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Too much on your plate? If so, reassess!

Alumnus Matthew Ferby reminds us that it is important to assess your limitations and ration your time to make the most of it. He relates his recent experience as a civil engineering graduate to the lessons he learned as a busy Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Diploma Programme (DP) student.

By Matthew Ferby

“It wasn’t my inability to organize my commitments, but the fact I was doing too much.”

In high school, I did it all: I was a Diploma Programme (DP) student, the Head Drum Major for the marching band, on the board of directors for Key Club, a member of the National Society of Black Engineers, an executive board member of the NAACP, a frequent volunteer at my church, an employee at the nearby amusement park, a bit of a socialite…well, I guess you get it by now. I did everything I possibly could; mainly because I did not want to miss out on anything. My mother made sure I participated in a variety of activities to expose me to a world beyond what was normal where we lived. This trait became a part of who I was as I migrated from the Middle Years Programme (MYP) to DP and on to graduation.  It even carried through my first semester in college, but it did not last long.

Keeping the mindset of a high school senior, I took on college ablaze. “Yes, I’ll be an engineering student, a member of three clubs, the hall council, and the marching band”, I said.  It was a breeze until my grades fell substantially short of my expectations.  This is when I first realized I had ‘too much on my plate’ and needed to reassess what I had taken on.  Conversing family members and school counselors helped open my eyes that it wasn’t my inability to organize my commitments, but the fact I was doing too much.  This reassessment is slightly different from time management because I had to cut off multiple things to reach my full potential academically – my top priority.

Matthew R
Matthew Ferby is a graduate of Harding University High School, USA and is now a graduate research assistant at Virginia Tech.

The skill of reassessing what I can and cannot take on will stay with me forever.  I think it is important … because of how variable life becomes as you mature.  My approach to graduate school was no different: it was a new environment, and I knew from both high school and my undergraduate years what I could handle.  The structure of high school does not have much room for deviation, outside choosing topics for internal assessments.  My undergraduate years were a little less planned out but still had a path mostly everyone followed.  Now, as a graduate student, I tailor every part of my education, including coursework, professional development, and research projects; all three of which change with what my needs are to be a significant contributor to my field.  Taking that into consideration, I limit my commitments to make sure I’m getting the most out of my experience without setting myself up to fall short of my ultimate goals.

Even though I only have a few years left of school, the skill of reassessing what I can and cannot take on will stay with me forever.  I think it is important to consider this skill mainly because of how variable life becomes as you mature.  During my DP years, my days were well structured and rather predictable, which is why I knew I could load more onto my plate. Graduate school, however, is full of unexpected occurrences.  Are you in a more structured time of your life, like high school, or are things more variable?  Ask this question to yourself often and proceed with determining how much responsibility you can take on.

In short, the size of your plate changes because of many factors – age, interest, environment, education, etc.  This fact is often overlooked as we progress through our academic and professional journeys.  Overcome this challenge by reassessing how much you can or should take on to make sure you are most effective in what you are doing.  Once you master the periodic checkup, no matter how much or little you are doing, you are likely performing at your optimal state, which is something to be proud of.

Matthew Ferby graduated from the Diploma Programme (DP) at Harding University High School. He received his B.S. in Civil Engineering from North Carolina A&T State University. He is currently a graduate research assistant in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Virginia Tech. Matthew joins us this year as a 2018 alumni contributor to share his experience as a DP graduate.

To learn about the IB alumni network, visit and read about our 50th anniversary featured graduates to see where other students have taken their studies and careers.