How To Be An Oliner (Tips From ARCs!)

Based on similar articles from November 2020 and February 2021

Happy February! As we settle into spring semester, it’s the perfect time to evaluate how your academic year has been going and if there’s anything you want to change. College is hard, especially now, and we know that it can be challenging to figure out how to improve your work habits or organize your life. That’s where ARCs come in! ARCs are Academic Resource Co-designers – fellow students who’re here to help you out with any organization, time management, or general productivity skills you want to work on. You can think of us like executive function tutors, not tied to a specific class, happy to chat about anything from sending scary emails to prioritizing your to-do list for the day.

We don’t need to list all of the reasons everyone has to be stressed and anxious right now – there are a lot and everyone has their own struggles to get through. Amidst all of it, though, we are still students, with classes, homework, and projects to juggle (not to mention clubs, activities, and socializing… the list goes on). So, at the start of this semester, we ARCs would like to offer some tips and tricks we’ve collected from fellow Oliners on what has helped them navigate being an Oliner.

Task Management

  • Post-it notes
    • Write out tasks by hand on a post-it and stick it to anything you see often (next to your trackpad or on the wall near your desk are great options). You’ll have a convenient place to keep track of what you need to do and you’ll get to cross things out as you do them which is super satisfying.
  • Electronic to do lists
    • If you prefer an electronic to do list, consider creating or finding a simple version that works for you! Google Sheets can be a great starting point, with checkboxes, sorting, and date formats built in. If you’re the kind of person who remembers That Thing You Should Do while walking around away from your desk, look for options that you can access from both your phone and your laptop, such as Asana or Trello. There are even game-ified to-do lists, like Habitica!
  • Schedule it!
    • In addition to adding classes and meetings to your personal calendar, try scheduling “do not disturb” work time. You can use your main calendar so others can’t schedule meetings with you during this time, or create another calendar that only you can see.
  • Track Canvas assignments
    • Did you know you can subscribe to your Canvas in Outlook and Google Calendar? Events appear for submission due dates for all of your classes and are updated automatically.

Getting Into the Flow

  • Create a commute
    • Now that we’re back in person, we have built in commutes before and after class to walk around campus. Before sitting down to do a bunch of work, try taking a walk or just moving a bit to create your own separation between school life and personal life. Working outside of your dorm can also help – the library and MAC both have great options for working at tables, on couches, or even on funky chairs.
  • Find where work is happening
    • Working with other students around is a great way to build momentum towards getting things done while adding a little friendly accountability. You don’t have to all work on the same assignment to work together!
  • Focused work
    • Many Oliners use the Pomodoro Method to get into focused work. The base version uses 25 minute blocks of focused work, broken up by 5 minute breaks.There are tons of apps and extensions with variations, but you can also use your calendar or a simple timer for the same effect.
  • Hide your phone
    • Notifications are designed to be distracting! Moving your phone away from your work area and quitting apps that send non-work-related notifications on your laptop can help limit distractions. There are many apps that offer various rewards for staying off of your phone for a set amount of time – we recommend Flora and Tide (both free) – and Windows has a Focus Assist feature that can also come in handy here.

If you want help implementing any of these strategies, want to see more options, or just want to chat about organization and productivity, feel free to fill out the ARC request form to get connected with an ARC! Getting work done can be challenging for many reasons, but ARCs are here to help you figure out how to get through those barriers as much as possible!

We hope that your spring semester is as engaging, well-focused, organized, and restful as possible. You are not alone!

Love,

The ARCs

Riya Aggarwal, Reid Bowen, Jocelyn Jimenez, Evelyn Kessler, Vedaant Kuchhal, Manu Patil, Charlotte Ramiro de Huelbes, Laurel Rodriguez Mitton, Prisha Sadhwani, and Arwen Sadler

ARC request form: https://tinyurl.com/arc-requests

Tinyurl links to: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeinsVQQs-Fd-1xq2TDmhj3wbwginXmIpLISo_6DG47ZAxoTg/viewform

Ethics Only Matters for Software

At least, that’s what it seems like. Since I started at Olin in 2018 I’ve seen ethics mentioned more and more often on campus and in the world. I’ve chased after it but, as a “hardware person,” the conversation rarely reaches my domain. I attend ethics talks and everyone there is in software or data privacy or something along those lines. I hear about Public Interest Technology and get excited–I would like to apply my degree to good work that puts the public first, but then I learn that “Technology” actually means something very specific. I look at the classes that I hear are incorporating ethics into their curriculum, classes like ModSim, QEA, Machine Learning, and maybe SoftDes. All of them focus on… software. Sure, there are some diamonds in the hardware rough that are trying to start the conversations but a match in the peripheral does not light a path. 

