How to Be a Successful Student in University
(Without Working Harder)

Full-Read: 15min
Infografic Crawl & Share: 5min

My name is Emily Thompson, I hold a Ph.D. in Statistics, and I'm a co-founder of Hopefully, our website helps with some of your student life struggles. But as a co-founder, I never felt right about it all. I knew that we need do more to help students overall. To help you prevent the issues from occurring in the long term, we have to tackle the causes of the problems, not just the problems themselves.

“I have been tracking and optimizing my life for over ten years now. Here I am sharing a list of things that have helped me the most.”

I myself had struggles in university, mostly due to health issues and too much student fun (you know what I mean… ?). After a few semesters, I started tracking my behavior, health, sleep, and other aspects of my daily life. I was a statistics student, after all...

I tried numerous supplements, had multiple failed attempts at starting a regular workout schedule, and I still wasn't happy with how I felt. Some things helped, some made me sick for days ?, some…I just quit. Multiple times. Because I simply wasn't ready.

However, I did not give up. Maybe because one thing that I learned as a statistics student early on, is how big the sample size must be to make any credible inferences! I have been tracking and optimizing my life for over ten years now. Here I am sharing a list of things that have helped me the most (and that my friends also approve). They are grouped primarily by how hard it is to start and to keep going: start with simple changes, expand into commitments. Never the opposite!

“Start with simple changes, expand into commitments. Never the opposite!”

So, when is the best time to start with any life changes? Now. Your brain is not yet matured until 25 years of age[1], so you can still make a huge impact. The sooner you start, the better outcomes you can achieve. The list also applies after you've finished your studies, but then it is more about sustaining your life, not about radically improving it.


[1] When does human brain development end? Evidence of corpus callosum growth up to adulthood

Care for the Foundations First

Become wiser by becoming healthier, calmer, and curious.

In each and every case, in order to predict, react, or recover from challenges, first, you need to have a healthy brain and body. This is TRUE IN EVERY CASE FOR EVERYBODY, no matter what the problem is: whether it has to do with studies, social relationships, work, or running the country. Once you are healthier, you become calmer, you can think better, and most importantly - you can challenge yourself!

“Remember, once you care for the foundations, everything else comes naturally.”

You'll find that my list does not address some key things, such as the close environment, friends, strong beliefs, addictions, fears, etc. That's because they are not the right place to start any changes! Remember, once you care for the foundations, everything else comes naturally. Only with a strong foundation can you challenge the fears that keep you from exploration, question your beliefs, and so on. If you introduce the changes properly, you can feel the impact at once. In a month or so, you see the difference. And after half a year, you're a different person.

Which Changes Should I Choose?

The Secret to get started and NOT STOP: start simple. You know it is hard to finish the Coursera course or a half-year workout program. January is the busiest month in a gym… This is because you are not ready for it. If you were ready – every other experience would get you more and more excited, so finishing any course would be inevitable.

So what matters in making a decision?

Overall, we should choose a life change based on costs (money cost-none-icon and time time-none-icon ), ambiguity about whether we are ready and will achieve the change (difficulty difficulty-none-icon ), and also what we expect it will affect in our life (impact impact-none-icon). Never forget the risks! Sometimes you risk more, sometimes less. But stay conscious about that.


Maximizing anything in the body is bad - seek a healthy balance instead. Some people may be much more sensitive than others to specific chemical compounds. If you feel any side effects - stop trying that supplement or pay extra attention.

Easy To Achieve Changes

Fermentted Food and Prebiotics should be prefered over Probiotics for health enhancement.


NIH DOES NOT recommend taking probiotics as a regular dietary supplement (check out this perfect intro to probiotics by the National Institute of Health [1]). Neither do I.

Did you know that a western diet is "risky"?!

Healthy immigrants lose the diversity of their biome when switched to a western diet[2]. The counter should not be supplementing yourself with external probiotics... Because it is risky. What can go bad include: lactic acid poisoning, mutations in your innate bacteria when they fight for survival, some on-market probiotics even support the growth of E.Coli (which is really bad!). Moreover, a study examining the association between mental performance and probiotics found that the few species of bacteria that are correlated with a higher mental capacity ARE NOT EVEN ON THE PROBIOTICS MARKET[3]!

A better alternative to probiotic supplements

In order to sustain and improve the gut biome (and achieve the positive secondary effects on your mental performance), the best up-to-date strategy is consuming fermented foods (both diary and veggies) often[4], and feeding your innate good bacteria with pre-biotic Inulin(FOS). Inulin is a special form of sugar that brings no risks. I myself use this Inulin brand from time to time (but you may find cheaper alternatives on the market). The first course had a huge impact - Inulin(FOS) nearly doubled my deep sleep so I am no longer feeling lethargic in the morning. I didn't have any such strong effect in any subsequent uses, though.


