Earlier this year, Trace Yulie, Director of the UCI Learning and Academic Resource Center (LARC), was interviewed by UCI literary journalism student Jesse Angeles for the KUCI News show the Campus Skinny. Together, they discussed study strategies, avoiding burnout, and the first-generation college student experience.

See the transcript of their conversation below: 

Jesse: My name is Jesse Angeles and you’re listening to the Campus Skinny here at 88.9 KUCI FM. I’m here at the Learning and Academic Research Center at UCI sitting down to have a conversation with Trace Yulie, who uses they them pronouns, to discuss the topic of study skills, which is especially relevant as students prepare for and take their midterms.

Trace is the Director of the LARC and in their ten years at UCI, they have overseen programs that help promote peer collaboration and learning for undergrads getting their start as a learning skills counselor. With a background in writing instruction and gender studies as well as being a first-generation college grad, Trace holds an interest in the ways that institutions of higher learning can serve as sites of liberation so that we can create vital growth spaces, serve students in pursuing their passions, and making sure that our institutions serve all students equitably.

Now Trace, in the midst of midterm season, there are a lot of students right now that are realizing they might need more help than they initially thought, which can bring feelings of stress and uncertainty. Is there anything you would want a student who is in that position to know about how to approach those issues?

Trace: So number one, I would say pause to check in with the signals that your body is sending you. If you are low on rest, if you’re low on nutrition, then it’s like the thinking part of your mind, which your learning depends on, will just simply be prioritized in favor of emotional and physical needs. It’s really hard to learn or even feel motivated if you’re dysregulated. So start there. Does your body require rest? How about your mind? Would some movement or fresh air kind of give you some renewal?

Number two, look to your support system. If you feel like you’re in kind of a fight, flight, or flee mode, ask yourself when is the last time I hugged someone or laughed out loud? Could you make space for social support/connection? Think of social support or even experts on campus expert support as well-being nutrients. They are not extras. They are things that feed you and will help you become more successful. Who could be that for you? Is it friends, family, or your chosen family? Your support staff? They will understand.

Number three, regroup and use that renewed mental energy to shift your mindset to what’s within your control. Mindset has a measurable impact and can actually alter our physical response and our cognition. If things haven’t been going well, or you’re behind on your studies, you are in a position to learn from that experience and reframe it. You can set small goals, smaller habits to help provide you with a more positive way of moving forward. And maybe that looks like rebooting your sleep schedule, planning meals, creating a study plan, or connecting with support. Maybe even approaching your instructors for guidance so you can plan a next step.

Jesse: In your time working with students, are there any particular skills that you feel have been most effective in helping them reach their academic goals?

Trace: So if you’ve been studying a lot but not getting the results you expect, or maybe you’re having a hard time retaining information long-term, there are some proven strategies that can improve that. So, number one, I would say start with the idea that the things you’re memorizing are just building blocks. You’re building a foundation. They are building blocks, but they’re not a building. So you can become more confident by applying them to a question that requires thinking and solving, kind of like a word problem. 

And I would say, number two, distribute the practice that you do with these kinds of questions over time. I know it’s really tempting to cram, but that’s not going to give you the lasting learning that I hope you want. So spread it out and keep returning to the older material. The key is to keep older material in recent memory and then keep working on that so you can coax it into long-term memory. It needs that repetition. 

Your study tools that you make can be an effective part of your study routine. It can help make that distribution easier. So if you need help making study tools, we’ve got lots of cool resources at LARC that can help you with that.

Number three, I would say try hard to avoid staring at your notes to study, and instead ask yourself, or a study partner, what do I remember about what I’m learning? Quiz your memory. See what’s sticking, because this is going to help you identify what you might be missing or feel less confident with. Creating study tools, again, can help make that skill more routine. This skill actually has a name. It’s called retrieval practice, and it activates a very real neurological response that just reviewing does not give you.

Jesse: Now, on that note, I wanted to transition into talking about impostor syndrome, something that many students struggle with at some point in their academic careers. I would know; I’ve definitely felt it before. What, in your opinion, is the best way that a student can handle those challenges and feelings of self-doubt?

Trace: Impostor syndrome can definitely be a barrier to success because students might feel reluctant to speak up. They might hesitate to ask for support or try out new opportunities. These are all big parts of making the most of your undergrad experience. Those with impostor syndrome may feel like they don’t belong in that experience in the first place—they might even think that their admission was just luck, which is really strange. I want to assure students that their admission means they belong here, even if the academic environment might feel kind of strange or unfriendly at times; it’s definitely a place with its own social norms that contribute to that. 

Sometimes, as a first-gen student myself, I had such unhelpful thoughts, especially as a grad student. As a grad student, I was afraid that someone was going to find out that I was completely baffled by what was going on around me at first. I would agonize over minor mistakes or criticism, and at some point, I recognized that as a voice in my head that I brought with me from the environment of my upbringing, and it contributed to my impostor syndrome. So negative experiences are definitely something we bring with us. If students are members of underrepresented groups, a person of color, an immigrant, those things can contribute to an increase of those thoughts. So it’s really important that you counter that narrative with your own sense of worth, your strengths, your values. Stay focused on what matters to you. 

Asking for help, asking for what you need, or asking about things you don’t understand—even if it feels uncomfortable—is really necessary. So rehearse those moments with people who feel safe. You want to talk to your TA, but you feel intimidated. Practice that with someone else. Come by and role play it with me. I’ll help you out.

Jesse: Thank you so much for the conversation, Trace. If you’re in need of any more academic help or tips, you can go to the “Student Resources” section of the Learning and Academic Research Center’s website. Good luck on midterms and eaters.

This has been Jesse Angeles with 88.9 KUCI FM.

Listen to Trace’s full Campus Skinny interview.

Looking for more advice on effective study strategies, managing academic stress, and thriving at UCI, turn to the team at LARC! Meet with one of our academic coaches one-on-one, sign up for a LARC tutorial, or check out our best learning tips

Please don’t hesitate to contact us for additional information.