It’s not like there aren’t any problems with hardware. In fact, most of the problems in tech are around hardware. Arguably, more people are adversely affected by the problems in hardware than software, and the unethical practices in the hardware industry have been around for much longer. The practices we see today are those that have been around for centuries. Colonialism, imperialism, and slavery are all deeply embedded in hardware. The semiconductor industry is a source of conflict in international politics between the US’s and China’s governments. The supply chains for the materials we use in our hardware involve unsafe work environments, poverty, and just general political and economic extortion. Capitalist practices exist everywhere. And while software suffers from similar problems, it also exists on the foundation of hardware. We have to address both. 

But why don’t we talk about the ethics around hardware? It could just be my social circle here at Olin but after a little bit of asking around, none of the “hardware people” I talked to could think of any classes they had taken that involved their major and touched on ethics in any meaningful way. I have two theories:

The first is that these problems don’t directly affect  us, so we don’t care. We don’t experience the poverty, extortion, and physical duress that takes place in hardware supply chains, manufacturing, and design. But the software problems, like data privacy and computer vision, do affect us. We experience them, so we talk about them. If this is the case, I would question if this is ethics or just looking out for yourself. We worry about the problems that come with the privileges we gain due to our convenient geographic locations and don’t question anything that would shake the foundation of that privilege. Yeah, we could make our supply chains ethical, but that would make things more expensive. Do you really want that? Yeah, I really want that. It’s not like it’s going to happen tomorrow, and because things will get more expensive the larger system will have to change. We saw this with the pandemic, change happened and the capitalist systems floundered. Let’s figure out how to do it purposefully, and in a way that doesn’t force small businesses and the employees to suffer. It’s tough, but if we don’t talk about it nothing is ever going to happen. How can we expect anyone to really treat us fairly, if we don’t hold them to it across the board? 

The second theory is that we choose to focus on software problems because these hardware problems have been around for so long that they are deeply entrenched in our culture and society. Software didn’t exist 100 years ago or 1000+ years ago, hardware did. Software is digitally oppressive in origin, hardware is tangibly. So why would we waste our time on hardware? It’s just the way things are. But let’s turn that on its head: because hardware problems have existed for so long, because they are so deeply embedded we need to talk about them. Yeah, we exist within the problematic system, but that doesn’t mean we have to be sheep to it. Talking about it, feeling bad about it, and being uncomfortable because of it is all progress, though it may not feel like it. Social change is the first domino, the rest will follow when it does but if we don’t talk about it, nothing will happen. 

Software is problematic, hardware is problematic, most things in the system we exist in are problematic. We were born into a shit-covered word, no one knows how to clean it up and all we do is perpetuate it and move it around. It sucks but all we can do is talk about it, brainstorm about it, and confront it. 

We can start by bringing it into every classroom. Do it today, ask the questions and bring up the problems. Talking about ethics doesn’t have to be hard–why can’t it be normal? I can’t think of a single topic discussed or taught at this school that doesn’t involve ethics. It’s not like dedicating the time to these subjects would cause the quality of our education to suffer. The only thing that would suffer is our willingness to perpetuate the shit. Adding ethics to our curriculum and discussions would make us more effective and more impactful both socially and technically: socially because we would be more conscious of the impact we make with our work and in our lives, and technically because understanding these ethical problems requires a deep understanding of the systems they exist in. You can’t understand them with a passing glance, you have to learn about how the system works to understand how it is broken. The only thing talking about it will do is force us to be actual changemakers instead of just passive creators. So let’s talk about it, let’s collaborate on how we can make the change we want to see in the world.

Different?

Maybe it’s just me, but if you’ve ever studied in the West Hall 2 antelounge after midnight, sometimes you hear a certain tapping. It’s not a faint ticking, but rather a loud, consistent beating that goes on for hours. It’s happening right now as I write these words. 83 beats per minute. You can tune it out, but it’s still mildly alarming – like someone’s stuck outside where it’s cold and snowing, slowly freezing stiff, waiting for you to prove something or go to sleep.

Tap tap tap or go to bed. To be clear – I’m not here to complain about Olin’s work culture. Work is honestly the last thing on my mind right now. I’m talking about the relentless restlessness of Olin – to prove, to socialize, to care. I still really really love the college and the people and community. But therein lies the problem. Tap tap tap or go to bed. 

Last semester, I wanted to write an article criticizing the criticism at Olin. The lack of empathy, the blatant disregard for one’s own privilege, the excitement of being in a cushion community where students listen when you yell. It all disgusted me. When I saw Olin staff and faculty have emotional breakdowns in the face of disrespectful student criticism, it made me so so angry. 

But I never found the time. Winter Break happened, and my position completely flipped. I was now angry at the administration. I was frustrated with how clubs were being asked to create safe spaces at Olin; spaces that Olin loves to advertise but should be created by the institution in the first place. About how Olin’s administration needs to rebuild fractured trust among students with more leadership, openness, and professionalism.

