Rahul Bhat, a Learning Strategist at the ASC, completed both his undergrad and grad studies at U of T and currently helps students succeed during their time in university. This week, he talks about some of the challenges he faced as a commuter student and provides useful productivity and time management strategies. Read his full bio here.
You are a U of T alumnus and have held a variety of positions in Student life (First in the Family, Academic Success Centre, and the Office of Student Life). So, is it safe to say that you really like U of T?
I really like U of T, but I didn’t at first. I started in 2001 as an undergraduate student, and I didn’t have a positive experience at the beginning. A lot of that had to do with the fact that I was commuting from Markham every day. It took a long time to get to campus, and I felt like all I was doing was coming to class and then jumping on the subway home. I also didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I had done really well in high school, but I wasn’t doing well in my first year.
Another challenge I had was that I felt very isolated on campus. I was sitting in classes with 500 people and didn’t know anybody. I visited my friends at other universities and they tended to have more positive experiences. All of this added up and I ended up skipping classes a lot. It wasn’t until my second year – after having academic difficulties in my first – that I realized that it actually meant something for me to be here. It was important for me to complete my degree and that made me motivated to get involved and take advantage of the opportunities open to me. It helped when I joined campus clubs and got support through various services on campus. So, my first year was miserable, but it got better! It took a while to realize that my academic achievement and my out-of-classroom life were related. After I found my community on campus, I really enjoyed my experience and haven’t left since.
Do you think that’s the reason you got involved with First in the Family and the ASC?
Yes, that’s part of the reason. I like working with students and especially working with First in the Family and the ASC. I like helping students who were in similar situations as I was in my first year, helping them find their community or providing them with the support that I definitely needed. There were support systems when I was around too, but I just didn’t use them. I’m glad that we do things a bit differently now. There are more programs that students feel more comfortable accessing, like First in the Family.
What is one of the most common questions you hear from students?
It’s not a question, but it’s an issue that I see the most. I deal primarily with first-year students, who usually come from the high school system in Ontario (though I work with a lot of international students as well). Often they tell me that what they were doing in high school suddenly isn’t working now and they can’t figure out what has changed. These students think it’s something they’re doing wrong, but oftentimes it’s just that the students need to develop a whole new set of strategies to tackle their academic life here.
I see a lot of students with time management issues as well as students who don’t know if they are studying effectively or not. There are some students who do really well straight away, but a lot of students find the transition period kind of tough. They are suddenly in a place where they don’t know what it takes to do well – after doing pretty well in the past. It’s a bit of a shock to their egos.
They’re also dealing with other things. Most of the first-year students I work with are 17 or 18. They are trying to figure themselves out too. After probably going to a smaller high school, they are suddenly in a huge university and classes tend to be larger – especially in first year. Students are encouraged to take smaller seminar classes, but not all of them do or know about them. I sometimes tell students that they might not have been aware of the support structures they had in high school; sometimes they’re invisible. Looking back, they usually see that they had friends, or family, or teachers helping them get through. Suddenly at U of T, they think they’re alone – especially commuter students. Not to say that residence students are always fully supported; but at least they have a built-in community to rely on, whereas commuter students have to work a little harder to find that support system. Once they find that community, though, they tend to do better and feel better at U of T.
Was there a study strategy that you liked to use as a student or a tip that you often give students?
It was more of testing out what worked and what didn’t work. It’s important to be aware of what time you have available during the week. It’s also about figuring out when you’re the most productive and thinking about those times when you feel like everything is going really well. In my own experience, I sometimes found that I was really motivated to write some papers, but at other times the stress of having a paper due would prevent me from getting it done. At other times, the stress was helpful, because it meant that I had to get a particular task done. So, I often give students tips on being able to figure out what’s motivating them to get work done and to remind themselves of those factors if and when they get stuck.
It’s also important to keep an agenda! Most first-year students don’t really track their time the same way upper-year students do. They’re not always aware of how much or how little time they have to do school work and they’re not necessarily realistic about time. I wasn’t for sure. Maybe I’m still not! Sometimes I give myself a task to do in half an hour, but it’s probably going to take 2 or 3 hours because of distractions or other things going on or I’m not going to be in the mood to do it. I think another tip I offer to students is that figuring out academic strategies or strategies to tackle work is a life-long process that takes consistent effort. This might sound daunting, but is usually a bit of a relief for students who think they’re supposed to know instinctively how to do well in university.
Would you like to schedule an appointment to speak with Rahul? If you are a student registered in First in the Family, you can email him directly to schedule an appointment. For all other students, he is available for individual appointments to discuss academic skills and strategies. Please visit http://asc.utoronto.ca/Individual-Appointments.htm for more details.
This post has been edited for length and clarity.