Halloween at the Clubhouse

Now that the first round of midterms are (kind of) over, I found myself a little sick of school. As a friend so eloquently put it: “It feels like a year of school has gone by, but it’s only been, like, two months.” It’s not really stress or anxiety per se. It’s more of the feeling of being completely engrained in my schoolwork for the last few weeks. I’m at the point where I can’t even watch a TV show without thinking about the public health implications or the ethical concerns surrounding it.

So, when I decided to help out the club I’m involved in with the 21 Sussex Halloween Open House, I didn’t really know what to expect. I went to the event expecting to complete this task like any other item on my to-do list. But, I HAD SO MUCH FUN! 21 Sussex was essentially turned into a giant Halloween party, where all the clubs with offices in the building had open doors, food and activities for students!

Photo of the 21 Sussex clubhouse

Hey! It’s the clubhouse!

It involved a few of my favourite things:

Food!

There was cupcake decorating and free pizza for me to enjoy. Also, many of the clubs (including ours!!) had free candy to give out. TRICK OR TREATING FOR UNIVERSITY STUDENTS. HUZZAH.

Photo of hand holding decorated cupcake

My A+ cupcake decorating!

Photo of hand holding slice of pizza with bite taken out of it.

FREE PIZZA IS THE BEST PIZZA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends!

I got to spend some time just hanging out with some of my team members, and meeting a lot of new people. I even got to do what I do best while hanging out in our office: SELF PROMO! (For my club, that is.)

photo of Amie and Api holding cupcakes

Look who I ran into!

Photo of lap top on a desk, with office door open in the background

Self-promo-ing involves taking many pictures that make it seem like I was doing work

.

Fun!

To make the event even better, there were activities happening everywhere as well! I got to test out my artistic abilities while decorating some spooky fall cupcakes. Our club even collaborated with UT Fold for an origami workshop! I’m not going to lie though; I accepted defeat after only two tries when making the origami skeleton hand.

Picture of folded paper with eyes drawn on

Amie’s “origami frog”

Picture of Api holding a piping bag and icing a cupcake on the table.

Me hard at work making my masterpiece cupcake! Photo courtesy of Amie Lalonde!

At the end of the night, the leaders of the clubs were still hanging around, so it was a great chance to meet some more new people! After cleanup, there were some left over veggies (it’s Halloween, duh), so I even got to take home two bags of baby carrots! It was the win of the night!

I returned to the impending midterms and papers in high spirits (ghost pun not intended).  Was it because I got to take my mind off of school for a bit? Or was it because of the baby carrots? I guess it’s a Halloween mystery.

hand drawn pictures of 3 ghosts

Spoooooooky

How have you taken your mind off of school, U of T? Let me know down in the comments!

 

What’s the deal with “Open Access Week”?

Last week was Open Access Week (or OAweek as the hashtag goes), both at UofT and around the world. The UofT Libraries and the Scholarly Communications and Copyright Office were pretty big on pushing OAweek, but when I mentioned to the other bloggers that I was planning to write on it this week they asked: “What is OAweek and what does ‘open access’ mean?”. Good questions. Important questions. Let me start answering by asking another question:

How much would it cost you to write your last essay without library access?

That means, if you had none of the free access to journal articles, papers, ebooks, and other resources provided through the libraries here, how much money would you have to pay to access those resources you needed to write that last paper? Andrea Kosavic did the math on one of her papers about open access (yup: ironic); her answer? $488.96 USD. And that’s only because half of her sources were open access (we’ll get to defining that in the next paragraph). I took her example and did the math on one of my own papers. Thankfully, most of my works cited were open access too, but the three papers I cited which were not would have cost me $38.97.

Can you imagine paying almost $500 to submit a class paper?

The fact is, we have great access to resources through our library system, but a lot of the world does not. The Open Access movement is about creating unrestricted online access to peer-reviewed scholarly research. That means that anybody, anywhere, should be able to have access to scholarly research and knowledge, for free, online, from anywhere, regardless of who they are. There are a few reasons to do this. First, it makes it cheaper for students to access scholarly research needed to do the work we’re assigned. Did you know that the University spends $14,000,000 on journal subscriptions per year?! That’s more than the tuition of 2,317 domestic students. That’s a huge amount of money to be spending to make resources available, when they could be free.

