January 2021 Advice Column: A Set of Fresh Faces

Editors-in-Chief of ‘The Science Survey’ give advice on everything from fitness to friendship.

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Montana Lee

Some of the Editors-in-Chief of the 2020-2021 ‘The Science Survey’ meet via Zoom to plan out the next issue. Together, they wrote this January 2021 advice column. Pictured clockwise from top left are Jamie Lee Nicolas ’21, Montana Lee ’21, Logan Klinger ’21, Edie Fine ’21, Julia Sperling ’21, Kate Reynolds ’21.

Dear Bronx Science, 

We hope that you feel refreshed after a well-deserved winter break. As a start to the New Year, we’ve written an Advice Column that might help you with some resolutions. 

Yes, The Science Survey’s popular Editor-in-Chief Advice Column is back with a set of brand-new faces! We’re some of the EICs of the newspaper for this 2020-2021 academic year, and we are super excited to be able to directly respond to students’ concerns and questions. We know how hard of a year 2020 has been for everyone, and we know how many students — especially ninth-graders — are struggling with this online school year. 

Here, we have given you our experience-informed advice on topics ranging from friendship to hobbies to college apps. We also answered specific questions about navigating tricky situations, and it made us happy to see some ninth-graders asking some of these questions. It is hard enough to transition into high school and even harder to do it entirely online. We hope our advice is  helpful to all of our readers.

If you would like to ask a question for the next issue, fill out the form here (it is completely anonymous). 

We wish you a happy new year! 

Love,

Montana Lee ’21, Julia Sperling ’21, Logan Klinger ’21, Edie Fine ’21, Jamie Lee Nicolas’ 21, and Kate Reynolds ’21

P.S. Here are the topics in order to help you find what you are looking for: 

Hobbies

Friendship

College essays

A mental health bind

Health and fitness at home

Attracting new club members

Starting assignments

 

How to develop hobbies and what type of hobbies should we develop?

Thanks for this question! I completely understand the pressure of feeling like you need to find “your thing.” Entering high school, I often questioned how people (especially college admissions officers) would perceive me. What would my label be? “Edie the dancer”? “Edie the writer”? “Edie the chef”? Did I have to choose a label and spend all of my time developing that hobby to prove myself? 

But I quickly realized that nobody could choose how I spent my time. I should not be relinquishing control over my time and activities to people that were not me. I needed to pursue the activities that brought me the most joy. The whole point of a hobby is that it’s exclusively for you. I couldn’t ever offer you a laundry list of hobbies to choose from; I can’t know what will be most enjoyable for you. Hobby-searching should not be pressure-filled! 

So, my first piece of advice would be to stop envisioning the search for a hobby as one of “shoulds.” There are no “shoulds” here! If you ever catch yourself thinking, “I should become a swimmer, or a plant-lover, or a debater,” or anything else, quit it! Whatever you find that makes you happy should be what you continue to develop. 

I also want to point out that this process can take some time and a bit of self-exploration. With so much on our plates (we all know how time-consuming and energy-draining Zoom school can be), sometimes it feels like our free time is scant and precious, that experimenting with hobbies during that time isn’t worth it. But this process is about finding what feels right for you, and if you are patient, you will find it. According to The New York Times, a hobby is essentially an “active pursuit of an interest.” So, what are your interests? A hobby typically requires the practice of the interest, learning a new skill within it, building or creating something. If you are interested in crafts, maybe try crocheting and knitting, or collaging, or sewing. If you like creative writing, maybe you want to try your hand at writing some poetry or short stories. If you are more of an athletic type, you could try spending your time running or learning a new sport. 

Remember, this is about you. Developing hobbies is not about curating yourself and your activities to appeal to anyone else. What interests you?

— Edie Fine ’21

How can I make, develop, and keep friendships? 

Aha! What a great question. This is harder than ever in the remote era. But it’s not impossible — friendships (mostly) come naturally, and that’s still true today, just more virtually.

