Patrick Pontificates: An Autistic STEM Grad Student on All You Need to Know About Lists, Schedules, and Calendars

Welcome to Patrick Pontificates, a series of blogs where contributor and STEM graduate student Patrick Dwyer ponders issues important to autistic students. He explores habits and outlooks that have supported his own success, and which are, of course, also supported by research! Here he gives an overview of using lists, schedules, and calendars. Time to get organized.

Welcome! As a wise, twenty-three-year-old autistic college graduate and current graduate student, I feel that it is my duty to share my knowledge with you.

Today I have a special secret to share. This is a secret so well hidden, concealed so elegantly, that even many neurotypicals are unaware of it. I promise to reveal you to a simple strategy that can dramatically improve your academic performance without even requiring much extra effort on your part. Even better, using this strategy will save you from a great deal of stress and anxiety.

The secret is…  using lists, schedules, and calendars!

What? You aren’t impressed?

Well, let me explain why you should use lists, schedules, and calendars. Before now, I imagine you’ve had plenty of people (teachers, parents) reminding you – or even nagging you – about homework. At college, it’s very different. At college, at the beginning of each semester, in each of your classes, you will receive a wonderful document called a syllabus. This document will reveal to you all the due dates for your projects and assignments.  The syllabus is wonderful, but, after you receive it, you can’t necessarily expect any further reminders.

Now, if you have a calendar showing the due dates of all of your assignments, you’ll be able to meet the challenges of college. You’ll be able to easily see when each assignment is due and when every test is happening, you’ll be able to break up the steps involved, and you’ll be able to create a plan to spread out the work evenly. Even if you have a whole bunch of midterms all happening right after one another, you’ll be able to start studying well in advance and rest easy knowing that everything is under control.

If you don’t bother to make a calendar, what might happen? Well, you might be able to muddle through, but you’ll probably find yourself working in fits and bursts. You’ll probably have stressful last-minute rushes. You might completely forget some tasks. You won’t be able to be confident that everything is under control, and you’ll probably find yourself experiencing anxiety about exams and due dates.

Moreover, using schedules and calendars doesn’t mean you’ll have much extra work – generating the schedules doesn’t take long, and after that, the amount of work that needs to be done is just the same. However, spreading out study sessions improves retention of information. There’s now a huge research literature showing that you learn more if you spread out your study sessions (Cepeda et al., 2006).

Therefore, if you use lists, schedules, and calendars, you’ll do more or less the same amount of work, you avoid all-nighters and last-minute rushes, you’ll learn more and get better grades, and you’ll be less anxious.

See, I told you it was a useful secret!

Now, wise people like me know that one of the most important things about being wise is listening to others, so I’m very interested in your feedback and comments. Please post them below!


Cepeda, N. J., Pashler, H., Vul, E., Wixted, J. T., & Rohrer, D. (2006). Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 132(3), 354-380. http://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.132.3.354

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Patrick is an autistic graduate student in the psychology department at UC Davis with a broad interest in helping to ensure that autistic and neurodivergent people can lead fulfilling lives. He plans to use eye-tracking and electrophysiology to explore the heterogeneity of the autism spectrum and different phenotypes of autism, and is particularly interested in studying sensory processing and sensory sensitivities in autism. He has also facilitated peer-support groups for other autistic college students. You can find more of Patrick’s writing on his blog at autisticscholar.com.

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