college

Picking humanities paper topics

Picking a good topic for college papers in humanities classes can be challenging. It’s particularly hard if the subject of the class is new to you, and/or if you’re not used to choosing your own topics.

Good topics usually have all of these attributes:

  • You find the topic interesting.
  • The topic is relevant to the class.
  • Enough material is available that you’ll be able to find sources.
  • The topic is small/specific enough that you’ll be able to write about it in the amount of time you have.
  • The teacher knows enough about the topic to be able to help you if you get stuck.

One way to find topics that probably fit into all of those categories is to use the class syllabus:

  • Look through the syllabus of the class.
  • Find the reading that is most interesting to you.
  • When you do that reading, notice what you’re curious or confused about. 
  • Is there something that doesn’t make sense? 
  • Is there something that makes a surprising amount of sense?
  • Or something that you’d like to know more about? 
  • Or something that raises a question?
  • Once you’ve found something you want to know about, write down your question. 
  • Then look at the footnotes in the reading. 
  • Go look up the sources the reading cites.
  • It can also help to check out the book that the reading came from, or to look up other things by the author.

This usually works well because:

  • If the reading has a citation related to your question, that means there’s material on it. 
  • If your topic is related to the reading, your teacher will probably be at least somewhat familiar with it.
  • If you’re raising a question about the reading, it’s more likely that you’ll be able to finish the paper in the amount of time you have.
  • If the topic is coming out of a question you had while reading, you’re more likely to find it interesting while you write.
  • Writing about something closely related to the reading can also help you to review material and prepare for the final exam.

tl;dr Picking a paper topic in humanities classes can be hard. Using the readings and the syllabus to find topics can make it easier. 

Answering “How was your summer?” when your summer was unpleasant

filosoraptor said to realsocialskills:
I go back to school soon and I’ve been trying to prepare for when someone inevitably asks me how my summer was. My first response would be that it was quite lonely because almost all of my plans ended up being cancelled. Would answering like that make someone uncomfortable?

Realsocialskills said:

That response would make most people uncomfortable.

Generally speaking, “How was your summer?” isn’t something people ask because they literally want information about how your summer was.

That kind of question is usually either just a greeting, or a way of opening conversation.

When it’s a greeting, it really just means something along the lines of “Hello, I haven’t seen you for a while.” The usual answer is something like, “It was good. How was yours?”. Answering that way doesn’t mean you’re literally saying you had a good summer. It really just means hello. It’s not a lie, it’s non-literal language.

When “How was your summer?” is a way of opening conversation, it’s an attempt to find something to talk about. The point is to find something that both people can comfortably discuss. The polite way to do this is to ask questions about what the other person said until you find a topic you’re both interested in. It’s considered a bit rude to just change the subject.

Here’s an example of how that can work (the people’s names are randomly generated):

  • Jacob: Hey, how was your summer?
  • Maxine: Pretty good. I was mostly working. How was yours?
  • Jacob: Pretty good — I decided to take a summer school class about color theory and painting.
  • Maxine: That’s cool — I’ve always wanted to try something like that, but I haven’t had the time.
  • Jacob: It wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be, but I did learn a lot of things that are surprisingly applicable to my other classes.
  • Maxine: That’s something anyway. Did the credits count towards anything?
  • (And so on).

If Maxine’s summer actually sucked a lot, mentioning it could end up being really awkward:

  • Jacob: How was your summer?
  • Maxine: It was really lonely. All of my plans fell through.

In this example:

  • Maxine only mentioned two topics: summer being lonely, and plans falling through. 
  • These are both uncomfortable topics.
  • In social situations oriented towards making pleasant conversation, most people won’t want to talk about loneliness or plans falling through 
  • Since Maxine didn’t mention about anything potentially comfortable to discuss, it could be hard for Jacob to keep looking for a mutually comfortable subject without feeling rude. 
  • He might also feel like he’s supposed to comfort Maxine or that there’s no good response to what she just said.
  • This is likely to feel awkward to both of them

There are ways to mention the unpleasantness of summer that are less likely to make the I-haven’t-seen-you-in-a-while conversation unpleasant. It helps if:

  • You avoid giving the impression that you’re upset that they asked, and:
  • You make it clear that you’re not trying to start a conversation about the unpleasantness of summer, and:
  • You include an opening to talk about something else.

For instance:

  • Jacob: How was your summer?
  • Maxine: Eh, kind of sucked. I’m glad to be back — now that I’m past the intro classes things are getting a lot more interesting. 
  • Jacob: What are you majoring in?
  • Maxine: I’m still deciding between history, political science, and pre-law. But a lot of interesting second-year classes count towards both, so I’m keeping both options open.
  • Jacob: I considered that too, but ended up deciding on theater. 
  • Maxine: What are you planning to do with that?
  • Jacob: Hopefully acting or set design. I figure that in any case speaking, acting, and logistical skills will be useful in any job.
  • (And so on).

You can also just say that your summer was ok and then ask how theirs was. That gives them an opening to mention things they did, which might work as a topic of conversation. Eg:

  • Jacob: How was your summer?
  • Maxine: It was ok. How was yours?
  • Jacob: It was pretty good. I took a summer school class on painting and color theory.
  • (And so on).

Again, even if your summer was awful, saying “It was ok” isn’t a lie, it’s just non-literal language:

  • “How was your summer?” isn’t usually meant literally.
  • Your answers to that question don’t have to be literal either.
  • The question usually means something like “Hello. Nice to see you again. Let’s talk about something. Is your summer a good topic of conversation?”
  • Saying “It was ok, how was yours?” usually means something like, “Hello. Nice to see you again too. Let’s talk about something other than my summer. Is your summer a good topic of conversation?”

Tl;dr “How was your summer?” usually isn’t literally intended to find out how your summer was. It’s usually a way of either saying hello or looking for something to talk about. Most people don’t want to have a conversation about how unpleasant your summer was. If your summer was bad, usually the best thing to do is to try steering the conversation to another topic.

Executive dysfunction and teachers

we-aint-borntypical asked: Sorry if this is late, but how do I tell my teachers about my executive dysfunction and how it affects my ability to do assignments?

realsocialskills said:

I think the most important thing you can do is accept that the problem is real, and that it’s ok to need help.