There are many things you can do to make friends. Sometimes, in class, breakout rooms, or Discord chats, you might make jokes with someone which can easily translate to out-of-class friendships. Oscar Wilde once said, “An acquaintance that begins with a compliment is sure to develop into a real friendship.” This is also true. Or let’s say you’ve found someone to help you/you can help with problems or concepts (a lot of my close friendships started from making academic “allies” in class — study buddies usually become good friends). Class-related chat very often transitions into humorous and more intimate conversations.

Another way to make friends is through mutual friendships — if your close friend is friends with someone else, you probably won’t mind hanging out with that person. If you already have some mutuals (not the Snapchat kind), you can talk more to them and get closer to them, especially if you have classes together. You can get to know these people better through private messaging, whether that is on Discord or by text message. A great strategy to get closer is to ask someone if they want to be your study buddy or just Zoom and keep each other accountable while doing work. Be polite, and don’t be shy! They are probably looking to make friends too. But don’t force it either — if they are not interested in making new friendships (which is very unlikely), they’ll probably keep the dialogue boring or only class-related.

 Once you’ve made many small friendships (“sowed the seeds,” so to speak), you want to cultivate the friendships that will be the most meaningful to you. Out of your study buddies, mutual friends, and whomever else you’re acquainted with, what relationships do you value most — which ones make you happy, are fulfilling, and are the most supportive? Once you’ve identified these people, you can get closer through personal phone calls, FaceTimes, and work-focused Zooms. (I’ve said this many times, but at a place like Bronx Science, getting close through academic means is the best way to make friendships!) Prioritize vocal conversation over texting; it’s easier to develop and keep friendships by calling a few times a week, which is less effort, than texting all the time (it’s shallower and can be distracting).

I say this because a few deep friendships are more fulfilling than many shallower ones, especially now, when we don’t have the opportunity to talk to people all day long. Prioritize your energy. (Going narrow and deep tends to be better than broad and shallow in any field from extracurriculars to friendships.) I don’t talk to very many people anymore, but the deep friendships that I have are sustaining. They’ve helped me get through this pandemic.

— Montana Lee ’21

What are some tips and advice for the college process and college essays?

This is such an important question. Thank you for asking! I know how overwhelming and stressful college applications can be, so I hope that I can offer some tips to make it a little less crazy for you.

Something that has helped me a lot is making a spreadsheet where I keep all my info about college apps organized and updated (here’s a template). The college application process is stressful and confusing— there are so many different due dates and seemingly endless supplements to keep track of. My spreadsheet contains columns for things like deadlines, fees, test reporting details, and the number and types of supplementary essays. It’s a super simple way for me to stay organized!

Another tip I have is to not over-edit your work. I am guilty of reading over an essay for the millionth time and tweaking a comma here or replacing a word there, but I try to stop myself from editing it too much: You want to keep your unique and original voice alive in each supplement. Make your essay an accurate reflection of who you are, not something artificial.

Also, take breaks! I know this sounds cliché and you might be thinking this is impossible, but working on your college applications for 36 hours without sleeping, eating, or blinking just won’t be effective. Your best work will be done when you are well-rested and relaxed, which requires finding free time for things you enjoy. Rereading your essay over and over again won’t be helpful at a certain point. Go to sleep instead. I promise the sacrificed hour of work will be worth it in the long run.

In general, try your best to keep things in perspective — this is a very difficult process, and it can be easy to become caught up in the idea that your college acceptances or rejections define you. They don’t. Whatever happens, you will end up somewhere amazing and well-suited to your interests and needs. So much of the process is dumb luck, and not getting into a school doesn’t say anything about you at all. 

The final thing I want to say — to non-seniors specifically — is to not let your dread about the college application process overwhelm or control your high school career. It’s good to start planning early, but “planning early” doesn’t mean that as a ninth grader, you have to know exactly what you want to do in life, what your dream school is, or what grades in what classes will get you into which college. There’s no set formula for getting into college, so you shouldn’t try to follow one! Instead, pursue activities and courses that you love and enjoy and are passionate about. The rest will follow.

— Kate Reynolds ’21

Kate is so right about the process. I also want to offer some productivity tips. 

Work in short and focused blocks. That’s the way to squeeze as much creativity and energy out as possible — as Kate writes, for college apps and all semi-creative writing, you can’t stare at them for too long. Take breaks and look at your work with fresh eyes. If you’re stuck on something, move on to another essay or another school’s application. Also, the process will get easier the more you write, since most universities’ questions tend to overlap.