And it’s not just students, but researchers everywhere. It’s hard to do original research when you need to pay money to do it, and especially hard for those who do not have access to the resources we are privileged with. How many researchers do you think there are at institutions who can’t afford journal subscriptions, or who aren’t even affiliated with academic institutions? How can public libraries afford to keep up with costs like this? This is what OAweek is about: raising awareness for open access issues. The video below (by the guy behind PHD comics) gives a really good survey of what we talk about when we talk about open access, as well as addressing the money matters: the costs of publication and the roles they play in the open access movement.

What roles can we play? Well, as potential future academics, we can make a commitment to ensuring our own future publications are published in an open access paradigm. More open access journals are popping up all the time, so it shouldn’t be a difficult task in the end. But there’s also a need for an attitude check. It’s not just about making articles free and available, but recognizing that everyone ought to have access to knowledge and knowledge media. Keep that in mind when you’re pricing out your next paper.

Have any questions or thoughts on the Open Access movement?
Leave them in the comments below!

Dropping Courses

November 3rd is the last day to drop half year courses without academic penalty. If you are like me, you are sitting around trying to figure out if you need to drop whatever many courses. It is a difficult decision. If you’ve reached this point in your course, you have invested a large amount of effort, time, and money. But not all investments pan out, and there are some very good reasons why you might want to drop the course.

If you think you are likely to fail, go see your registrar. I have a spreadsheet set up so I can input the marks I have obtained and also their weighting so I can see what my current mark in the course is. This is functionality that is woefully missing from Blackboard. Your registrar can give you advice on whether or not you should stay in the course based on your performance to date.

If you think it is going to tank your GPA, and you care about your GPA, go see your registrar. I have another spreadsheet set up so I can keep track of my GPA, see what kind of marks I need to get to make my goal GPA, and to see what effect marks in my courses will make on my GPA. GPA isn’t something that everybody cares about, but if you do, you should keep an eye on what kind of GPA you will end up with if you do poorly in whatever course. Your registrar can give you advice on your GPA and what kind of GPA you need to maintain to achieve whatever post-undergraduate goals you may have.

If the course is stressing you out to the point where it drastically affects your functioning in life or in your other courses, go see your registrar. Your registrar can give you advice on different services that are available, as well as advice on how to possibly defer exams and assignments. No single course should disproportionately affect you to the point where everything else tanks. School and life is about maintaining a balance, and first and foremost comes well-being.

The final step: if you do drop your course, analyze what went wrong. The key is to not allow such a thing to happen again. If you are failing your course because you have too much to do and can’t manage your time effectively, you may want to take fewer courses. If you are failing your courses because you aren’t studying enough, or you are missing too many classes, then those are habits that can be worked on. I highly recommend checking out the Academic Success Centre, whose Learning Strategists can help identify these issues and help you develop the necessary skills.

Finally, here is a list of services that the U of T offers that might be helpful for succeeding in the future.

Life at the University of Tokyo

The University of Tokyo has two undergraduate campuses: Hongo and Komaba. I spend most of my time at Komaba, where the Faculty of Arts & Science is located.

An image of the University of Tokyo, Komaba Campus Station. A bright neon sign featuring Japanese text can be seen in the top right corner of the image. Stairs leading into the station occupy the rest of the image.

The University of Tokyo, Komaba Station – Where I start and end my day.

An image of a building on the University of Tokyo's Komaba Campus. It features minimalist architecture and concrete construction. An artificial pond can be seen in the immediate foreground.

Komaba Campus

Komaba is austere. Hard lines, glass, and concrete characterize its Ando-inspired facade. In the middle of Tokyo’s urban jungle, this is a refreshing change. Its simplicity offers mental relief from the city’s narrow, winding streets of metropolitan mayhem. The campus’ calm aesthetic also produces a great environment for studying; there are few visual distractions.

 

This image shows a paved corridor at the University of Tokyo's Komaba Campus. There is a concrete building to the left of the corridor.

Komaba Campus

A view of the Shinjuku skyline as seen from the University of Tokyo's Komaba Campus. A running track can be seen in the immediate foreground. Clusters of buildings can be seen beyond the field. A tall skyline (Shinjuku) can be seen in the distance.