It can be hard to accept that executive dysfunction is real. It can be very tempting to feel like if we just try harder or wait long enough, it will somehow work out. And some percentage of the time that does work — which can make it seems like it will *always* work if we try hard enough. But it doesn’t work that way, and expecting it to causes a lot of problems.

Executive dysfunction means that sometimes there are insurmountable barriers to doing things completely independently. Sometimes this can happen with things that our culture says are easy and that you may not have heard of anyone having trouble with. It can be hard to come to terms with that. It gets easier with practice.

More directly about managing relationships with teachers, I’ve found two things helpful: I try to err heavily on the side of asking for help as soon as I’m feeling stuck, and I also try to select instructors based on understanding and/or cognitive compatibility.

If you’re facing an assignment and can’t figure out how to make progress on it, it’s good to err on the side of asking for help immediately. This can be hard to do, especially if you feel ashamed or like you don’t have a good reason. It’s actually ok though, and it gets easier with practice.

It’s normal to need help sometimes, even if the reasons you need it are unusual. All teachers have students who need help. Good teachers understand this and consider needing help normal. (Not all teachers are good, but many are). A lot of teachers care about helping their students, and it’s usually a lot easier for them to do that if you ask sooner rather than later. (It also saves you the time you’d waste trying to do something impossible through sheer force of will.)

If you can, it helps to explain in concrete terms what you are having trouble with, and what you think would help. (If you don’t know what would help, the concrete request might be “Can we meet to talk about this assignment?”). I think that it usually helps to err on the side of talking about concrete problems rather than abstract concepts like executive dysfunction.

For instance, I think “I’m having trouble getting started on this assignment. Could you help me narrow down my topic?” is usually more effective than “Executive dysfunction makes this assignment hard for me, what should I do?”. That said, if the latter is the only way you can ask for help in a particular situation, don’t wait until you know a better way. It’s ok to ask for help imperfectly; it’s ok to need help even if you’re not sure what help you need.

Not all teachers will be good at helping you. Some won’t be willing, some some won’t know how. Some will be inconsistent. But a good percentage of teachers *are* skilled at helping. If you have a choice about who your teachers are, it’s good to err on the side of picking teachers who are good at helping.

Also, some teachers are going to be inherently more cognitively compatible with you than others. Different teachers do instruction and assessment differently. If you have a choice, it can be good to err on the side of taking classes with teachers who give assignments that are more reliably possible for you.

Aside from attributes of teachers — asking for help effectively is a set of skills. One of those skills is the emotional skill of feeling ok about the fact that you need help. Another is assessing what’s going on and figuring out what your needs are. Another is expressing it to teachers in a way that they can understand and act on readily. And there are other skills I’m not sure how to explain. No one is born knowing how to do these things, and they all get easier with practice.

tl;dr Executive dysfunction makes school complicated. Taking classes with teachers who teach in a way that makes cognitive sense to you can help, when you have a choice. It can be hard to ask for help, and hard to feel ok about needing help. That’s a set of skills, and it gets a lot easier with practice.

When you're talking a lot and worried about how much space you are taking up

Anonymous asked:

Do you have any advice for how to facilitate participation when you’re a student who does tend to talk a lot?

I have social anxiety but when it doesn’t affect me as badly I tend to talk a lot. I’ve tried waiting for others to speak but they often don’t even if I wait 30+ seconds… And then I feel an intense urge to fill the space.

realsocialskills said:

A couple of things:

It might be ok if you’re talking more than some other students. Very few classes have everyone talking an exactly equal amount.

Different students have different preferences about how much they like to talk in class. It’s ok that some students prefer to talk more and some students prefer to talk less. It’s not always a problem. It becomes a problem if some students are taking up space in a way that prevents others from participating.

I’m not sure how to tell whether you are taking up space in a problematic way. One way might be to ask your teacher after class or in office hours if they think it’s becoming a problem. (If they do think it’s a problem, they’ll probably be glad you asked and that you care.)

Another way might be to watch whether you’re interrupting people. And if you are interrupting people, whether or not they’re shut down by your interruptions. If you’re interrupting people and that’s resulting in them not getting to make their points, that’s a problem. (Interrupting isn’t always a problem – in some cultures it’s normal and expected for people to respectfully interrupt one another and be respectfully interrupted in turn. If the class you’re in doesn’t have that culture, it’s important to be careful about interrupting.)

Here’s one strategy that might work for coping with silences without interjecting to fill them (this can also work for overcoming urges to interrupt people).

Typing or writing out what you’re having an urge to say:

  • If you type or write the reply you have an urge to make, it can calm the urge without you having to say anything
  • While you’re doing this, someone else may start talking
  • Then, if you still want to say the thing, you can take a turn and say it
  • If you don’t want to say a specific thing but are just feeling uncomfortable, typing/writing about how uncomfortable you are might work to fill the space until someone else starts talking (This works for me sometimes; it seriously backfires for other people. Your milage may vary; trust your own judgment about whether it will be helpful or harmful to you).
  • This can work even in a seminar class when not everyone is taking notes
  • (It may be more socially accepted in that context to use an iPad than a laptop, because you’re significantly less likely to be perceived as goofing off on Facebook with an iPad)

tl;dr Talking more than some other students in a class isn’t always a problem in itself. It’s a problem if the way or the amount you talk prevents others from participating. Typing out stuff you’re thinking of saying before you say it can make it easier to refrain from interrupting people and from rushing to fill silences.

7 second rule

If you’re leading a group discussion or teaching a class, it’s important to pause for questions periodically. Part of pausing for questions is giving people time to react before moving on. People can’t respond instantaneously; they need time to react. If you don’t give them time to react, it can give you an inaccurate impression of their level of interest or engagement.


Eg:

  • Leader: Does anyone have any questions?
  • Group: …
  • Leader: Ok, moving on. 

When this happens, it’s not usually because no students had questions. It’s usually because the teacher didn’t give them enough time to process before moving on. It doesn’t actually take a huge amount of time, but there has to be some. A good amount of time to wait is seven seconds. If you wait seven seconds before moving on, someone will usually say something.