I work in blocks of thirty minutes to about an hour depending on how much I’m trying to accomplish (ex. an activities essay or a Why? essay). I’d say an hour and thirty minutes is the max. A study has shown that 52 minutes of work followed by a 17-minute break produces the most focus for most people. And work a little bit every day — it doesn’t have to be fifty-two minutes, it can be thirty, but once you get on a roll with your work, you won’t want to stop. 

Finally, this tip applies to almost everything, but please don’t use social media or other distractors when you write. You can only focus on so much at a time, and social media is only a distraction from fulfilling work. You might even consider deleting your social media in high-work periods, like fall of senior year, or altogether — I’ve left every platform but Facebook, which I need for school announcements, a few class chats, and journalism outreach. And that has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, especially for my mental health.

— Montana Lee ’21

I have some issues regarding mental health but it’s frustrating to me that some of my friends and family refuse to understand my situation. My dad thinks it’s my own problem and that I should simply “have more confidence in myself” and not rely on the medication prescribed by my doctor. Similarly, a friend of mine thinks I could just “be more positive” and my problems would go away. They think they are helping, but it’s frustrating to me because I tried to do that for years and it fails every time. Do you think there is a good way to explain to them my situation and mental illness in general? 

I’m sorry about your situation. I know that it can be infuriating to have people so close to you who refuse to understand. But I feel that I must be clear about one thing. Their lack of consideration does not make your mental health issues any less valid. An “attitude change” is simply not a real solution. Your friends and family should be there to listen and support you, not to discredit your mental state. 

In all honesty, I’m not the best person to answer this question. I am not a psychiatrist, a therapist, or a social worker. Thankfully enough, there are people at Bronx Science who would be equipped to help and have a better grasp of how to speak to your dad and friend. Ms. Heckman ([email protected]), for instance, is our school’s social worker. She’s a wonderful person and an excellent resource with years of experience in dealing with situations such as this. Your guidance counselor can be another person to speak to. 

What I can say, however, is that any solution is easier said than done. The best way to have an open conversation with them is to be both firm and gentle. This will likely mean telling them in what ways they are being unhelpful, to which you might get a negative response in return. If that is the case, then remember that they are sitting down and offering advice because they care, even if it is misguided. Hopefully, you may convince them to be supportive in a way that is more fitting.

That being said, your mental wellbeing is your priority. Any true friend of yours will understand that. If your friend rudely ignores what you say or tries to blame it on you, then I am sorry to say it may not be worth having a strong friendship with them. No matter how bleak it may all seem at times, you will always find others who care for you. 

I would also recommend getting your doctor involved if possible. If not, sharing links and informative websites about mental health may work. Facts that come from a professional and esteemed site or your doctor could be useful in properly explaining to your friend what you are going through, and your dad as to why the prescribed medication is necessary.

If you have any more questions, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]. I am not a professional, but I’ve organized many mental health-centered events with the S.O., and I can point you to resources.

Logan Klinger ’21

How can I stay fit and healthy if I’m stuck at home and have little space to workout? 

Thank you for your question! This is something I struggle with, and I am sure a lot of us are having a difficult time staying fit and healthy now that we sit in front of our computers all day. Gone are the walks from the bus or train station to school and our short treks up flights of stairs. Though a lot has changed, it still is, of course, essential to do whatever we can to stay healthy.

I like to take walks around my neighborhood. Walks are a reprieve from sitting in front of a screen, and they help me clear my head. In addition to being a form of exercise, walks are a great form of self-care. I often listen to music or an audiobook during my walks to help myself relax. You can also take mindful walks where you try to stay present by concentrating on the physical sensations you feel, the sights you see, and the sounds you hear while walking. 

I also have been trying to get more sleep. We can use the now-nonexistent commute time to catch some extra Z’s. Sleep deprivation weakens a person’s immune system and harms brain development so it is really important to get the recommended 8-10 hours for our age group. 

It is also important to stay hydrated. At home, water is readily available, unlike at school. Being at home also makes it easier to incorporate healthy, home-cooked meals into our diets. 

