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Her ways of chilling and hardworking

Updated: Dec 30, 2019

Mia is a junior at the University of Texas at Austin, in the department of computer science. In this project, I shadowed her during a class day and visited her apartment to learn her daily life. 

She was born in Texas, has lived in Guizhou, China for a few years in her childhood, and then moved back to Dallas, Texas. Mia has a twin sister Mary, they both studies in Computer Science at UT Austin and lives in the apartment together sharing a room. 

In our shadowing, I followed her from her meeting with a teammate Kat, to her Object-Oriented Programming course, Algorithm course, and another study group meeting with classmates. We talked about her study dynamics and her other activities when she is not studying.

Research methods


Cultural inventory 

Photo interview

Observational research shortlist


1. Maintaining good relationships and also enjoying your own time are the best ways to chill.

Mia does not stress out to achieve a perfect performance in her studies, but puts more efforts on learning  beyond her class and gaining real world experience while maintaining a good enough GPA. 

2. Being productive is knowing your priority and spending time on things you value.

When Mia is not studying, she spends her spare time on entertainment and maintains healthy relationship with her friends and boyfriend.


Her ways of hardworking and prioritizing

Study hard when it is important and urgent

I joined Mia during her meeting with her teammate Kat for their final project of object-oriented course. They were working on their laptop, discussing problems, and eating at the same time.

Mia studies and eats with her teammate at Gates-Dell Complex, 3rd floor

Their meeting place is at third floor, in Gates-Dell Complex. It is the building mainly used by computer science department. Mia has most of her courses here. Same as her classmates, she almost comes here everyday to attend courses or meeting with teammates for course projects. She likes this building a lot because it is new, pretty, and they can also find a place to study here.

Not every course deserves 100% attention

When it is time to go to her class, Mia left the meeting area and went to the classroom with Kat.

The classroom for object-oriented programming

The classroom for object-oriented programming

During the class, Mia took some notes, but she is not always focused. She checks notifications, replies messages to her sister, classmates, and boyfriend. She keeps her phone under legs because it is easy for checking it, although she keeps the the screen down to have less distraction. In this way, she can check it only when she wants to.

Mia works on a programming problem

Mia keeps her phone under her leg in the classroom to make it easier for her to check notifications

Another course Mia had after object-oriented programming is Algorithm. Before the class, she told me she does not like this class because the instructor’s lecture is always very boring. The instructor keeps talking and writing on the whiteboard, Mia and other students keep writing down notes.

Mia's Algorithm course

Mia's notes for Algorithm

When I asked Mia how much she is following the lecture, she said 20%. Sometimes she even falls asleep because the lecture is too boring and too fast to follow. After class, they always have assignment to do, this is the time Mia goes back to review her notes to say if there is anything helpful for the assignment. But most of the time, she checks other online resources, lectures from Carnegie Mellon University and Yale helped her a lot. They covered the same content, but in a better way, according to Mia. Other online math forums are also helpful for her to get some references. 

Mia has another online course. She does not have to go to campus for this course, basically did almost nothing for this course. When the time I went to her place, she was reading material for this course for the final test. Other students created a Google document and shared notes so everyone can review and contribute.

Mia reviews materials for an online course test

Self study and group study work together

When Mia finished a day’s course, usually it is around 3 pm, she stays at GDC building with her classmates to work together on their assignments.

Mia and her classmates study together

Sometimes when they do not have an assignment due, Mia still spend time with friends there to talk with each other and play some games. She said they are pretty nerdy, they play puzzles or Draw Something.

Apart from spending a lot of time working with her classmates, she also studies alone at home before discussing assignment with other people. She said sometimes she needs to think alone first, while at GDC, there are a lot of noise. 

Put effort on the more valuable tasks

When discussing about her attitude towards study, Mia believes herself is hardworking. She does not care too much about GPA  because it is not very important. She just maintains her GPA to an acceptable level. Instead of stressing out to get a perfect GPA, she put more effort on seeking for internship because project experience in the real world is more valuable, companies care more about your experiences rather than GPA. This semester, she quit the student organization she was in last year to focus on job seeking, and got an ideal internship offer in the middle of the semester. 