Seven seconds can feel like a really long time when you are teaching. It can feel like an awkward empty space that, as the teacher, you’re supposed to be filling. That can lead to interactions like this:

  • Leader: I just said a controversial thing. What do you think of the thing?
  • Group: …
  • Leader (immediately):… none of you have opinions about this?
  • Group: …
  • Leader: (immediately):… Really? No one?

When this happens, it’s usually not that no one had anything to say. It’s usually that the leader or teacher kept interrupting them while they were trying to get words together and respond. It’s easy to inadvertently do this, because it feels like you’re supposed to be doing something to get your students to respond. But, often, the best thing you can do to get them to respond is to wait and give them space to do it in.


It helps to remember that as the teacher or leader, you shouldn’t actually be taking up all of the space. You should also be offering your students some space and listening to them, and allowing them to ask you questions so they can understand. It’s ok if that space isn’t immediately filled; no one can react instantaneously. 


If you wait seven seconds every time you pause for questions/responses, it gives people time to process, and some people will become capable of participating who weren’t before.

surviving awful roommates

warpcorps answered your post: School is resuming for a lot of you

how to deal with awful roommates without doing a room change esp if you’re nonconfrontational

realsocialskills said:


It depends on what kind of awful, and what your resources are.


If you can’t change rooms or negotiate with them, probably the best thing you can do is figure out things that you can do without their cooperation.


For instance:


If the problem is that they steal your food or take your stuff, it might be worth getting a lockable container, or putting your stuff somewhere they don’t see it.

If they bother you while you’re trying to study, it might be worth finding another place to study. Other possible places to study:

  • The library (can be good if you like quiet, because quiet is enforced, can also help to focus you since other people are studying)
  • An unoccupied classroom (classrooms can be good for studying and internetting because they are often completely empty, and you don’t have to be as quiet as you do in the library)
  • Outside (Some people find it pleasant to read outside if the weather is good)


If they’re loud, and keep you up at night, it might be worth trying earplugs.


Anyone else want to weigh in? How have you survived bad roommates?

when you want to be friends with someone

anonymous asked: 


I need advice. There’s a girl at my school that I really like and I want to be her friend, but I’m so awkward! She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.


She’s an international student from Somalila and she’s Muslim (I’m REALLY interested in learning about Islam) but neither of us are ver forward people, and it’s hard for me to make friends.


How do I approach her and talk to her without it being too weird? I’m also very religious but I don’t want her to think the only reason I talk to her is because she’s a Muslim, and I don’t want to make her uncomfortable. Advice?



realsocialskills:


How do you know her and know that she is nice? However that way is, it’s probably a way you could get to know her better: Eg: Do you have a class together, or do an activity together? Can you talk to her at the thing? Can you talk to her immediately after the thing?


It’s also ok to say explicitly that you think someone is nice and that you’d like to get to know them better. (I’m not totally sure how you do that without risking sounding like you’re hitting on them, but I know it can be done.)


Can you invite her to do a thing? If you’re both students it’s generally socially acceptable to ask if they want to eat together in the dinning hall. Especially if you both usually eat there. (If she is very religious she might not eat there. But a lot of religious Muslims do).


You also might try friending her on Facebook. That can be a good way to offer connection without too much pressure. (Among other things, it can result in stuff like you noticing and commenting on each others statuses and inviting each other to events.)


Be careful not to hang your interest in learning about Islam on her. It’s great that you want to learn about Islam and it’s great that you want to be her friend, but they’re different things. If she wants to talk about that, that’s fine, but be careful about connecting them too much. And, don’t assume that being friends and having fun together will necessarily mean that she wants to teach you about Islam. It might, and it might not.




Interactions with instructors

Anonymous said to :

Hi, do you know anything about student-professor interaction? I’m one of those students that stops by a professor’s office to talk and strikes up conversations on the way back to class very often. Is this OK? I’m not so good at reading social queues and I don’t know if I would know if said professor wasn’t OK with it, or if it was inappropriate. I’m not doing it for a good grade or academic advantages; I just like the conversations a lot.


realsocialskills said:


It’s ok to go to a professor’s office to talk to them during office hours; that is what office hours are for. It’s not ok to show up unannounced outside of office hours. If you want to talk to them outside of office hours, you have to make an appointment first. For most professors, the right way to do that is by emailing them and asking if they have time to meet with you.


If there are other students waiting to speak to the professor during office hours, be mindful of the fact that they also need to talk to the instructor. Wrap up the conversation in an amount of time that will make it possible for them to get a turn too (particularly if the conversation you want to have isn’t time-sensitive). 


It’s usually ok to strike up conversations after or on the way to class, but only up to a point. If they say that they need to do something, don’t keep chatting; take that as a sign that the conversation needs to end for now. Also, don’t try to follow them into their office.


tl;dr It’s ok to talk to professors during office hours. Don’t come by without an appointment at other times. 


Anyone else want to weigh in? Instructors - what kind of contact do you welcome from students? What is unwelcome. Which cues do you wish your students picked up on when you are trying to end conversations?

On being in school and working

anonymous asked:
What are some ways to balance work and school? Cus I’m working 25 to 30 hours a week and taking only three classes and I’m still behind. I don’t know how some people work fulltime AND go to school fulltime while paying rent and having kids.

realsocialskills said:

I don’t know how people balance that kind of schedule with school/kids/work. I think that it’s nearly impossible and that most people couldn’t do it.

Here are a couple of things I do know about passing classes under time pressure:

Choose your classes carefully:

  • Not all classes are equally time-consuming.
  • If you’re working a lot of hours, it’s probably better not to take all the really time-consuming classes in the same semester
  • (Eg: if you’re taking a class that has five papers, or lots of complicated programming assignments, it might be better not to take others than are like that at the same time).
  • It can also go a lot better to select classes based on who is teaching them rather than based on which description theoretically looks best
  • Classes go much more smoothly with teachers you’re readily compatible with
  • (particularly if you tend to need a lot of help)

Consider taking classes that are relevant to your work:

  • If some of what you’re working on at work can inform your class assignments, that makes life a lot easier
  • For instance, it’s much easier to write a paper on something you’ve researched for work than it is to research something else *and* what you have to work on at work
  • And more generally: if the concepts you’re learning in school are related to and overlapping with what you think about at work, it will be much less time consuming than if you have to do both separately
  • This can be true even if your work isn’t particularly intellectual on the face of it. No matter what your job is, it involves knowing things, and classes are easier if you can make knowing those things relevant.

