Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sleep and the End-Of-Semester Crunch

I went to sleep last night.

I feel like this shouldn't be a big deal.  In fact, the CDC recommends that we --humans-- do it every night. But I'm blogging about it, not tweeting, and blogs are not a place for quotidian updates.

So, why is sleep a big deal for me? I'm a college student.

The usual rule of thumb I see for the amount of time you should spend on a class, outside of class, is somewhere between two and four hours out of class for each hour you spend in class.  Actually, usually, people call this time "studying", which is interesting, because I never use this time to "study", I use this time to do great piles of homework, and there is rarely time to study the material after I've finished doing the homework. Using this calculation, because I am taking 17 credit hours (on paper), I should be working on school work about 70 hours a week -- somewhere between 50 and 85 hours, including class time (but excluding travel time).

chart of number of hours spent studying every day based on recommendations
This is how long you "should" spend studying, based on how many credits you're taking.
Now, sometimes the estimate figure works.  For example, one of my professors assigns a problem set weekly, unless there is an exam, and a project every two weeks.  Each problem set takes about three hours.  Each project, however, takes three hours of lab time and another nine to write up.  This works out to the nine hours of allotted work per week.  In another class, the professor assigns a one-page writing response due every day.  I spend, regularly, two hours writing each.  There are some miscellaneous other assignments 

These are the classes where the work is regular, I can apply the number-of-hour guidelines and set up a routine.  I love this kind of class, because the feedback tends to be regular, there are concrete things I can do to improve my work if things aren't working, and it isn't a disaster if I don't get one assignment done.

Then there are project-based classes.  I have a couple of these this semester.  Projects, by their nature, work better when one sits down for twelve hours to complete them.  That kind of work session is much harder to schedule.

One such class that I'm currently taking requires that I shovel manure for two hours a week.  I also write a weekly progress report.  That makes up three or so hours of regular work (excluding travel time).  We also present roughly every other week.  However, the rest of the work is hugely amorphous.  Some weeks, I've worked thirty hours on this class.  Others, I've spent my time on other projects, shoveled manure and felt guilty in class when the professor urges us to, in addition to the regular work, push to do all of these other things.  Who would like to volunteer an additional hour a week to feed the other (food) digester?  I wouldn't, but should I volunteer anyway?  Who will write the additional report for this conference?  At what point am I allowed to say "Professor, I spend twelve hours a week outside of your class working on your classwork, you need to stop assigning so much work" or "Professor, I spent thirty hours on your project last week, and I need this week off"?

Anyway, I'm doing my best to keep up with the workload.  There are things I don't get done.  And, with the project classes, I haven't received a grade since very early in the semester.  I don't know if I'm passing, and I'm scared that I won't graduate.  Worse, I don't follow the recommendations all the time. I don't work eight to twelve hours, seven days a week, on school work.  I work around eight to ten* on weekdays and get probably four hours a day of actual work done on the weekends.

This produces an end-of-semester crunch that, this semester, is compounded by interviews. I had an interview that took 14 hours of travel time alone last week.  I have a conference next week that'll take eight hours of travel time next week, and the proceedings will take about six.

So, I've slept a bit less than 4 hours a night for the last week. I had work I should have been doing last night, too, work that, if I fail to complete it, I might not graduate.  Sleep, the kind where I get all eight hours and wake refreshed, is a guilty pleasure for me.

I had some last night anyway.

*On average.  There are days I wake up at six and work until midnight (18 hours), and there are days that I pretty much go to class (2-6 hours, depending on the day) and that's it.


  1. This assumes you do not have a part time job on top of that.

  2. That assumption is definitely part of the point of the post. The table of study hours is just for studying activities-- you know, the work you pay exorbitant sums (in tuition alone) to do.

    The idea is to point out that, hey, we're full-time students, and if we follow the recommendations of study hours for our classes, if we're diligent students, this is how many hours a week we've been working-- just studying, not doing anything else-- not cooking, not eating, not laundry, not working for pay, not traveling, not applying for jobs, not anything else but studying.

    When I first started college, I saw an orientation presentation used the figures for fifteen credit hours and two hours out for one hour in to demonstrate how, with some time management, an aspiring 'A' student can put in 45 hours a week and still have plenty of time for extracurriculars, etc.

    I'm trying to point out that, well, yes, but the expectations vary, and if the professors use some of the recommended guides, with some time management, and aspiring 'A' student can put in 60 hours of work a week and still somehow find himself or herself woefully behind at the end of the semester.