Your Study Habits

In fifty years of solitary work—researching and writing—I’ve discovered that some environments put me in a more productive frame of mind than others. When the conditions aren’t “ideal” for me, I get distracted easily. Disarray puts me in a jumpy mood and I don’t stay on task very long. A review of the literature suggests that I’m not alone.

According to behavioral scientists, several conditions influence your motivation to study:

Regular Routine

The demands of everyday life can be distracting, making it easy to get sidetracked into extraneous tasks. This is why it’s crucial to create a daily routine, with time clearly allocated to study.

Claiming set times in a routine is particularly helpful if you live with someone who needs to learn when to leave you to yourself. Your special time allocated to studying should be clear to everyone.

Ambient Noise

If you live someplace surrounded with noisy friends or family, you won’t be able to hear yourself think. You may find yourself getting irritated and distracted. If this happens, it’s wise to scout around for an alternative study space where you’ll get peace and quiet as you concentrate on your notes and books.

If worse comes to worst, get some earphones that block out environmental sounds. And disable your phone for a while.

Although some people can stay focused when surrounded by chaos, noise generally disrupts mental processes. Many students vow that soft music or a television set turned on low keeps them on task and in no way hampers their concentration. Researchers would challenge that claim. They have found that environmental noise—background music, city sounds, people’s conversations—leads to a decrease in performance for most people. While these things can improve positive emotions, increase performance in sports, and make people complete tasks a little faster, they have disruptive consequences for reading and studying—a chilling finding for students addicted to ambient noise.

Personal Space

Whether you are in your room in a dormitory or in a public place like a library or a coffee shop you need to create your own space. Set some boundaries between you and the outside world with familiar personal objects. If you’re in a coffee shop, find a table by yourself, discourage visitors by filling the table with coffee cups, napkins, notes, etc.  This not only discourages intruders, but it creates peace of mind. “This space is mine alone.” Embellishments make the workplace inviting to you and discourage outsiders who might otherwise interrupt your work.

By returning to or recreating the same work environment over and over, you help safeguard yourself against blocks to studying.

Tidy Work Area

Many students pore over their books in a messy environment. It’s not what they prefer, but it’s what they do, mostly out of task avoidance or downright laziness. If you belong to this category of students, you’d best tidy up your study area before attempting to work. It’s surprising what a salutary effect this has on productivity. You don’t have to break your concentration looking for items you’ve misplaced. A tidy desktop clears the mind.


Your desk chair should be large enough to take your full weight and support your back. Backaches are not conducive to good study habits. You should have a desk that will give you plenty of clean space to work on. Your computer screen should be adjusted to the correct angle and distance for easy viewing. The room should be tidy and air-conditioned, or heated to a temperature that feels comfortable to you.

Students’ Accessories

If you use the internet for research, you need a reliable and fast internet connection for easy access to information. Your laptop or desktop computer should have a keyboard that’s comfortable for typing. If you take notes while working, have a writing pad and pens or pencils handy. In other words, create an efficient and well-stocked study center,


Wearing pajamas may work for some people, but it makes many of us sleepy and tired, wanting only to retreat to our beds for a short restorative nap. Dressing to the nines has the opposite detrimental effect. We’ve prepared ourselves to go out on the town, not work at our keyboard. Wear garments that make you feel presentable, clean and alert, but not all dressed up with no place to go.

Shoes? By all means, go without. Based on observations of thousands of children from 25 countries over 10 years, academics concluded that children who slip off their shoes are more likely to arrive at school earlier, leave later and read more widely. Comprehensive new research suggests that “shoeless” kids are more engaged in lessons, leading to better concentration and test results.


There are times when attempting to study is just not a good idea. One thing is clear – if you are angry or upset, the last thing you should do is to try some serious studying. It requires a clear mind, unclouded by negative thoughts. Wait until your feathers are no longer ruffled. Then go for it.






#MeToo (in a hospital)

On September 13, 1995, I was sexually abused by a medical student at Shands Teaching Hospital, University of Florida. I was 62, receiving radiation treatments for breast cancer.

On the morning of September 13, I was put in a clinic room to await a doctor for a follow-up visit. I was given a hospital gown. When I had changed into the gown, a medical student entered the exam room and explained that he would do a preliminary exam. He instructed me to lie down on the exam table, then stood next to my right arm as he opened my hospital gown. When he palpated my abdomen, I could feel him leaning against my arm.

As soon as his body touched my arm, I was sure I felt a penile erection. I was confused and shocked. However, there was no other explanation. The student rubbed his erection against me while I was lying on a table with my abdomen and breasts exposed. I felt too paralyzed and confused to do anything. However, when he left the room and reentered with a staff physician (the head of Radiation Oncology), I asked her for a private interview. I explained what happened but she didn’t believe me. (Was I sure that wasn’t a banana in his pocket?!).

Here’s the letter I wrote to the Director of Radiation Oncology the day after the incident.


14 September 1995

Nancy P. Mendenhall, M.D.
Director, Department of Radiation Oncology
University of Florida Shands Cancer Center
Gainesville FL 32610

Dear Dr. Mendenhall:

I’ve reflected on the incident of sexual misbehavior of your medical student, Mr. K—- T——, which I reported to you yesterday. I find that I can’t just shrug off this abuse. If I am correct, it has probably happened to other women examined by Mr. T—— in the past. It will probably happen again unless the problem is addressed.

To document yesterday’s episode, I had breast surgery and radiation therapy last year and have been reporting for follow-up visits to Radiation Oncology since then. When I reported for my regular checkup. I was initially seen by a medical student, Mr. T——, who is on rotation at Shands but is attending medical school in Miami.

After a brief interview (with no one else present), Mr. T—— had me lie down on the examining table.  After opening my hospital gown, he began to palpate my lower abdomen. At the same time, he moved his pelvis against my right arm, which was extended at my side. I felt what seemed to be an obvious erection against my upper arm, although at first I sought an alternative explanation. My initial reaction was, “This can’t be. It’s too weird. He must have something in his front pocket.” I felt sort of paralyzed but then thought, “Well, after I get off the table, I’ll look and see.”

Mr. T—— didn’t have his coat buttoned and I could see, extending from his groin down alongside his right thigh, a mound that looked like a healthy erection to me. I’ve had enough experience as a heterosexual woman to know one when I see one.

At that point, I was left alone in the room to await you and the medical student together. I decided that when the two of you came in the room I’d ask to see you alone. I did, and you reacted with disbelief.

I’ve talked to a couple of women friends about this episode for purposes of reality-testing. One said, “What was a medical student doing in a room alone with you doing an exam that included palpation of the lower abdomen and breasts? All the doctors I’ve ever gone to have had a nurse in attendance.” Another said, when I told her that he was otherwise acting normal and friendly, “Of course he was! That’s part of the sexual abuse scenario … a way to confuse the female and prevent her from acting.” Sexual behavior would be especially disconcerting, she pointed out, in a physician’s office where the trust level of patients is generally high.

This is the first grievance I have ever reported to Shands or any other medical center. I hope you will follow up on it.

Sincerely yours,

Barbara G. Cox, Ed.S.


As far as I know, Mr. K—- T——  (now Dr T——) may be out there still molesting women because my complaint was never investigated. I’ve no doubt that he’s done this more than once. According to information on the Internet, the young man, now a doctor, is currently on the staff of a Florida hospital in the Tampa Bay area.