It is possible to pass classes without doing all of the reading:

  • Most people don’t do all of the reading (except in seminar classes in which most of class consists of an in-depth group discussion of the reading). 
  • If you are struggling to keep up, you may well be doing more of the reading than you should be.
  • It’s worth learning how to skim text in order to get the basic ideas
  • When a teacher cites something a lot in class, it’s generally worth reading it again after more closely

Having a study group or partner helps in several ways:

  • Perspective from other people can make it easier to tell whether you’re understanding what you need to understand
  • It can also make it easier to tell whether you’re doing *more* work than you need to in order to keep up and pass.
  • You can also pool knowledge. There will always be things that some people get and some people miss, and some people talk about it.
  • Meeting with others at a set time to do the work for a class can stop it from expanding to fill all available space
  • Even if you don’t have a regular study group, sometimes you can organize review sessions before tests. Those can also be helpful in similar ways.

Anyone want to weigh in? How do you pass classes when your schedule is very difficult?

On being in school and working

dinosaurusrachelus:

realsocialskills:

What are some ways to balance work and school? Cus I’m working 25 to 30 hours a week and taking only three classes and I’m still behind. I don’t know how some people work fulltime AND go to school fulltime while paying rent and having kids.

realsocialskills said:

I don’t know how people balance that kind of schedule with school/kids/work. I think that it’s nearly impossible and that most people couldn’t do it.

Here are a couple of things I do know about passing classes under time pressure:

Choose your classes carefully:

  • Not all classes are equally time-consuming.
  • If you’re working a lot of hours, it’s probably better not to take all the really time-consuming classes in the same semester
  • (Eg: if you’re taking a class that has five papers, or lots of complicated programming assignments, it might be better not to take others than are like that at the same time).
  • It can also go a lot better to select classes based on who is teaching them rather than based on which description theoretically looks best
  • Classes go much more smoothly with teachers you’re readily compatible with
  • (particularly if you tend to need a lot of help)

Consider taking classes that are relevant to your work:

  • If some of what you’re working on at work can inform your class assignments, that makes life a lot easier
  • For instance, it’s much easier to write a paper on something you’ve researched for work than it is to research something else *and* what you have to work on at work
  • And more generally: if the concepts you’re learning in school are related to and overlapping with what you think about at work, it will be much less time consuming than if you have to do both separately
  • This can be true even if your work isn’t particularly intellectual on the face of it. No matter what your job is, it involves knowing things, and classes are easier if you can make knowing those things relevant.

It is possible to pass classes without doing all of the reading:

  • Most people don’t do all of the reading (except in seminar classes in which most of class consists of an in-depth group discussion of the reading).
  • If you are struggling to keep up, you may well be doing more of the reading than you should be.
  • It’s worth learning how to skim text in order to get the basic ideas
  • When a teacher cites something a lot in class, it’s generally worth reading it again after more closely

Having a study group or partner helps in several ways:

  • Perspective from other people can make it easier to tell whether you’re understanding what you need to understand
  • It can also make it easier to tell whether you’re doing *more* work than you need to in order to keep up and pass.
  • You can also pool knowledge. There will always be things that some people get and some people miss, and some people talk about it.
  • Meeting with others at a set time to do the work for a class can stop it from expanding to fill all available space
  • Even if you don’t have a regular study group, sometimes you can organize review sessions before tests. Those can also be helpful in similar ways.

Anyone want to weigh in? How do you pass classes when your schedule is very difficult?

dinosaurusrachelus said:

Oh hey, I did this for a while. Anon & others in similar situations, feel free to ask me stuff in my ask box if any of this sounds helpful or relevant.

For three semesters I had a full-time course schedule while working a retail job about 10-20 hours a week plus a few other side jobs on campus. My senior year I had a ¾ full class schedule while also working 20 hours a week in an office job off campus and 40+ hours per week on campus.

Unlike a lot of other students who work through college, I was actually well-supported by my parents and not in a precarious financial situation - I just wanted to build up work experience and be involved in a lot of things. I think most of this will still apply regardless, but it’s possible I have blinders on there and if so, I apologize. I also did not have kids, which might negate some of this too.

So here’s my advice.

If at all possible, find ways to study during work:

  • I think this is probably easier in retail or service jobs, where the tasks you’re doing are repetitive and leave room for your brain to think. I would often use my work shifts to study for tests, just by going over concepts in my head. Sometimes, I would even do readings at my checkstand (on late shifts when I didn’t have a manager there) or bring out flashcards.
  • Use your breaks. Even if it’s just 10 minutes (which is usually what’s required by law), pull out a textbook, skim a section of reading or look over some notes you can think about during the next part of your shift.
  • If you have a big assignment or test coming up, you might be able to talk to your manager about it. My manager once scheduled me to work the night before a midterm after I’d explicitly asked for the day off. He said he couldn’t change the schedule, so I asked him if it would be okay for me to have my book and notes at my register and review them when I didn’t have customers, and he agreed to it. Obviously you don’t want to seem unreliable, but asking for a small accommodation like that once in a while shouldn’t be a big deal if you have a decent manager and are otherwise a good worker.

Make school work around your work schedule:

  • You should have at least 2 days a week where you’re not working (maybe even 3 if you’re not quite full time). Set aside blocks of time on those days to tackle big assignments - papers, studying for upcoming tests, etc. Think of them as your second job, and try really hard not to let other things interrupt time you’ve set aside to study.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk to your teachers/professors. If they have office hours, go in early in the semester, explain that you’re also working and discuss any challenges you think that might pose. Many (not all, but many) will think it’s really admirable you’re trying to go to school while also working, and will be interested in helping to accommodate you if you need something minor, especially if you ask them well in advance.
  • For example, I was able to take a biology test a day late (or early maybe, I don’t remember) because the exam was at 8 a.m. on a day after I got off work at 11. I think it’s helpful to ask in a way that suggests you understand it’s an imposition (eg. “I know this isn’t something that’s normally done, but I was wondering if there’s any possibility I might be able to take the test on x day instead”)
  • You might also see if you can find out what assigned readings are in advance (if they’re not all listed on a syllabus) and try to do the next week’s readings in advance during your off-days from work. I got into a schedule where I tackled a ton of homework on the weekend rather than doing a little bit each night on weeknights, which was what most students did.