[1] Probiotics: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals
[2] US Immigration Westernizes the Human Gut Microbiome
[3] Microorganisms in the gut are linked to cognitive function
[4] Fermented-food diet increases microbiome diversity, decreases inflammatory proteins

A scientifically proven workout performance booster: cooling hands between sets.

As simple as it sounds

Cooling your palms or/and feet significantly impacts the volume of how much you can push yourself. Instead of referencing the scientific articles, I just want to link you to an extensive podcast from a Professor at Stanford where he analyzes it with the expert(Huberman Podcast on Youtube [1]).

I can assure you - it works, and it is free. Why does it seem that nobody uses it? Because this is a rather recent finding.


[1] Supercharge Exercise Performance & Recovery with Cooling | Huberman Lab Podcast #19

Algae Oil (or Fish oil) has multiple benefits. EPA and DHA dosing matters. A nice graphic.

What is Fish oil, and what is Omega 3?

Only three types of Omega 3 fatty acids are of the essence to humans: ALA, DHA and EPA. ALA can be found in plants, but DHA and EPA are much more useful to humans[]. In nature, both DHA and EPA are produced by algae, then by the food chain it reach fishes. Humans extracts fish oil from fishes and other marine life (e.g. krill). But you may have heard that oceans are not in the best shape at the moment. Recent developments in biotech provides us the option to farm algae itself for both DHA and EPA!

Why use DHA and EPA?

Our brain is mostly fat. DHA is used to enhance the efficiency of fatty membraines of brain cells. Infants who's mothers consume DHA grow up with bigger brains! And it does not stop there - it has benefits in all age groups. EPA has more wide spectrum of action, most importantly enabling cells to repair themselves faster. The big question is how much EPA and DHA to use? I have seen evidence of strong action using at least 1 gram of each daily.

Best ethical way to supplement with DHA and EPA?

I am very concerned about the situation of earth's nature overall. But I am also caring for self. It is nice that there exists nature friendly businesses to fill this gap. I can recommend the algae Omega-3 (DHA & EPA rich) oil that I use daily.

A guide to choose nootropic supplement.

Why consider using Nootropic supplements?

Nootropic supplements are primarily targetting your mental capability. It is like vitamins for the brain. The best nootropics works nothing like coffee - instead of feeling the instant boost of energy, you just realize that you are feeling more "fresh" for longer. It is a subtle effect that you need to feel for yourself. The chemical compounds used are most often extracted from herbs and mushrooms. This means that the reaction with body is very dependent on your body. This is why you may need to try a few brands before settling with one. I recommend to try the one i am using regularly - it is not the most expensive, but does the job really well. In a month you can tell the difference. They even offer a moneyback, which tells a lot. Here is the link.

Moderate To Achieve Changes

A tip for beginners on where to start programming without textbooks.

Where to start learning programming?

Let's say you are already in the step where you are curious about programming. Maybe you have a shitty university class where you are not taught properly, or maybe you want to earn much. It does not matter. The struggle of beginners is real, I feel it every day while helping students. So where to start? Datacamp.

Why Datacamp?

It is all done in your web browser, you are guided step by step while at the same time you have to write a few rows by yourself. No need any installation of apps. Remember when you didn't get some math, but it was all clear after a nice video on Youtube? Datacamp is of similar influence. I can recommend the beginner and intermediate courses for R and Python. However, to be honest, I don't think advanced programming should be taught in a "sand box". But first things first - it will be years before you need the advanced levels.


Difficult To Achieve Changes

Comparison of Yoga and Meditation. Easy of starting, Control goals, Teaching Resources.

Is yoga and meditation a waste of time?

Would you rather read a book instead of staying aware of your attention and body? There is time for both. Gathering information is well... informative. But learning to think, to group, variate, and explore the possibilities is yet another skill. What yoga and especially meditation do - they let you think better. It is mostly because of training the ability to control conflicting thoughts, not "panic" and jump into defence or offence of ideas [1].

I am no guru or a life-coach. You should better listen to the expert of such mental training excercises. He is a professor of Cognitive science and has produced a "follow-along" Youtube series on the best meditation practices. Every lesson here is an introduction to a different meditation technique (Vipassana, Metta, Prajna, etc.). You are told what to do and should follow along.

Overall, it is all about ability to direct attention into abstract thoughts versus details. the new possibilities lies in new combinations of our thoughts. Training is done in any domain: self-body, social, science, business, etc. What matters is that you learnt not to go with the first idea and flexibly adjust what you think about. It works like magic but it takes time to develop. Any sport is very good analogy - you don't become a professional athlete overnight. The same is with thinking.


[1] Understanding the Stress Response

The Take-Away Message

Everybody is unique: in a unique state of their life, body, and reaction to stimuli. What works statistically, does not mean that it works for you. Stay mindful about what your current state is, why you are behaving like you do, and introduce changes with care. I would be very happy if I have helped at least one person. Small changes can have an extreme impact on you, and you may have an extreme impact on the whole world. When you have no reasonable fallbacks and fears - stay open as a default mode ?

Article by Emily Thompson,
PhD Statistics

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