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20/15: the Year in Retrospecs

Maria and a group of students

2015 was one of the most important years of my life. Despite the workload being heavy and the subject material being challenging, 2015 was when I really began to understand how the material I was being taught related to the field of optometry. Sometimes I can’t believe how much the OD class of 2018 has learned in one short year. We can all do full eye exams independently, have successfully completed a semester of clinical work, and in the next couple of months will get to choose our final year externships.

As I look back at the year 2015 and my time at NECO I know without a doubt that it was the most challenging year of my post-graduate career thus far. Despite my classes being interesting, some days there just wasn’t enough time for me to study effectively and still pursue my hobbies of going to the gym or watching Netflix. Some weeks I felt like I was practically living at school, as I spent more time there studying and practicing techniques in preclinic than I did in my own home. The academic challenges I faced in 2015 showed me the importance of proper time management as well as the importance of establishing a strong peer support group in order to obtain academic success.

The difficult workload I encountered in 2015 forced me to reexamine the way that I learned and studied.  Before I had started at NECO I had specialized at “cramming efficiently.” The day before a midterm or exam I would make flash cards, which took up about ¾ of my precious study time. I would then go over the flashcards for a few hours until I felt I knew enough of the material to go write the test. The actual act of making flashcards helped me learn the subject matter and I found this study method very effective.

The problem I encountered utilizing these study tactics at NECO was that there wasn’t enough time to cover all the material effectively the night before, let alone make flashcards for it. After a great deal of trial and error, I’ve decided the best way to study is to start early and review frequently. Reviewing the material at least once a week (and starting flashcards way before midterms and finals) is probably the best way to remember the vast amounts of information. 

This past year, 2015, also helped me realize the importance of a supportive school peer group. I had always been a solo studier and had rarely studied in groups or sought out the academic assistance of my peers.  When the difficulty of my studies at NECO began to mount, I slowly realized how important it was to have fellow students to turn to for support. We really are all in this together, and I don’t think many of us would have made it to 2016 without the help of the fellow OD students we’ve gotten to know. My fellow OD2’s help to keep me on track with assignments and its great having people with whom to discuss concepts. The OD3’s never fail to provide words of wisdom regarding some of the more challenging classes we need to take and are always sure to add an encouraging “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine, you’ll get through this.”

2015 had many memorable moments, including my first Eye Ball, seeing my first patient, getting my white coat, making progress in my research project and attending my first academic conference in New Orleans. Attending Academy with my friends (seen in photo) was one of my highlights of 2015. I look forward to seeing what 2016 will bring. 

Maria is a Canadian student in her final year of the four year OD/MS dual degree program. For her MS project, she is working with Dr. Vera-Diaz and Dr. Panorgias examining color vision and early age-related macular degeneration.