Be really, really organized and efficient:

  • A lot of students spend forever on homework or assignments because they don’t have good study skills. That means you need to have really solid study skills to make up for your lack of time.
  • At the beginning of the semester/year, take a look at your schedule. Make a calendar of all due dates (I cannot stress this enough) - every paper, every exam, everything you know about in advance. If those items aren’t listed on the course syllabus, ask the professor.
  • Once you make the calendar, notice any times that are likely to be academically stressful (eg. three papers due the same week, midterms, whatever). Since you’ll be doing this well in advance, see if you can either a) adjust your work schedule to accommodate (maybe work fewer hours that week) or b) get some of the work done in advance (see below).
  • Set your own due dates. I once had three papers due on the same Friday, which was absolutely not going to work with my hectic schedule. So, I assigned myself my own due dates and treated them just as seriously as the ones my professors gave me. We had the prompts for the papers well in advance. I made one paper due the Monday at the beginning of the week, one on Wednesday and one on Friday and I stuck with those deadlines. That forced me to focus and work efficiently, and also prevented me from having some kind of sleep-deprived breakdown Thursday night.
  • If your school has an academic counselor or academic resource center, make a visit there early in the semester/year to get advice for improving your study and work habits.

Make other things less stressful:

  • My college had a club for first generation and working class college students. There could also be groups out there for non-traditional students (ie. students who are older than their early 20s) or students who are parents. See if there’s anything like that out there and what resources they might have. The group’s faculty advisor would also be a good source of support an ideas, and if nothing else, not feeling alone is so helpful and important.
  • If you’re in college, especially at a residential college, take advantage of the free food that’s often at events. (If you’re working during events, see if a friend can grab something for you.) I think about 50% of my meals senior year were discretely taken from events with food. Not having to cook as much frees up a lot of time for studying/work (and is cheaper!)

Try to avoid becoming miserable (this was always the hardest part for me):

  • Don’t do things like pulling regular all-nighters or working around the clock all the time. It might seem efficient, but it will make you exhausted and make it so much harder to do work and school.
  • Don’t feel guilty about taking the occasional day off after you’ve finished a major assignment or project. You don’t want to burn out, and you need rest and social time just like every other human being.
  • Give yourself breaks. Ten minutes an hour, 15 every two, whatever. You need to stay sharp and alert.
  • Find a friend or two who’s in the same situation and has been there who you can vent to when you need it.

On stimming in class

alwaysatrombonist said to realsocialskills:

Do you know of any quiet or discrete fidget/stim toys? I find that I need to fidget in my school discussion group to keep from getting super anxious, but if I play with a hairband under the table or doodle then people notice. Most of the fidget toys I find online are colourful, which I don’t want because people will see. I will try a stress ball, but I think that my fingers need to be doing things. Thank you :)

realsocialskills said:

A couple of thoughts:

There probably aren’t many ways to stim that are completely undetectable. Some things I can think of that might be harder to detect than some others:

  • Rocking back and forth subtly
  • Chewing gum
  • Using typing as a stim (eg: typing out scripts or words you like over and over)
  • Using a spinner ring or a gear ring if you’re in a context in which wearing rings is socially acceptable

Also, knitting and crocheting are not discreet at all, but they are often socially accepted in classes or group conversations. Depending on your particular group, that might be an option.

Another thought: maybe it’s ok if people notice:

  • Stimming isn’t necessarily as dangerous as it feels
  • Sometimes it’s okay to stim openly. Sometimes nothing awful happens
  • And sometimes people react badly, but in ways that are easier to put up with than the stress of suppressing stims
  • Stimming openly and conspicuously is not the right choice for everyone
  • But it’s probably the right choice for more people than realize it
  • So it might be worth reconsidering whether hiding your stims is the right choice
  • Or it might not be. You’re the best judge of this, and you have no obligation to stim visibly. 

Does anyone else want to weigh in? What are some ways you stim discreetly? What are some considerations about when to stim discreetly and when to stim openly?

chibifukurou:

on stimming in class

bessibel:

realsocialskills:

realsocialskills:

Do you know of any quiet or discrete fidget/stim toys? I find that I need to fidget in my school discussion group to keep from getting super anxious, but if I play with a hairband under the table or…

chibifukurou said:

I’m going to second the doodling thing. It’s not the most effective fidget I use, but it is pretty much accepted as par for the course since a lot of people do it.

If you are allowed to keep personalized things with you in the classroom it sometimes helps to pick a theme. For instance one of my coworkers is a hello kitty fan. So nobody is going to think twice if they see her playing with a Hello Kitty koosh ball or fuzzy pen topper.

It doesn’t read as unusual to people because the read it as hobby related like knitting or drawing.

The other thing is ‘cool factor’. IE if what you are playing with looks cool people think 'I want to play’. Kinetic sand and perpetual motion/magnetic toys are good for making everybody want to play with them. So nobody will think it is odd for you to play with them.

When teachers refuse to accommodate your disability

onyourgoat answered your question “Anonymous said to realsocialskills: How do you ask for…”

What to do if they refuse to give you the accomodation? I couldn’t ever finish my work because they would refuse to write down things ect

realsocialskills said:

That’s a hard problem.

In my experience, you usually can’t make them write down assignments if they’re not doing it willingly (even with a letter). Sometimes you can, if you’re sufficiently insistent.

I’ve had surprisingly good results with reminding a teacher politely and discretely the first time, reminding them in front of other students the second time, and insisting more bluntly that it’s not ok for them to neglect to do this the third time. I’ve also had this blow up in my face. Your milage may vary. It’s not something I’d wholeheartedly recommend, but it does work sometimes.

Also, if the problem is that they don’t remember (or can’t be bothered to remember), sometimes reminding them by email works. Eg, by sending an email after every class asking them what the assignment is.

Another thing that can help is getting support from other students rather than the teacher. For instance, getting the assignment from a peer who is able to write it down. Or getting other students to also ask in the moment for it to be written down so it doesn’t have to come just from you all the time. (That helps me both in terms of getting what I need, and in not feeling like I’m alone and unreasonably demanding.)