The concrete jungle surrounding the campus.

I’m happy with my academic experience here so far. Class sizes are phenomenal. My largest class has twelve people in it, and my smallest is a one-on-one seminar with a professor. The teaching staff are capable as both researchers and lecturers, and most of mine seem genuinely interested in helping their students succeed.

The University of Tokyo’s difficulty is comparable to that of U of T, but the source of its difficulty is slightly different. Courses here tend to be less demanding; most classes only meet once per week, and they have no tutorials. However, the school’s administration expects students to take seven to nine courses per semester. Exchange students are not off the hook either; U of T expects the same from its students who study abroad at the University of Tokyo, if they wish to receive a full 5.0 FCE. In this way, while courses here are individually lighter than at U of T, they collectively require about the same amount of work.

The campus is quiet during the day, but it comes to life after the last period ends at six o’clock. Campus groups all meet at this time. Hip-hop dancers, political activists, and vocal ensembles are some of the campus’ most visible groups. They gather in the corridors, and excite the campus’ otherwise calm atmosphere.

Groups of shoes haphazardly placed at the entrance to the University of Tokyo's gym. Lockers can be seen beside a door in the background.

The entrance to the gym after the last period.

There is no partying on campus. Instead, students tend to go to the nearby neighborhoods of Shibuya or Shimokitazawa to enjoy nightlife. Many bars feature a service called nomihoudai, or ‘all you can drink,’ for about ¥1200 ($12). This service allows customers to indulge in a sort of buffet of beer and spirits for two hours. Singing karaoke afterwards is a popular way to end the night. Karaoke parlours occupy high-rise buildings filled with small rooms equipped with TVs and microphones. Instead of singing in front of strangers in a bar, as is often the case in Canada, groups can book rooms where they can sing their guilty pleasures all night long in the company of their friends.

Anyway, that’s life at Komaba in a nutshell. Next week I’ll be writing about a weekend trip to the town of Nikko. Until then, happy listening.

Beyond the Binary- Haley’s Ongoing Gender Journey

People always say life is complicated, yet often they don’t say the same for gender and sexuality. Too often it is “male” or “female,” and “gay” or “straight,” but what about those who don’t fit in those boxes?  More to the point, how do these folks feel mental health wise when they are consistently forced to pick one of the two boxes?

A group of students sitting around a large table in celebration of asexuality awareness week. They are all smiling towards the camera.

One type of sexuality that is often ignored is asexuality or rather people with little or no sexual attraction and/or desire. This is asexuality awareness week, so Woodsworth Inclusive and Rainbow Trinity decided to host the first ace event in U of T history!

A table with pop, chips, a cake, and some tim hortons donuts.

So healthy.

A fruit tray on a table, with cantaloupe, pineapple, watermelon, melon, and strawberries. It looks like it hasn't been touched.

But we had a fruit tray!

Although I can’t speak for the many gender expressions, gender identities, and sexualities that do not fall under the gender and sexuality binaries, I can speak to my ongoing gender journey. Perhaps it will be useful to folks who are feeling the same way but are not ready to talk to other people about it (which by the way, is totally okay).

Over the past year, I realized that I was not comfortable expressing myself in a completely feminine way. I never really wore make-up and rarely did I do my hair (ponytail life-style), but during the summer, I took the next step: I chopped off my hair.

Soon, I confined to my good friend about my gender expression and identity. I said to them, “I don’t really see myself as a man or a woman.” My friend, who is non-binary themself,  hugged me and said they will support me no matter what. Thus I began my gender journey.

I started buying clothes in the men’s section (which by the way, is quite nerve-wracking), and I began to really open up to my close friends about my gender expression. Still, I have kept this journey quite private as I am worried how my peers and family would react.

Then, I went to the on-campus Centre for Women and Trans People. It is a drop-in centre that hosts all kinds of activities and events. More importantly, it is a place that is safe and free of judgment.  Although I was nervous to go, I immediately was greeted with open arms and some tea! It was probably one of the best decisions I have made. I realized that being honest with myself doesn’t mean I have to open up to people about it immediately. In other words, to do what is right is to do what I am comfortable with.

A picture of the trans centre, with its coach, fridge, microwave, and stove.

