the end of her speech the other students looked at her and said, “Well, that’s our cue to stop studying”, and they all laughed.  This is a classic example of over-studying to the point where you don’t trust your intellect anymore.  In other words, you drive yourself CRAZY!  And rightfully so, as a graduate student it is almost impossible to pass without rigorous studying.  But there is also something called a gym, a cafĂ©, and a bed.  Spending time studying with friends should be balanced with laughing with friends.  One chapter of reading should be rewarded with a brownie (or four).  But most importantly brain exercises should be rewarded (punished) with physical exercise as exercise has been linked to better grades and peace of mind.  And all of these things, I have learned, are just as important to studying as flashcards and post-its (I take that back. Post-its are pretty important).

The second habit of success is a bit more literal…

2.  We cry.
            For no reason, to anyone, and with gusto, we graduate student have our emotional moments.  Graduate work is an interesting concept.  We are all so excited to be in our own shoes that we sometimes get caught up in the moment of things.  Like the other day when I was stirring pasta I just broke out into tears and vented to my sister about how lucky we are to have this opportunity to pursue our education.  Little did I know she was taking a nap on the couch the whole time.  But I have witnessed numerous moments where my classmates cry out of stress, out of frustration, but mostly out of gratitude.  Graduate school is work, but it’s a whirlwind of emotions both bad and good.  Like with test week coming up, there will be some stressful tears for sure, but they are almost always followed by happy ones.  Moments like these, like brownies, are important because they make us feel less like studying machines and more like humans. 

Last but not least…

3.  We are creeps.
            Sitting directly next to someone in class will almost guarantee that by the end of lecture you will know the person’s name, where they live, their phone number, and whether or not they prefer their eggs scrambled or fried.  It’s one of the attributes of grad-students that I can say is the most unique.  Unlike undergraduate classes, we have gotten past the awkward “first impression” and skipped right to the point.  Graduate students at Regis are outgoing, friendly, and all about business, even when it comes to getting acquainted with our peers.  This can come off as forward, intense, or even as stated above, “creepy”.  But not to us!  We are all on the same level; willing to learn from each other’s experiences and make the most of our time spent of campus.  We all lean on each other for support, justification, and advice.  We admire this quality in each other and flourish because of it.  My fellow classmates have been some of the best resources I’ve had at Regis.  And if I hadn’t friend-requested them on Facebook in under twenty minutes of meeting them I would surely be missing out. 

While these habits may seem to lead to our destruction, they are actually what motivates us, brings us together, and reminds us why we are perusing graduate work.  To others we may seem overwhelmed, but in our own community we are sane capable adults working our tails off and doing what we can to succeed.  As this weekend approaches, the Regis library will be filled with grad-students no doubt, exhibiting habits 1-3 in intervals or maybe all at once.  Don’t be alarmed.  Come say hello, chat about the latest episode of Glee.  Just don’t steal our Post-its:)

Happy studying!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Of Theory & Coffee: Resources at Regis College