If you are in college, another thing you can do is change classes. If a teacher is not treating you well and is making it impossible to do the work, treating that as a red flag and changing to a different class can make things a lot better. In college, there is often a lot more flexibility to work with people who are willing to accommodate you, and it’s important to learn how to take advantage of that flexibility.

lanthir:

realsocialskills:

How do you ask for accomendations when you don’t have a go-to reason to explain why you need it? I don’t know if I’m disabled (I find info about disablities completely inaccessible to me, though i’ve wondered from seeing people talk about things i’ve also experienced) but I do know I can’t learn in certain ways, or process information that’s presented in certain ways, and that I’m prone to sensory overload. people act like i’m being overdemanding when I bring it up. am i? if not, what do I do?
realsocialskills said:
 
I’ve been there, a lot. I was only diagnosed after college, even though I’ve always been disabled. I was just as impaired before diagnosis; being without a label didn’t magically create abilities. So I’ve spent a lot of time negotiating accommodations informally. 
 
I’ve found that what works best is to give a very simple version of the problem, and to ask for something specific. This can make accommodating you seem like a straightforward thing to do.
For instance: “This is hard for me to read. Is there an electronic copy?” works much better than ”I’m autistic and I have visual tracking issues and executive dysfunction and I need a different format.”
 
Or: “Noisy College Hall is big and crowded. I never understand anything there. Can we have class in the usual room instead of moving?”
  
Or: “I don’t understand the assignment when it’s said verbally. Can you email me the details?”
 
tl;dr You don’t have to go into great diagnostic detail when you’re negotiating with a teacher directly. You can start by describing the problem and a solution you think would work. This doesn’t always work, but it’s the most effective approach I know of for this situation.
 
Does anyone else want to weigh in? What’s worked for you when you’ve needed to ask a teacher for accommodations?

lanthir said:

It can vary a lot from one teacher to another.  I’ve had some professors be totally willing to accommodate me, provided with only the slightest information.  Ex: I told a professor that I find clamor overwhelming and upsetting, and I was given permission for my group to work in the hallway whenever we did small group work, to minimize noise.  This permission extended for two years, without me having to bring it up more than once.  

Or, I mentioned once to my adviser (with whom I had multiple classes most semesters for five years) that I have anxiety problems, and that some subject matter is triggering for me (I did not mention what, or why).  Hence forth, he was completely okay with me discretely stepping out into the hall to calm down whenever I needed to.

Then again, I had a professor adamantly refuse to give me any accommodation or assistance when I explained to her that being verbally told complex assignments in a loud and chaotic environment didn’t work for me at all.  She insisted that there was no possible way that could ever be difficult for anyone, and that there was no way she could write down, type up, or even slowly repeat the assignments.  She refused to answer my questions, and refused to allow me to wear headphones while working.  (It was a studio art class, at a school where having headphones on to work in the studio is common.)  I was penalized for having multiple panic attacks every single class.  

I think, if a professor is going to be helpful at all, the best way to go about asking is to stay after class or visit their office during their office hours, and explain as briefly but specifically as possible what accommodations you are requesting.  Professors who are kind and decent people will probably be willing to help.  But not everyone can be convinced, no matter what you tell them, or how you frame the request.

Preparing for a college interview

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

Any advice for college interviews?

I have one coming up and I always get tongue-tied and I generally don’t do well at them at all, but this is a really big deal and I don’t want to mess it up…

realsocialskills said:

The best way I know of to prepare for any type of interview is to get someone else to do a practice interview with you before you do the real interview.

In a practice interview, someone asks you a whole bunch of questions that might come up, and you practice interviewing them. Once you have practiced, it can be a lot easier to answer interview questions for real.

If you’re in school, you might be able to get a teacher or guidance counselor to do a practice interview with you as you’re applying for college. A lot of adults in that role do that kind of thing regularly. Many adults in schools or teen programs really want to help their students get into school, and most people who want to help are likely to understand why practice interviews are a good idea. (If you’re currently in therapy and your therapist is someone you somewhat trust, you might also be able to convince your therapist to help you practice.)

If you don’t have a teacher or someone like that to help you practice, it can be helpful to practice with a friend. (And you might also be able to help them practice for their interview). While it’s particularly helpful to practice with someone who has good knowledge of how college admissions work, practicing with someone who doesn’t can also be very helpful.

It’s especially helpful if they ask you the questions you’re afraid of hearing. Because if a question you’re afraid of comes up in the real interview, it’s a lot harder to figure out an answer on the fly than if you’ve practiced. It can help to tell the person practicing with you what questions you’re worried about.

Some questions that some people might be worried about:

  • Are you worried that they’ll ask about your activities, and that you might not be able to say anything that sounds impressive
  • Are you unsure about what you want to study and afraid that will make you look bad?
  • Are you worried they’ll ask disability-related questions?

Whether or not the questions you’re nervous about come up in your real interview, it will help to have practiced them. If you feel confident about your ability to answer possibly-difficult questions, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable during the rest of the interview and it will be easier to focus on communicating.

Some questions that are very likely to come up in most college interviews:

“Why do you want to attend this college?”

  • Any answer that reflects positively on the school will work for this
  • Eg: “It’s academically rigorous”
  • “Some of the most interesting people I’ve met have gone to this school”
  • “I’ve heard really good things about the archeology department”
  • “The first year classics curriculum seems like an excellent foundation for further learning”
  • It’s also ok if the reason is partly personal, so long as it also says something specifically positive about the school, eg
  • “I’m looking to study pre-law and stay close to home so that I can be there for family. I like that this college has a large percentage of non-traditional students so that I will have a peer group even though I won’t be able to live on campus.”
  • Don’t say something that would reflect negatively on the school like “I’ve heard that everyone passes” or “I’ve heard it’s a great party schools,“ or "I just don’t want to work that hard.”

“What do you want to study?”