Her ways of chilling on her own and with friends

Piano and TV shows are fun decorations in life

When Mia is not studying, she sometimes goes to school of music to play piano. She might not go there for a long while when she is busy, or go there a few times per week when she gets time. She enjoys playing piano, it is fun, she said. She also goes there with her Boyfriend Adam, and teaches him how to play.

She also watches shows when she is at home. Recently, she is watching Bates Motel because she heard from her sister that it is a nice one. She enjoys watching shows and movies with her friends, sister, and Adam. She said she is trying to be productive, watching shows is also a way to be productive, they open her eyes, she can learn form the stories.

The TV in Mia's living room

Love is in all the small corners

The day when I shadowed Mia, her boyfriend came to her place to spend time with her. They cooked green curry together. Mia has being together with Adam for three years.On her side table, a gift from Adam lies on it. It’s a gift for their anniversary, Adam made this to collect their memorable moments. The words on the left bottom is a word they created together on Urban Dictionary.

The anniversary gift from Adam to Mia

The word on Urban Dictionary defined by Mia and Adam

On Mia’s backpack, she has a badge that Adam made for her. They use this emoji a lot in their Facebook Messenger conversation for years.

The emoji badge from Adam on Mia's backpack

Adam just sent Mia the emoji when we talked about this

The doll on her desktop is also from Adam. She told him she likes this so Adam got it for Mia as a birthday gift.

Mia's desk with a pink rabbit doll from Adam

Mia also mentioned that she likes one of her blankets, because Adam gave it to her.

A mint blanket on Mia's bed from Adam

Another badge on the backpack is from her friend, Mia also got a few other from her. Her friends got them from a conference and gave them to Mia when Mia said she likes them.

A badge from Mia's friend

More badges from Mia's friend

Mia has another decoration on her backpack from her previous roommate, it is also a good luck charm.

A good luck charm from Mia's previous roommate

Another side of the good luck charm from Mia's previous roommate

Dining schedule is flexible

Mia cooks two or three times a week when she is not busy. Sometimes she cooks fried rice, pasta, and curry. She does not always have a fixed time to eat. Some times she will take a brunch if she gets up late, sometimes she has breakfast and has lunch later in the afternoon when she feels hungry. On the day I shadowed her, her original plan was having lunch at home before her first class at 1 pm on campus, but she ended up with going to campus early to work on the course project with her teammate Kat, grabbing some food to eat and work at the same time, and making sure they complete the project before the Thanksgiving holiday. After she finished two courses at around 3 pm, she felt hungry and check an app honked to see if there is any deal and went to Qdoba to get her meal.

Mia waiting for her Qdoba bowl

Another day I went to her place, her originally planed to cook lunch for herself before her class, but changed her mind to buy food outside when I arrived because she realized that they do not have food material to cook. Eventually, she ended up deciding to eat after class because she had breakfast in the morning and did not feel that hungry yet. Mia also has a visual sticky note on her laptop to remind her where she could go to eat if she is struggling finding a restaurant. She heard of them from her friends’ recommendation.

Mia's desktop with sticky notes on it

Stay chill in her place

Her place is not the most organized one. She has blankets unfolded on her bed, food left on her desk, and other study related stuff are left on the desk. She got several bottles from career events, and have a pot on her desk. She watered it for the first time when we are discussing how to keep plants and she noticed that hers needs some water. She also has the left rice from the last week on her desk. She did not finish them last week before she left for Thanksgiving, so it is still here. On a corner, I noticed that she has a visitor card of Microsoft. She said it was for her onsite interview with Microsoft in September.

Mia's area in the room

Corners of Mia's room

Mia has being living in the apartment for one and a half year. When deciding where to live, she first find roommates and let her roommates make the decision of the apartment. She currently share the room with her twin sister Mary. They have a double layer bed, Mary chose to sleep on the top, so Mia sleeps on the bottom.



Our life style and daily dynamic reflects our personalities and life attitudes. In Mia’s academic and personal life, she stays calm and chill, achieving her study and career goals in a way she found efficient, spending time with classmates and friends. The way she organized everything shows her own life philosophy — find the comfortable rhythm for herself and live on it. 

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