Week two at Regis College went off without a hitch!  This past weekend I spent Saturday morning directing both graduates and undergraduates to different resources available on campus.  Such resources included the library, where students could find free printing, the hours of the dining halls, and free coffee (that’s right, FREE).  I was very pleased with the openness of students and their willingness to inquire about happenings on campus.  One resource in particular was the Regis Shuttle which took students from Alumnae Hall to Riverside Station.  From my numerous (four) T-riding experiences, I learned that this particular train transports students into different parts of Boston including Fenway Quincy Market, and Government Center on the Green line.  It seemed like such a great way for students to go from studying in the library at Regis to meeting a friend for lunch in the North End.  Both commuter and resident students seemed to using this service and were amazed at how easy the shuttle was to use.  What a great way to integrate Regis students into the city life in Boston!
With one week under my belt, I feel like I am finally starting to develop a routine: wake up, breakfast, check e-mail, library, check e-mail, lunch, work (check e-mail at while at work), dinner, homework, check e-mail, bed…I may or may not get up once in the night to check my e-mail one more time…just kidding!  While keeping up with e-mails do not entirely consume my day, it is very important.  Most, if not all, of the course information is now available online at Regis College, with Moodle being the major server.  Professors and students alike are able to communicate via email and through Moodle which is great considering how busy most graduate students and graduate professors can be.  I myself have enjoyed having both my course materials and my professors at my fingertips as my days can get very packed.  For example I am currently working on a Concept Analysis for my Nursing Theory class in which we take a concept and work to further define its boundaries.  In the midst of doing some intensive research I suddenly decided to change my topic.  So, I emailed my professor and asked her what she thought.  No more than one hour later I had received the O.K. to switch topics.  Knowing that most professors check their emails throughout the day, I was able to maximize my time and my professor’s by sending a simple email.  So, I feel that graduate students like me make it a habit to check emails continuously throughout the day in order to return the favor.  And with the integration of iPhones and Droids into society, it is even easier to communicate via email and Moodle.  I have yet to make the switch to the “phone as a computer” side of the fence but I have a feeling that the transition is coming soon.  Regardless, I am still able to stay on top of emails by using the computers provided by Regis all around campus.
In general, Regis has made going to school easy for me.  Yes, classes are certainly challenging as graduate classes should be, but Regis has made my transition to graduate studies much more enjoyable by taking care of the “other stuff”.  While in the thick of intensive studies, most of us don’t think to sign-off on healthcare forms, obtain a parking pass, or even eat dinner. But through the use of extensive advertising and campus resources, Regis has taken care of the little (and big) things.  Wandering through College Hall you can find posters reminding student about financial aid deadlines, upcoming info sessions, and IT hours of service.  Other essentials on campus are very convenient and often free of charge.  These services include parking, printing, and attendance to social events.  The Graduate program also offers sandwiches, salads, and coffee at a small charge.  This is great for students like me who take night classes and often forget to pack a dinner.  Through the “Graduate Students Run on Regis” initiative, the Graduate office has worked to keep graduate students running…literally.  Free weekend coffee breaks have allowed me to efficiently spend four hours in the library and then run through Chestnut Street at lightning speeds.  Also offered is the Graduate lounge with a microwave and TV, and Happy Hours in the Student Union (I have yet to decide if I’m more excited about the happy hour or the free coffee). 
With all of these resources available I am better able to optimize my time and focus on my classes.  Pathophysiology is my favorite so far; the professor is hilarious and very clear about his expectations on what to know for exams.  My first pharmacology class was great as well.   I really enjoy learning how different drugs are processed by the body and how physicians prescribe certain medications and why.  Most would not say that “pharm” is their favorite subject but the professor has seemed to spark an equal interest in the other students by using real-life scenarios and stories.  The textbooks used in these classes are also wonderfully helpful and make the extensive readings well worth it. 
As week two comes to a close I am looking forward to delving into my Concept Analysis paper.  I made a pledge to myself to not only understand Nursing Theory, but to see theory in my everyday life.  Let me just say that if there is a theory revolving around the concept of free coffee, count me in!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