  • The answer to this question should show that you have interests, and that you like learning things
  • It’s ok not to know what you want to study; a lot of entering college students in the US do not.
  • If you’re not sure what you want to study, your answer to this should still indicate that you’ve thought about it and that you care about something, eg:
  • “I’m not sure yet, but I’m considering either history or political science or economics.”
  • “I want to learn a broad range of things before I decide for sure, but I really enjoy math.”
  • If you do know what you want to study, say so, and say something about what interests you about the subject (it does not need to be original, so long as it’s reasonably sincere), eg:
  • “I’m interested in the history of conflict. I want to try and figure out why people fight wars and how we can make peace.”
  • “I’m interested in studying biology so that I can eventually do medical research.”

“Do you have any questions for us?”

  • This question is likely pretty much any time that you’re interviewed for anything
  • It’s helpful to have a question in mind to ask them; it will show that you care about the school and aren’t just generically applying
  • The question should be something that you can’t easily google or get from their website, and it should show that you know something about the school
  • Eg: “I saw on the website that a lot of undergraduates do research. What’s the process like for finding a research adviser?”
  • (Don’t ask about possible exceptions to policies. That’s a conversation to have after you’re accepted, especially if it’s disability-related.)

tl;dr: If you’re interviewing for college (or anything really), it’s very helpful to do a practice interview. There is likely a teacher, guidance counselor, or coach at your school who would be willing to give you a practice interview. Having a peer do one can also work. Whoever does it, it is most effective when they ask you the questions that you’re afraid or nervous about being asked in the real interview.

Preparing for a college interview

tilia-cordata:

realsocialskills:

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

Any advice for college interviews?

I have one coming up and I always get tongue-tied and I generally don’t do well at them at all, but this is a really big deal and I don’t want to mess it up…

realsocialskills said:

The best way I know of to prepare for any type of interview is to get someone else to do a practice interview with you before you do the real interview.

[snip]

tl;dr: If you’re interviewing for college (or anything really), it’s very helpful to do a practice interview. There is likely a teacher, guidance counselor, or coach at your school who would be willing to give you a practice interview. Having a peer do one can also work. Whoever does it, it is most effective when they ask you the questions that you’re afraid or nervous about being asked in the real interview.

tilia-cordata said:

All the advice in realsocialskills’ post is great. I did alumni interviews for my college for a year or so. Here are a couple of thoughts: 

  • Not every school does interviews the same way, and they don’t count for the same amount. At my school there were a large enough number of applicants that all interviews were done by alumni (none by admissions officers).
  • They also didn’t count for a whole lot compared to the rest of your application. I know other schools weight the interview more. 
  • I was also interviewing for a very prestigious school, but I think the things I looked for were pretty similar to what other schools would look for? My interviewees just had much smaller chances of getting in, even if I ranked them very highly.
  • My ideal interview with an applicant felt more like a conversation than an interview. 
  • We were asked to assess how much a student might participate in school - as a student and in extra curricular activities. We were there to see what you were like as a person instead of as a stack of documents. We were also told that, unless a student did something really terrible, interviews were there to boost an applicant, not lower them. 

Here are some questions I asked, and the kinds of things I was looking for, if they might be helpful as practice questions: 

“What the favorite class you’re taking/have taken in high school?”

  • I wanted to see what kinds of academic things applicants were interested in. 
  • This also gives some time to talk about school stuff you like even if you don’t know what you want to study yet. 
  • There aren’t really any wrong answers as long as you have something to say. This is true of almost all of these questions. 

“What activities/things you do outside of school have been the most important to you and what did you learn from them?”

  • The “what” is way less important than the “why.” You can’t just say “band” and leave it at that. 
  • If you have to work and don’t do a “cool” or “exciting” activity, I wanted to hear about that too, if it’s important to you! Or if you do something solitary, like write or art or anything, or are involved in your religious community - literally anything outside of school. 
  • I might’ve asked about leadership stuff, but this’ll be guided by what you say. 
  • I’m probably going to push on the “what did you learn” or “what did you get out of this” for anything a student says. 

“What was something (academic or otherwise) that’s been a big challenge to you?”

  • I wanted to hear about stuff you’ve struggled with it, and what you’ve done to work on that. 
  • This is an opportunity to talk about a disability if you feel comfortable. 
  • It’s also a chance to explain a low grade or test score, if you have one. 
  • This was also to make the super-polished, prone-to-bragging applicants talk about their weaknesses for a minute. No one is perfect.

If you mention anywhere in the interview that you’re interested in in English or writing, I probably asked “What’s your favorite book?” I usually asked this anyway, even with math/science students. What the answer was didn’t matter all that much, I just liked hearing students talk about things they enjoyed. 

I asked about grades and test scores; I tried to do this at the end so our conversation would be about that as little as possible. 

I tried to give as much information about college life as possible throughout the interview. I usually started by saying the applicant could ask me questions at any time, so that me talking and them talking was split. At the end, I usually phrased “do you have any questions” as “is there anything you wanted to know that we haven’t covered?” since the more open ended question always freaked me out as an interviewee. 

I was never looking for polish or super-preparedness. I was looking for: whether you seemed genuinely interested in the school, if you seemed like a nice and engaging person, if you were polite. 

Also, as a last point - part of the reason I started doing interviews was as a way of fighting my social anxiety, and I was often almost as scared the meeting as my applicant, even if I had power in that situation. Your interviewer is a person, too, and especially if they’re an alumni who might only be interviewing 2-4 students, they can be an advocate for you to the admissions office. I wanted all my applicants to get in, because they all seemed like great kids who would have done well at my school. 

Including people who get talked over

Often, in class conversations, some students will talk over other students and not let them get a word in edgewise. (This happens a lot between male and female students. It’s not always gendered that way but that’s a common dynamic.), eg:

  • Brenda: I thought the colors were too bright because they made the background more prominent than the…
  • Bob: Actually, the colors were too bright. They made the background more prominent than the foreground. That’s a problem because you have to be able to pay attention to the foreground.

When Bob is allowed to do this, it effectively cuts Brenda out of the conversation. Eg, this is one continuation I’ve seen a lot:

  • Bob: Actually, the colors were too bright. They made the background more prominent than the foreground. That’s a problem because you have to be able to pay attention to the foreground.
  • Teacher: Yes, distracting background colors detract from the most important parts of the scenes.