So snazzy- and look they even have a kitchen!

A cup of green tea with trans* related posters around it.

Tea that one of the lovely folks from centre made me- afterwards we talked about gender expression and the fluidity of gender in time and space. It was really nice and helped with my self-healing.

Some posters featuring the diversity of gender (agender, gender neutral, cisgendered, genderqueer, non-binary), and a poster explaining the difference between sex, gender, and sexuality.

Some rad posters.

Me at Trinity College's Quad. I am wearing masculine-tailored pant, a baggy floral shirt, with short hair and some running shoes.

While I like wearing a sports bra, masculine-tailored pants, and baggy shirts, I also like floral prints and lots of colours- both of which are considered “feminine.”

“So Haley, do you identify as a transman?”

No, dear reader. Although I do not see myself as a transman, I really don’t know what or how to characterize my gender expression.

At the end of the day, those labels don’t matter to me. Where I am right now on my gender journey, which often people would mischaracterize as just being in “transition,” is where I want to be at this moment. And that, my dear readers, is all that matters.

Here is the phone number for the Centre for Women and Trans People(416) 978-8201.

Lots of love,

Haley

Getting ready to think about Grad School

As third year moves by at an alarming pace (it’s already the end of October?? what??) I’ve started thinking about my future — which, as many of you probably know, is the perfect way to send yourself into a spiral of despair in the middle of midterms. To try and combat this fear of my future I popped by Hart House to check out the Grad School Fair on October 2nd. It felt really strange being there because I felt like I had just been there during UofT’s fall open house during grade 12 — even though that was a full three years ago (!!! is this what getting old feels like?). As a third year its still a bit early to be thinking about grad school (or maybe its really late, maybe all the other third years already know where they’ll be going) but I’m generally a very keen person and to have a set 5-year plan at all times.

picture of several tables at the grad school fair in the Great Hall in Hart House university of toronto graduate school  banner There was a decent selection of schools at the Grad School Fair, although not really any of the big American or British universities that I’ve been looking at. U of T was out in full force of course and the Museum Studies program caught my eye as a potential program.banner with information about the U of T iSchool's Mater of Museum and Matser of Information studies programsBeing there made me realize that I’m not exactly sure what I want to study? Do I just want to do a MA and then a PhD. in history? Do I want to do Material Culture or Museum Studies? Can I even get a job with any of these? person holding several grad school view books in front of her face

These questions sparked google searches like sogoogle search "best history grad schools"  results are pages with lists of best schools with pretty expected resultsscreenshot of a list of top grad schools, Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and Yale top the list

I still don’t really know what I want to do or where I want to do it but the Grad School Fair helped me get thinking about it (plus the Career Centre has a whole host of resources that are going to be very helpful) and it doesn’t seem quite as scary as before (although the price tags are still terrifying). table with brochures on it

Any forth years (or third) out there with Grad School advice for me? Anyone feeling super nervous about the whole applying-to-schools process again? Let me know in the comments below! 

 

 

UC Does Rocky Horror Picture Show

This past Wednesday I attended the UC Follies Rocky Horror Picture Show Shadow Cast presented by the UCLit.  Although I’ve seen Rocky Horror Picture Show many-a-times, I’ve never actually been to a live performance or interactive screening of it.  I’ve heard how fun it can be, getting to throw rice onto the stage or yell things back to the cast, but nothing prepared me for the night of shenanigans the Follies had in store for us.

I think a part of me was still expecting things to be toned down the way they were in high school.  They couldn’t possibly re-enact every provocative scene from Rocky Horror… could they? 

Two Photo Set: Photo on the left is of a man standing on a table with a movie projector in the background. He is naked except for a small blue speedo and bandages across his chest. He has a crazy look in his eyes and has just been "created" by the mad scientist. Photo on the Right: one of the party-goer characters being thrown into the air in the middle of a dance routine.

Oh my naive, naive mind. 

To start off the night, my best friend and I came dressed as the main character duo of Brad and Janet – gaining ourselves entrance into the intermission costume contest along the way. The University College JCR was packed full of people in costumes enjoying food and drinks, and discussing all the insider secrets of an interactive Rocky Horror show.