One down!...The first week

While the previous posting is not exactly how we northerners speak, it is pretty close.  “R”s are pointless, “ah”s are essential, and any combination of words we can combine into one we do so.  While my “Maine-ness” slips out every now and again, I am doing my best to immerse myself in this new adventure in a new place.  And the first week was certainly a success!
After weeks of trying to find a place to live my sister, Heather, and I finally settled in a small apartment complex in Waltham.  It’s the perfect location; 5 minutes from Brandeis (which is where my sister attends Graduate School), and about 15 from Regis. We also have access to the T stops and commuter rail which are a hoot to ride for the first time.  We don’t have T’s, commuter rails, or even significant traffic in Maine for that matter!  So riding the T for the first time was definitely an experience and easy to navigate in and out of Boston in a little as 20 minutes.  Your first T ride will make you feel like a city girl and I have an inkling that the feeling will never get old.  While acclimating to city life is a challenge in itself, I also had to remember the reason I had come to Mass: Graduate School. 
I came across Regis while I was browsing the internet lazily one day at work.  I was searching for a school that harbored the same views that I had about education: education should take place in a community setting where educators and students work together to solve problems and enhance knowledge.  I had also experienced “big school” living and wanted something more intimate and personable.  Having never heard of Regis College I requested more information from their website.  In the months that followed I was not only welcomed into Regis as a prospective student, but incorporated into the Regis Community before I had even filled out my application.  I had a really good feeling about getting my graduate degree in such a safe, peaceful, and interactive environment.  The setting (and the people) reminded me of the kindness and warmth of my hometown in Maine.  I started filling out my application the night I interviewed. 
And now here I am almost a year later holding books and syllabi for real-life graduate classes.  All of which have proven in this first week to be very challenging but very fun.  Nursing Theory, which I take Tuesday evenings, is a smaller class with a variety of students ranging from adults with families to recent graduates like me.  Theory has always been a difficult subject for me and I feel is a difficult subject for nurses all over; the abstract thinking of theory does not work well with the concrete black-and-white mind-set of nurses, especially ones who struggled in that one required philosophy course sophomore year like me.  In one class I remember battling with the professor about whether or not rain was a part of reality.  I told him that all I knew was that my jacket was soaked.  Regardless, we all have that one adversary we need to slay and I would certainly consider this one my fire-breathing dragon.  This Mainer is up for the challenge (have you seen the size of the mosquitoes in Maine???!)  
The rest of the week went on smoothly (I didn’t get to attend Pharmacology due to the Holiday) with Advanced Pathophysiology on Wednesday evening.  This class was much larger and more my style; basic, factual, and funny.  The professor taught the complexities of cellular destruction with an air that made you learn and laugh.  Needless to say three hours flew by. 
While I was frightened at first being both the youngest and only person from Maine, I quickly learned that everyone in class has something unique to offer.  I met one woman who has three kids, a husband, a job, and is taking a full-time course load…AND she coaches figure skating on the weekends!  That was one big difference I found between undergrad and grad classes.  Graduate courses are multi-faceted in that you are taking in a highly difficult level of material with a variety of people, while at the same time learning in an environment that allows for class discussion and moments where everyone can relate on some level.  Maine does not offer much on the side of diversity and I believe that it is important to gain various perspectives when it comes to learning.  I really feel like this characteristic is a “grad school thing”, but more so a Regis College thing, and I am so glad it is.  I’m off!  More powerpoints to print, T’s to cruise, and dragons to slay.  Welcome to MassJ…Until next week!

The Maine Event...

The first day of classes began with arriving to class surprisingly early (45 minutes to be exact).  But I was relieved to find that I was not the only one.  Another student had decided to plant herself in the front row and we quickly began conversation. Not even three minutes into discussion she stopped me cold, and asked me to repeat the last thing I had said. So I repeated, “Whadya do after ya moved uptah Mass?”  And then it hit me. I had blown my cover.  “You’re from Maine aren’t you?!” she smiled. 
“Yup”, I said. “I sure am!”
My name is Ashley Pratt and I am a first year Graduate Student studying at Regis College.  I am also a Mainer, and proud of it!  I attending Cony High School then went on to receive my BSN from the University of Maine, Orono.  There I worked for Athletic Development running tailgates, networking at events, and punching tickets at games.  If you have ever seen a Maine Hockey game on TV I was most likely on the ice helping with half-time shows, filming the game from above, or in the stands chanting the “Stein Song”.  Umaine, and certainly Maine Hockey, were some of my fondest memories of my undergraduate degree as the Nursing program was regarded as one of the best in the northeast region. While studying at Umaine I became an active member of Sigma Theta Tau as well as the nursing community at large working in the Lab to educate and mentor other nursing students. 
I recently moved down to Mass after living my whole life in the rural back-roads of Maine to pursue my dream of getting both my masters and my Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner degree.  This blog is meant to inspire as well as educate other students who want to chase the same goal as well as unveil what life is like being a Grad Student at Regis College.  I hope that others can learn from my numerous (and at times humorous) experiences as I make my way through a new school, a new town, and a new life.