When the teacher says something like that, they’re responding to Bob and ignoring Brenda. If Brenda was making the same point, then she deserves to be acknowledged. If she was making a different point, then she deserves to be heard. It’s important to listen to all the students who participate sincerely, not just those who talk over others.

You don’t have to put up with this. You can turn your attention back to the student who was talking before they got interrupted. This is one way to do that:

  • You (ignoring Bob): Brenda, what do you mean about the background being more prominent? Can you say more?
  • This lets Brenda know that you value what she’s saying.
  • And it allows her to be heard even though Bob doesn’t value what she’s saying.
  • This also sends the message to other students that you will listen to them, take them seriously, and not allow them to be talked over.

This usually works better than directly addressing Bob in the moment. If you call Bob on it directly, that can lead to derailing the conversation into an argument about Bob, eg:

  • Teacher: Bob, please don’t talk over Brenda
  • Bob: I wasn’t talking over Brenda.
  • Teacher: She was saying something, and you interrupted her.

This can backfire because it keeps the focus on Bob rather than the person he was talking over. It’s also less powerful. You don’t need Bob’s permission to pay attention to the student he interrupted. You can just pay attention to her.

Another possibility:

  • Teacher: Bob, let Brenda finish then you can make your point. Brenda, what were you saying about the background colors?

This can work sometimes because it’s not directly accusing Bob of anything, and it immediately shifts the focus back to the person he interrupted. 

I think there are other approaches that work well too, but I don’t know what they are. Any of y'all want to weigh in?

Respecting trans students whose IDs misgender them

cronbach:

realsocialskills:

It’s TA season and I’m thinking about something that happened last year. I was invigilating an exam, and there was a trans student who hadn’t had her student ID changed yet. I was required to check her ID, and she seemed terrified (I could pick up on it, so pretty obvious). I gave my stock script (smile and, “That’s perfect, thanks!”) and moved on. Was that OK? Also, is there something I can do to send an “I’m not gonna out you, don’t worry” message to students in that situation?
realsocialskills said:
 
I don’t know, and I’m hoping someone who reads this will. My sense is that probably using the stock script you’d use with anyone else’s ID is better than saying something explicitly. (Particularly since it seems like it would have been hard to say something without other students waiting to show ID overhearing, and you can’t reassure someone that you won’t out her by outing her to everyone within earshot.)
 
I think the best way to show someone that you can be trusted not to hurt them is to just make it clear in a matter-of-fact way that you’re not going to do anything with their ID but check them off a list like you would any other student.
 
But I’m not trans, and I think this question would probably be best answered by people who are.
  
Trans readers: what would you like TAs to do in this situation?

cronbach said:

With a one-off interaction like that, this was about the best you could do. Not drawing attention to her among the other students should be the goal, so the stock script is perfect.

For a longer interaction, like if you end up TAing a lab or course with a trans student (or anyone else to whom this sort of advice would also apply)… make sure you use their name like you would anyone else’s. Don’t draw undue attention by saying their name every sentence, if you don’t do that for everyone, but practice their name in private or whatever if you need to so you can be sure you won’t slip up and use the wrong one by accident.

Same thing with pronouns. Don’t misgender them. Be prepared to correct yourself right away and just move on if you somehow get it wrong — like if you accidentally misgendered a cis student because your brain had a short circuit, right?

Also, depending on what subject you’re in, you may need to change the way you say or teach a few things, or some lab activities. Like… I’m in a lab this year where there may be an activity where we take cheek swabs and do DNA things with them. I’m afraid that one of these things will involve karyotypes or sex chromosomes. I may end up getting outed, or having to out myself to the instructors, because of this. Are there things you teach which could affect someone who’s trans, or intersex, or anything like that?

Do you refer to students as “men and women” or “ladies and gentlemen” or any other binary-reinforcing or categorizing set o words? If so, you might want to consider not doing that. Likewise if you refer to everyone as “mister whatever” and “miss/ms whatsis.”

Just some thoughts from a trans guy on the binary.

I don’t think you should be encouraging ALL college kids ALL the time to email their professors to come out trans before class even starts. In order to keep their job, there’s pretty much no way a professor can’t say they’ll accommodate the request. But that doesn’t mean they won’t forget, “forget”, be hostile, grade harshly, or otherwise attempt to make the student’s life miserable in ways that the student can’t produce enough proof to complain about. Also, who says all profs are discreet?
realsocialskills said:
I agree with you. Emailing professors ahead of time is not a good strategy for every trans student. Some people do not want to be out to their professors, and they have ever right not to be. It’s a strategy for some people in some situations, not something universally applicable to all trans people.
But for some people, it’s a potentially useful strategy. For instance:
  • If you’re a woman and people know that you are a woman
  • But most people don’t know that you are trans and you’d like to keep it that way
  • And your legal name is something like Bruce.
  • At most schools, your teacher will get a list of students by legal names
  • So they’ll inevitably find out that the government thinks your name is Bruce
  • And, if they take roll, it’s likely that they’ll call you that name in front of everyone
  • This strategy is a way to discretely let the professor know that your name isn’t Bruce and you don’t want to be called Bruce in front of everyone

Or even if you’re just tired of hearing “But why do you go by Alex instead of Molly? Molly is a beautiful name!”. If people don’t know your legal name, they’re much, much less likely to try to call you by it or pester you about it.

It’s not a good strategy for everyone, but I can how it could be helpful for some people, and others in the reblog chain have said it worked for them.

Template for Preferred Name/Pronouns Letter to Teachers:

cardromancer:

realsocialskills:

thespookyprofessor:

Dear Professor [name],

My name is [Preferred name], and I will be attending your course [blank] on [days] at [time] this [term]. I am transgender and have not yet legally changed my name. On your roster is my legal name, [Legal name]. I would greatly appreciate it if you refer to me as [Preferred name] and use [pronouns] when referring to me. Thank you for your understanding, and I look forward to starting your course next week.

Sincerely,

~[Preferred name]

realsocialskills said:

Have any of y’all used something like this successfully?

cardromancer said:

My university has a system through counseling services where anyone can have their preferred name told to professors for them. I forgot to utilize this before my semester started (today) so I emailed something like this to all of my professors on Saturday night. Two of them have gotten back to me saying that it’s totally fine. So I would say yes!