Photo of boy and girl staring at each other seductively, posing heavily for the camera. Man is dressed in a lab coat and white briefs with slicked back hair and nerdy glasses. The girl is hidden behind a large red bed sheet.

My friend Matt and I dressed as our very best interpretations of Janet and Brad!

At 9:30 the lights dimmed, and the show began.  I actually didn’t understand what a shadow cast was until the show had began, but essentially the UC Follies acted in the foreground while the movie played in the background.

Two picture set: Picture on the right is of characters Rocky and Janet laying in bed together. The second picture is of Janet after her "transformation" performing the final number.

At the beginning of the show you could buy a “kit”, the purchase of which went to support the chosen organization SKETCH.  The kit included all of the things you would need to interact with the show such as rope, a sponge, and newspaper.  The narrator behind the screen would announce to the crowd when to get their object ready, and on cue from a line in the show, we would throw the object into the air or out onto the stage.  The first opportunity to use this arose when Janet and Brad were stuck out in the rain, and the chorus came around spraying the audience with water unless you put the newspaper over your head.

The cast was absolutely amazing, and the production was hilarious.  They had the crowd (myself included) laughing, gasping, and even singing and dancing along at some points. The characters would walk through the aisles, dancing with audience members and eliciting involvement, all while staying perfectly in character.

Girl dressed in outlandish costume of leather and fishnets with largely teased hair and over-the-top makeup, throwing her hands in the air dancing.

The cast leading us in the Time Warp dance!

The whole night was a perfect break from midterm stress, and definitely an amazing first Rocky Horror experience.  The UC follies do a variety of performances throughout the year, including musicals such as this, as well as dramas and improv nights.  Any member of University College can join and exercise their acting muscles, or just come along and view one of their shows.  Check out more pictures from the night, and find out more about the UC Follies, at ucfolliestheatre.ca

A Story About Stories

You know what I need? A story. When I’m working hard, my mind soothes itself by wandering into stories. It could be a movie, book, movie about a book, or even adventure tales from childhood days. It’s easy to get lost in thought especially when you have access to YouTube or Netflix. I even get lost wandering in the wilderness on Google Maps from time to time. Ok, a lot.

Sitting in the fancy little common room lounge of Whitney Hall, holding a gigantic Stalin book amidts the Victorian-style decor

Back in first year, ploughing through this 700 page biography of Joseph Stalin for my TrinOne IR class (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I need new stories during the busy academic year and real stories best fill this need. Nourishing your relationship with places and peoples through these stories connects you to countless generations and the vast world that shaped them. By doing so, you are also shaped. Better yet, with such mindfulness, you can live these stories.

A massive stack of eleven thinck Russian Foreign Policy books from Robarts. Putin's picture is glaring at me from one of them.

More stories for TrinOne. My holiday homework and my old buddy Mr. Putin (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Take for instance the names of the places we live in. People romantically think Toronto means place of meetings. But different histories show that Toronto comes from the Mohawk word tkaronto which means where there are trees standing in the water. This name refers to weirs used by Indigenous fishers in the area. What a drastically different story to be surrounded by. Are you intrigued yet?

A view looking to the west from my 18th floor apartment, over the greenery of Queen's Park, the Legislature, and U of T, out across the water towards Mississauga

End of summer 2013: my new view in my apartment was great, though I knew I’d be watching the story of that tower’s construction unfold right before my eyes… (Photo by Zachary Biech)

In the twilight of a fall dawn, with pink skies, this picture looks out down Bay Street towiards the twinkling  lights of the towers downtown

By the Fall of 2013, this living city had already evolved into a new world; and the building across the street added like 12 floors and was already beginning to take away my view! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

The same view south towards downtown, but with the city blanketed in snow and the tower across the street now almost totally blocking my view to the west

The first snowfall of the 2013 winter: the tower grew ever so slightly, but never stopped completely during even the coldest times (Photo by Zachary Biech)

An even more pink dawn twilight shor of downtown from my apartment, with the lights still on in the windows of the towers. The building across the street is beginning to peek out above others in the area

Once the winter had faded, Toronto emerged from it’s snowy slumber into the bright spring dawn. And like any good character in a story, the building across the street fought against all the odds and persevered…to block my view even more (Photo by Zachary Biech)

A clear sunny day, looking south from my apartment again. The tower across the street is absolutely massive now, dwarfing all the others in the area. I give up!

