Learning to Study & Paying it Back

How does a student learn to study?

I have thought about this a lot as I watch my community college freshmen struggle with time management, study skills, active reading, writing essays and papers. I think back to my own experience of how I learned to study. I was one of those students who did minimal work in high school and still managed to get good grades. Granted, my grades weren’t great, and if I had actually worked I am sure they could have been amazing and maybe the trajectory of my life would have been totally different, but let me be brutally honest when I say I never, once studied until I got to college.

With this in mind, I got to college and I didn’t know how to study. At all.

Somehow, I landed myself in an Honors Program at NC State. I don’t remember what this meant other than I lived in an Honors Dorm and that I received free tickets to every cultural event that came through the college, but once I got to college, I HAD to study. Of course, there were no classes in how to study, but thankfully–for me–I had something others didn’t have. I had Marie.

Marie was my freshman college roommate. We had met at a Catholic youth retreat (Search?) our senior year, liked each other, and decided to be roommates when we both realized we were going to State. Marie was majoring in subjects I had never heard before: molecular biology and other science-y subjects that I can’t recall right now as I write. Suffice to say, Marie knew how to study and since we lived together in a tiny dorm room, I just copied Marie. If Marie sat at her desk and read with lots of highlighters, I sat at my desk and read with lots of highlighters. If Marie was reviewing her notes from class, I reviewed my notes from class. If Marie was reading, I was reading. If Marie was typing, I was typing. When Marie took study breaks, I took study breaks. When Marie ate, I ate. When Marie sang Indigo Girls, I sang Indigo Girls. And when Marie got A’s, I got A’s.

I don’t think she realized how much I just watched her and did what she did (see–I was already an educational researcher, even way back then!), but Marie saved me that first year of college. I got straight A’s that fall semester in my five classes and applied to transfer to UNC Chapel Hill. I was one of 50 sophomore transfers accepted, and then–after a brief, fun, productive year at NC State–our paths separated.

Marie hard at work at her desk:


A study break with Bridget, studying with Bridget. How did we all fit into that room?!


You maybe gleaned from this that Marie was pretty awesome and that’s true. Even though we lived together 20+ years ago, I still feel such a connection to her. She made me love synchronized swimming and taught me the basics. We were perfect broccoli partners–she liked the stalks and I liked the trees (still do!). She knew my secret slob habit of allowing toothpaste to collect in a disgusting, crusty blob so that I couldn’t put the top on.  And, of course, shadowing her every academic move made her part of me a bit more.

Last week, I got on Facebook while eating lunch in my cubicle and literally gasped and teared up upon seeing this message posted by Marie’s husband on her wall:20140117-163657.jpg

The post goes on to give information to join the registry for Be The Match, a bone marrow registry that is free.

I felt like someone had punched me when I saw this. Considering that I haven’t seen Marie in person in almost 15-20 years (I have lost count), I was surprisingly deeply upset. I wanted to do something, but…

…let me tell you one of my bizarre random fears: Anything going into, near, and or hurting/touching my spine. Maybe it was watching the blood spray across a medical resident’s face as my college boyfriend received a spinal tap way back in 1996, or maybe it’s pure primal instinct, but I love the spine, especially my spine, and I won’t let anything touch it. This feeds into why I am such a rabid pro-natural childbirth advocate and had two almost 10lb babies with no epidurals. My spine is sacred to me.

But the life of a friend is more sacred, right?

So, I have registered with Be The Match. I would like to report that I did this with no second thoughts, but that’s a total lie. I have almost clicked the “Take me off the registry” hyperlink almost every day this week, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I doubt I will be Marie’s match (but wouldn’t that be freakin’ awesome?!), but I might be someone else’s Marie’s match–right? So, here it goes:

This is me collecting my DNA via my cheek cells:


This is what the completed registration packet looks like:


This is Nico dropping it in the mailbox (and yes, that is chocolate all over his face):


I have been meaning to blog about learning study skills forever (see my To Do list below), but this post ended up being about how I learned to study from an amazing friend 20+ years ago, and that sometimes you need to think about how much someone else mattered to you and what you can do to give back. I can’t imagine the long academic life I have led without it beginning with Marie.

Love you, slime. Fight cancer like the tiny amazon you are. I’d have long, scary needles inserted into my spine for you any day.

(For more into on how to become a bone marrow donor, please go to Be The Match. People of color are especially needed, but any/everyone helps. I know if I were sick, I’d want my friends to do that for me, or my kids, or my husband. I’d do it for you and  the idea of it scares me shitless.)