Finally, some exercises do not require much space. Ones I can think of include jumping jacks, planks, push-ups (modified push-ups definitely count), squats, high knees, and burpees. Several Youtube channels provide at-home workout routines. Some include MadFit, Boho Beautiful, and blogilates. (Remember to quickly warm up before and stretch after!) One particular channel I love that focuses on mental wellness is Yoga With Adriene. There are also apps devoted to helping people maintain their physical and mental health like 8fit, Down Dog, and Headspace

Most importantly, find a method of movement that you enjoy! It’ll be so much easier to keep it up and stay healthy that way.

— Jamie Lee Nicolas ’21

I’ve tried all the different ways to advertise to my club — messaging people personally, posting on social media, etc. But, whatever I do, it’s like no one is paying attention, which I don’t blame them for. I don’t have a lot of friends, but I’ve noticed that newer clubs with lots of members tend to be STEM clubs or have officers with lots of friends. I’m really passionate about my club topic and want to be able to enjoy it with others without the threat of termination. Are there any other ways I can get people to join my club? 

Props to you on starting a club that you are so passionate about! Being able to start and join clubs that interest you is one of the best parts of Bronx Science, and it’s great that you’re taking advantage of that. Getting a club to increase its membership isn’t easy, especially in the virtual setting, so don’t be too hard on yourself. These things happen slowly and over time.

Use the Bronx Science 2020-2021 Facebook page. This page contains a ton of updates, news, and opportunities about a wide variety of school-related topics, and it’s a perfect way to make a post about your club and encourage other students to sign up. Be consistent about posting, and don’t give up just because you’re not getting responses at first. If people see that you’re super engaged and committed to pushing your club, they might become more interested in what’s so great about it.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there—try reaching out to other clubs that have similar topics as yours, and ask if they might want to do a cross-club meeting or collaboration of some sort.

Also, you can send an ad for your club to Wolverine TV! Lots of us watch WTV episodes, and having an ad for your club play during it is a great way to catch students’ attention and get them interested in joining. 

— Kate Reynolds ‘ 21

Advertising on a grassroots, face-to-face level might help. People have trouble refusing a direct, vocal request. Just ask them to join for one short meeting, and they probably will (I have before). Ask your friends and club members to spread the word in group chats and breakout rooms. Also, according to Raiya Dhalwala ’21, head of the LOP, as long as you participate in everything the LOP asks you to, your club won’t be terminated. “Some clubs are just small clubs because they’re niche. My club is small, but as long as it meets the minimum number of people it is fine,” she said.

— Montana Lee ’21

How can I start assignments? 

Hi! This is a great question. Remote learning often feels like all the work minus the good parts, and starting can be the hardest step. In terms of getting assignments in on time, I find it helpful to make a calendar. You could click “Calendar” or “To-do” on Google Classroom to see your upcoming assignments, make a homework list on “Reminders” if you have an iPhone, create a physical calendar/using a planner, or do anything that works for you. Be proactive about working and make sure you always allot the necessary time to complete each assignment. This may mean starting an assignment a week before it’s due, but I promise divvying up the work will be helpful. Check out BxSci Declassified, an NHS website, for more organizational tips. 

In terms of bringing pen to paper (or in this remote world, finger to key) to start work, always take small steps. Even if you have a short assignment, dividing it up into smaller parts makes completion less scary. For essays or longer written assignments, create an outline detailing how you will lay out your work. Then, when you actually start to write, it will feel as if you are simply editing a draft. The act of simply getting something down on the page makes the next steps so much easier. If your homework includes problem sets, like in math or science, try starting with the questions that at glance seem easiest to you so that you can ease into working. 

For long term projects, planning is key. Do not wait until the last minute! Look at the different components of the project and how long you have to do them. Make a plan accordingly that allows you to follow the baby steps to a finished product. Start with the foundation, such as research or outlines. Add on as the days go by, and before you know it, you will be finished. Splitting work up over time will make the process less anxiety-inducing and ensures that you hand in your best work. Often, when we rush assignments, we barely review them before we hand them in. Starting early removes this easy misstep. 

— Julia Sperling ’21

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