So one year since I moved here, and there is now an obnoxiously tall condo across the street trying to intimidate me all day (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Spadina comes from an Ojibwe word—Ishpadinaa–referring to high hill which the present-day avenue ascends. High Park was a savannah used by various Indigenous communities for farming. Philosopher’s Walk followed what used to be Taddle Creek, which was a vital waterway and gathering place for local Indigenous peoples who originally called it the Ziibiing.

http://watercanada.net/2013/part-one-the-death-and-life-of-a-hidden-stream/

From a small rise, this shot looks out over the paths, bridge, and amphitheatre of Philosopher's Walk with the orange and yellow leaves of Fall now on the trees

Though there’s no creek here now, I try to feel the stories of Philosopher’s Walk when I’m passing through (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Ever wondered why Davenport Road doesn’t follow Toronto’s grid? That’s because it follows an ancient Indigenous trail. And have you heard of the Franklin Expedition? Long story short, they sunk. But Inuit peoples who’ve lived near the ships’ resting place kept the Expedition’s story alive through oral tradition for many centuries. Epic, right?

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/franklin-find-proves-inuit-oral-history-is-strong-louie-kamookak-1.2761362

An ancient river called Old Man River flows in Southern Alberta near where I grew up. The amazing stories of this river have shaped worldviews and histories of many peoples including the Peigan of the Blackfoot Confederacy. How has the land shaped your life and history?

In my Alberta hometown of Cochrane there is a historic ranch. Can you guess the name? Yes, it’s called Cochrane Ranche. Better question: can you guess what the town is named after??? Yup, the Ranche. I’m more fascinated by tales I’ve heard about the rocky ridge overlooking the site. I’ve heard this ridge was a buffalo jump long ago. It’s good to see home in a different light.

In the evening, looking West at the vast Rocky Mountains over my sleepy little foothills town, with the twilight sun still gleaming from behind the mountains.

This is a view from Cochrane, looking west towards the Ranche. Just to give you an idea of the aura of the place (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Still looking west over the Cochrane valley into the foothills, towards the Rockies, but this time in the bright midday summer sun

And now here’s Cochrane in a different light! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Now that you’ve read my story about stories, I want you to tell a story. Tell your friends or family a story about the world they live in. Go and find a story to listen to, if you need. I’m going to the ImagineNATIVE film fest from October 22-26 for this exact reason. First Nations House might have some free tickets if you’re interested. Maybe I’ll tell you a story about it sometime.

http://www.imaginenative.org/home/

Once you’ve told some stories, ask yourself what stories are right there under your feet or in the air around you. What story are you living right now?

Looking up at the CN Tower from it's base in the dark of night, with the tower lit in pink and all the fog around it pink as well

Even the Tower can tell you a story (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Looking south from my apartment at night, at a Green and Red - lit CN Tower in the holiday season

No matter what time of year, the Tower plays along and changes with the seasons. The tower can even show it’s festive side during the holiday season! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Another nighttime shot of the Tower from my apartment, this time lit up is bright green

Here’s one from last St. Patrick’s Day, when the Tower had some real shamrock luck on (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Another nighttime shot looking up at the CN Tower from it's base, but this time it's lit up in blue and wet with rainfall

The Tower can even hold memories as part of your story, like this shot I remember from a particularly rainy night after Derek Jeeter played his final game ever against the Jays in Rogers Centre (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Asking questions in office hours

In the past few weeks, most of the bloggers here have been offering tips to succeed in classes, and what resources are available on campus. Among the answers we usually give is “go to office hours, they’re really helpful!”. But saying that only goes so far. After repeating the statement so many times, I’ve started to hear the question:

“But Charles, how do I know what’s a good question for office hours?”
“Good question,”
 I reply, immediately spinning you into a spiral of positive feedback.

I talked to a few of my current and former professors and Teaching Assistants this week about their own office hours, and there are a few things to share. First: there is no such thing as a bad question in office hours. There might be less relevant questions—it’s probably not really relevant to ask your fluvial geomorphology professor whether they think Jar Jar Binks was a necessary addition to the Star Wars franchise—but there are no bad questions.