But the reality is both. We’re a baby school with big dreams striving relentlessly to prove ourselves. An insecure college with small grounds but wide-open skies. A little colony of people trying to establish themselves and softening under the protection of a pressure-cooker community. Tap tap tap or go to sleep.

The phrase that makes me shudder the most at Olin is, “Everybody here is -”. So much has been appended to that. Liberal, privileged, burnt-out, anti-capitalist, an engineer, well-intentioned. And the truth is – at least MY truth is – that’s never the case. It’s one thing to have a shared culture, and another to assume unwavering conformity to it. The vibe I feel running through campus runs through us all, but it doesn’t mean we all interact with it in the same way.

I’m not making a revolutionary point here – we’re all different. Period… or not, for your take on this may be different from mine. And a lot more can be accomplished at Olin if this simple fact is culturally recognized.

Some examples:

There is mistrust between students and Olin’s administration. Trust that needs to be rebuilt. And the key insight lies in recognizing that not all students mistrust the administration. Unfortunately, the students with the least faith in Olin’s administration, in a twist of cruel irony, are also the students who need the support of the administration the most. But acknowledging that not everyone has this attitude reduces frustration among students who feel privileged to be at Olin in the first place! Much more importantly, an administration that recognizes this nuance can use it to improve their approach – reducing the burden of advocacy on struggling students, creating structures to proactively be a resource for students, stepping in to break the self-destructive cycle of “Need Information (/assistance/health support/accommodations) Now? Just Ask” – because for many there’s never a “just” to asking.

Or the assumption that everyone at Olin has the best intentions. This is a tricky one, because all the way back from OFYI we’re taught to “assume best intentions”. And that’s definitely a huge part of Olin, an intrinsic piece of our culture. But again, it’s naive to assume this is always true, certainly not in the world, but even at Olin. I have been in situations where people have definitely NOT acted with good intentions in mind, and I have struggled to find ways to deal with those situations simply because I don’t know how to. 

There is a danger to the mindset of “we’re a close-knit community of nice people and we look out for each other”. ‘Cause while a lot of us agree with that, it really sucks for those who don’t. Olin becomes a 4-year long summer camp of trying to fit into your niches, finding your Olin brand, and having a happy, productive time overall. Good vibes only, cause we’ve created something special here in this little innovative school. Tap tap tap or go to sleep.

To reiterate: I love this college. I love the people who run it, I love being able to say hi to people I walk by and (mostly) getting a response, and I just feel so gosh darn lucky to be here. Yet, on the days that I’m exhausted and pissed and don’t want to say hi to the people I walk by, I don’t feel like Olin’s got my back. And that would be okay – except I feel pushed from the front by the sheer Olin-ness of things. What do you mean you’re not going to join the laughter in the dining hall but sulk in the mezz of introversion, privacy, and tight friend groups? 

I want to emphasize one last thing before I go to bed. Don’t take this scrappily-written article as the only perspective. My complaints about Olin are by no means important: something that everyone – students, staff, and faculty – need to recognize. The students who this college is harshest on don’t write  articles, buzzing with middle-school energy. The folks who need to be heard the most are the ones who don’t feel empowered to speak up. Listen to what they have to say, be honest and gentle, and create that space. It’s okay to be uncomfortably different. Or disagree with me and tell me about it!

What Your Dining Hall Plate Type Says About You

Maroon – You want to blend in at the busiest lunch table, but being around people is scary. Not as scary as being alone, though.

Red – You always sit down at the busiest table in the dining hall, you need lunch buddies to fill the void of loneliness in your heart.

Orange – You love sunlight and golden hour. You’re sad that the sun sets so early in winter. You’re… not from around here, are you?

Yellow – You aren’t good at checking your phone, which means you never know when your friends are eating lunch. So when you sit down at the table they all get up to leave and you are left there with your sandwich with only one bite in it and your thoughts. 

Lime green – Like the green m&m you were once sexy and cool but now you’ve changed to be more appealing to the public (and to distract from the child slavery lawsuits).

Teal blue – Are you a California kid who’s missing the beach and warm weather? This won’t get you any closer, but props for trying. 

Navy blue – You enjoy sitting alone on cold, winter nights. Loser.

Purple – You talk with your hands, and always a tad bit louder than the person you are talking to. You have main character energy but your friends like you anyway.

White – Your Mii is the default Mii, you are more basic than pumpkin spice, you haven’t changed your laptop’s wallpaper.

Black – You’re feeling edgy, trying to relive your middle school emo phase. You have RGB LEDs in your room that you never turn off. 

Has only used navy blue plates since you started at Olin – You are Bennett Taylor… why?

Napkin – Class started 5 min ago you are never going to be on time again in your life why did you ever think “Olin time” was funny? You haven’t done your laundry in at least two weeks.