Surviving a Data Science Bootcamp
A Brief Guide to Thriving and Getting the Most out of Your Experience
Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re looking for ways to survive the stresses of your Data Science bootcamp — or any technical bootcamp for that matter. Welcome! You’re not alone — there’s a multitude of alums from the many technical bootcamps and all have survived and thrived and you will, too. From my own experience, I’ve found a handful of helpful things to keep in mind that helped me both survive and thrive through the experience. Is this a comprehensive list? Not by any stretch. You may like a few of the following but not others and that’s fine! It’s all about finding what works for you.
So without further ado, here are some tips on how to survive and thrive through your bootcamp experience.
Know your why
In his book “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business”, Charles Duhigg examines the science of productivity and delves into several characteristics of high performing individuals and teams. Something Duhigg points out is to know your why. Specifically, why are you participating in the boot camp? Is your end goal a new career, a pay raise, or something else? No matter what your reason, affirm to yourself often your ‘why’. If you know why you’re engaging in an activity, you can create a clear plan to reach your goal with no ambiguity.
Remind yourself daily before beginning class, a difficult assignment or project, or doing networking activities. This way, when you begin an activity, you’ll understand why you’re doing it, how it fits into the big picture and that you’re in control of of your bootcamp experience and the outcome.
Perhaps you’re wondering what meditation is doing on this list? Well, research has shown meditation, specifically mindfulness meditation, provides some protection against anxiety, depression and pain. Psychological stress is associated with impaired learning and memory as the stress hormone — cortisol — is known to affect brain functioning. Meditation can help to manage stress which will in turn reduce cortisol and mitigate its impacts on brain functioning. [1, 2, 3]
Exercise is one of those things that everyone knows or has at least been told is good for them, especially for their bodies. But did you know that exercise is also great for learning and memory? Studies have shown that, in addition to boosting your aerobic capacity, aerobic exercise pumps up the area of the brain heavily involved in learning and memory — the hippocampus. Additionally, exercising releases growth factor hormones which promote the growth of blood vessels throughout the body including the brain. And dovetailing with the discussion of getting good sleep explored below, exercise of any kind can mitigate stress and anxiety which may allow for a better night’s sleep! 
It’s no secret that humans can only go a handful of days without water before we die. But it may come as a surprise how great of an impact non-life-threatening dehydration can have on the body — specifically, the brain. Having a hydrated brain helps ensure optimal blood circulation which helps remove waste. It also supports optimal nerve transmissions between dendrites. By the time you are feeling thirsty, you’ve probably lost nearly two percent of your body weight and could experience a 10 percent decline in cognitive functioning. [5, 6]
Get enough sleep
One thing is for sure, a bootcamp is tough and takes a lot of time and energy. You’re learning so much over such a short period of time and it’s important to retain as much of that information as possible. Studies suggest that, when learning new information, if you ‘sleep on it’ you can recall the information better the following day.
Science strongly suggests that sleep is critical to synthesizing the recently learned material. Specifically, getting enough deep sleep can improve memory and learning. Getting enough REM or the dream state of sleep is associated with increased creative problem solving. [7, 8]
To help you get enough sleep, it’s important to practice good sleep hygiene. The CDC offers several tips on how to get a good night’s rest :
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule every day of the week (weekends, too!).
- Exercise during the day as this can help with falling asleep. Try to avoid exercising just before bedtime, though, as this can inhibit falling asleep.
- Avoid caffeine starting in the early afternoon as it’s a stimulant which may keep you awake. Additionally, avoid alcohol as it’s been shown to decrease the amount of deep sleep you get each night.
- Keep a dark, quiet bedroom set at a tolerably cool temperature.
- Try to avoid screens for a couple hours before bedtime. The blue light emitted from devices prevents the natural production of melatonin in the brain which tells your brain to wind down and prepare for sleep.
So there you have it! A handful of tips that might help you through your bootcamp experience. Take what works, leave what doesn’t, and supplement with your own strategies that you’ve found helpful. And maybe write a blog post and share your wisdom!