Usually the questions that instructors will hear and encourage are questions about course material: if you don’t understand something from class, have a question about how concepts relate, even about assessment, office hours are a good time to ask. Most profs and TAs are also totally okay with biographical questions about their lives; they love sharing their experiences, their own research interests, advice—so long as you’re not holding up a line of other students.

Old photo of soldiers lining up in swarms for the mess hall.

Ask questions, but don’t be a line-up-Leonard and hold up the line. [source]

But profs and TAs are often interested in your research interests and ideas too! Don’t think that you can only go to office hours if you have a question. Office hours are a great opportunity to share the ideas that you don’t get to articulate in class, or don’t want to interrupt a lecture with.

Here’s another good office hour question I’ve been asked: 

Are there better questions for TAs rather than professors? Is there a difference between the types of things you should ask an instructor and the types of things you can ask a TA? My perception is the “help me solve this problem” questions are for TAs and the “broader smarter-sounding discussions” are for the instructor.

The answer is “not at all!”. Typically, if you have questions specifically about your tutorials or about your grades, you probably want to go to your TA—the person running the tutorials and/or grading your work—as your prof is unlikely to have the answers you want right away. That aside, there’s no reason to think you have to pretend to be smart to impress a professor, or that you can’t ask them for help: that’s exactly what they’re there for, and that’s why their office hours are being run!

To distill this post down, the “TL;DR” would have to be: Go to office hours, be polite, ask questions, and don’t worry.

Have other questions about office hours, TAs, or profs?
Let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you!

Doing Assignments the Day Of: A Primer

Doing assignments the day they are due is a terrible idea, and I do it all the time. Of course, I never do it on purpose. Nonono. Whenever I find myself with thirty minutes to produce some math proofs or English essays, it is always some unanticipatable calamity, and never my fault. But these cruel twists and happenstance have given me a certain grace under pressure, and I would like to share my strategies for getting things done at the last minute, for reasons which should be in no way discernible from the previous paragraph.

Accept your work will be terrible. The first step is simply admitting to yourself that you will not be able to produce the Great Canadian Homework in the span of an hour. If you are at this stage, considerations of quality will only hold you back. Finish what you have to do, and if you have time later, look back on it and revise.

Remove yourself from all distractions. If you don’t need your computer, turn it off. Repeat this step for every electronic device which brings you joy. If you are on the computer, close all programs and tabs that you are not using. Every errant glance at anything that is not homework is a waste of time. Your time for luxuries has come to an end.

Do it. This is always the difficult part. The key is to break it down into steps. For my English essay writing, I begin by choosing a section of the literary work which I want to write on. Then the next step would be to come up with some argument. Then I would write my first paragraph. And so on and so forth. Obviously, this is highly simplified and will likely result in work which is sub-par at the university level, but excellence was thrown out the window a long time ago.

Consider handing it in late. If you don’t manage your time perfectly, there will come a day when you will consider this. I myself have gone entire semesters where I based which homework was getting handed in at what time based on their total mark value in the course and the late homework policy of the course. I am not proud of this academic triage, but given my mental state at the time it was necessary for me to do so in order to pass my courses. When it comes down to earning marks, it is a numbers game, especially in very large courses. If a one day late penalty results in ten percentage points taken off but you feel confident that you can improve your homework immensely (i.e. more than ten percentage points) then mathematically it makes sense to take that extra day. In some courses this won’t be possible, so:

Hand it in even if it isn’t done. You will feel awful, but at least you won’t get a zero.

There are a few more optional steps afterwards:

Don’t let it happen again. If you analyze what went wrong, you can attempt to prevent it in the future. Hopefully, you won’t have to produce sub-par work in a short amount of time ever again. Prevention > cure, as they say.

Go speak to your professor. If there is a legitimate (i.e. medical) reason that keeps you from completing homework on time, and you can provide the proper documentation, you might be able to be accommodated. You could also go speak with Accessibility Services.

Let it go. In the grand scheme of things, a hastily completed assignment falls somewhere between a mite and an ant. Focus on doing better next time, instead of focusing on your mistake.

I would like to say that I have gotten to the point where I complete everything in a timely manner, but that is simply not true. But I can say that I complete assignments in a more timely manner more often, and hopefully you can to.