Saturday 18 June 2011

10 top tips for days of lectures

I've been asked by a couple of people if I can give them some tips about surviving med school with physical / mental health problems, so here is the first in a series of posts with my top tips. They won't make it blissfully easy, but they might help a bit.

(These tips are based on my experience of lectures. As a student on a PBL course, lectures were infrequent, but tended to be grouped together into several hours at a stretch, or an entire 9-5 day with an hour for lunch.)

Prepare! Day before (or frantically at the last minute) gather all the meds, splints, cushions, layers of clothes, snacks and drinks you might need. If you have lectures all the time, just leave the stuff together in a bag. If the slides are available before hand, either download them to your laptop, or print them off to save lots of pointless note taking.

2) If you get
anxious in big groups of people, you might find the biggest battle is waiting in the throng of people outside and finding a seat. To relax during that high stress time, try listening to good music, reading, flanking yourself with sympathetic friends, or all three. Or wait outside and rush in at the last possible minute.

3) Sit towards the
end of a row, so you can make a quick and easy escape if needed

4) If you're in for a long day,
take every opportunity to stretch your legs, pee, and change your sitting position even early in the day when you don’t feel so much like you need it. Ditto for pain meds – if sitting for a long time hurts, take meds regularly throughout the day, not just when it starts to hurt.
If in doubt, cake is the answer.

5) To
spread the stress a bit, maximise the number of positions you can sit in by taking an inflatable cushion, a clipboard (so you can write on your lap), and by switching sides of the room halfway through the day so you don't get neck cramp.

Switching pens is a great way to delay hand strain or cramp. If you've only one, try wrapping a folded up tissue, or wrapping a hairband around the grip for a change.

7) Some people find
dictaphones helpful. I don’t, because I’ll just never listen to it again, but it’s worth thinking about. I’ve never had a note-taker, but I’ve been one. It’s ok to ‘shop around’ if someone’s style doesn’t suit you – if you explain it like that they shouldn’t be offended.

If the lecturer mentions your condition, and spouts information that is woefully out of date / horrifically condescending / downright inaccurate etc, etc then tell them! (You can go up to them after if you don’t want to make a fuss in front of everyone) Ditto if their presentation has triggered you in some way, it may be worth mentioning (via the disability service if you don't want to do it in person). *

9) Be realistic. If you aren't going to manage a full day of lectures, decide which ones are likely to be interesting / useful, or the opposite, and prioritise. If you can't physically leave, then let yourself zone out - listen to music, read or put your head down and nap (you won't be the only one...)

10) When you’re planning the rest of the day / evening activities, bear in mind that you’ll have been sitting down for a long time. Maybe plan for a nap / lie down when you get home, and then a bit of a walk / swim in the evening.

*Or if they do it right, it's nice to tell them that, too

Please feel free to add to them if you think I've missed something!

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