The End of Essays

So last Tuesday I wrote an essay. I wrote it like most other essays, reluctantly and with heavy doses of caffeine. It was only after I was finished that I stopped and realized that it was the last one, the finale, the ultimate essay in my career at U of T. There will never be another, and that must mean something . . .

For some of us, these present weeks have been laden with essays. Endless visits to the library. Pulling all-nighters. (BTW, why do we say ‘pulling’ all-nighters? Any ideas? #allnighter, if you got the answer.) No time for friends, or food, or fun. Just coffee, coffee, coffee, essay, essay, essay!

If you have finished all your essays for the year, give yourself a grand ol’ pat on the back! No, really, do it! It’s very easy to take all the seemingly minor accomplishments of a university career for granted once you are elbow deep in thick of it. But any finished work was surely hard work. It took effort (some) and time (yeah) and consideration (maybe), and any combo of those deserves a moment of congratulation.

I tried to calculate how many essays I have written in my undergrad. But I’m lousy at math. I think it’s somewhere between 60 to 100 essays. That number seems really small when I think about the accumulated mass of time and stress and thought that went into each essay. But I guess memories have a certain weight to them. I’ll stick with a pat on the back.

I try to remember my final essay in first year, for HIS103 on the Spanish Civil War. I stayed up several nights in my dorm at New College. My desk was cluttered with books, orange and yellow sticky notes marking key pages. I was drinking lots of tea in first year (I was against coffee, ha). I stood from my desk and paced. I sat back down. I opened the window. I tried to find that particular passage. I remember calling my dad and he said my essay sounded interesting. I drank more tea, surrounded by books, deep in thought, scouring my sources, page 6 of 15, and trying. I was happy.

An essay is more than a developed argument. An essay is the practice of a kind of critical, analytical, and reflective thinking. An essay is the embodiment of the liberal arts pursuit, to be able to think conscientiously, coherently, with conviction, and cognisant of the consequence of our thought. To this I am happy to say I have finally finished the forceful and at times strongly resented training period, but I think I have emerged all the better for the tutelage, ready to take my essaying habits into the wider world.

But most of all an essay is a vestige of my self, like a Horcrux, but less evil. With every essay—regardless of how I felt at the time, whether I hated it or loved it—I necessarily left a piece of myself in the work. Remembering them, I can recall who I was at the time. I can map the development of me.

Til next time, U of T, stay diamond!

- Stephen.

Essay Tips!

I’m about to finish writing my last essay of the semester, and I couldn’t be happier. I have never had to write so many essays (6) in such a short amount of time (1 month)…I know there are probably people who have it worse, but this is all new to me!

Here are a few tips that have made my writing process a lot easier this semester when I’ve been stuck on an essay. This isn’t advice that you’ll find on UofT’s Writing website (Check it out if you haven’t — it’s awesome!).

You’ll be done in no time (SpongeBob always gets it right). Source

1. Include subtitles:
Your professor or T.A. might tell you that they don’t want to see subtitles in your essay. If they don’t mention it, then I strongly suggest that you use them, especially if you’re writing a paper that’s eight pages or longer. Subtitles focus your thoughts when you’re writing a section, or if you decide to add them at the end, they make it easier to self-edit and pick out unclear or unorganized arguments.

2. Mention the limits of your paper:
a.) If you finish writing a 5,000 word essay an hour before it’s due, go back to edit it, and realize that you’ve left out an important or interesting point, mention it in your paper and note that the topic is beyond the scope of your paper. This one’s a bit tricky — If you think that the addition might disrupt the flow of your paper or sound incomplete, leave it out. The only time this hasn’t worked for me was when I tried to introduce a point that was too weighty to be self-explanatory.

b.) Don’t be afraid to point out the gaps in your essay! If you can explain weak arguments (perhaps there is a lack of research on the topic, for example), you might potentially be able to make them stronger.

3. Think of your target audience:
If you’re short on time, cater your work specifically to your T.A. and professor. Pay attention to the arguments your professor constructs in lectures, their views, beliefs, and their values. If you keep those things in mind while writing, you’ll have an idea of where your arguments need to be stronger and more convincing, and where you might be able to get away with lazier work. Attempt this at your own risk!

Anyway, that’s it. Those are my tips. Happy essay writing, and I wish you the best of luck on your exams!

And Here We Are . . . The End of Term!

I used to snowboard a lot in the winter. Ever since I was about six years old, I was out on the snow-hills and riding chairlifts. But once I came to university, I stopped. I guess I got busy. Always finding myself, all of a sudden, at this same moment: The end of term.

Feeling rushed. Stressed. Panicked. Less than a week left of classes. Then exams. It’s especially hard because I can smell the winter break like it’s a warm, cinnamon-sugared beavertail at the bottom of the hill and I just want to bomb the course to reach it. But school and snowboarding, unfortunately, are two dissimilar things.

I can’t bomb school. I have to work hard. I have to do well. I have one final project this term (it’s true, but it’s my fifth year, so don’t hate me). I probably could rush it. But I know that if I take my time it will be better, more interesting, more enjoyable, and altogether more worthwhile.

The tricky part is committing, staying focused, and seeing the project through to the end. Whether it was my first end of term, or now my ninth, finding the energy and concentration is a challenge. Not to mention finding the time to eat, and to take healthy breaks.

And that’s where I bet most of us are right now. I’m assuming that everyone is busy, stressed, and resenting the day they ever chose to attend U of T. So I’ve decided to forgo regaling you with a tale of my own academic sufferings, and just get on with my schoolwork.

Yep, that’s right, I am going to study. I can do that, no problem. I’m going to take my time and do an excellent job. It’s not like I’ll slowly drift away to amuse myself with strange, funny, stupid, and generally pointless distractions . . .

Like these!

Okay, that was fun! But I should probably get back to work.

Ha, I love that! All right, I really need to study for that in-class exam on Monday.

Wow! Just wow! But that’s enough. Time to destroy this essay!

You know, I kind of want to see that. No! Stop! I need to focus!

Source: http://imgur.com/a/Culn9

Source: http://imgur.com/a/Culn9

Maybe I could become an extra once I graduate. THAT’S IT! No more! I have to finish my schoolwork!

What just happened? How long was I watching that stuff? I guess it doesn’t really matter.  It’s the end of term. Needing some kind of break from studying is inevitable. I’m not going to stress, or panic, or run away. I’m going to recognize that distractions and procrastination are normal. Good studying and good work require a break now and then.

Next time, though, I think I’ll go out for a walk. Get some fresh air. Call a friend. Eat some soup. And let my tired little brain actually rest, until it has to get back to work.

 

Good luck out there, U of T!

- Stephen

Face The Music (and Mid-Terms)

On the school calendar, the first semester might as well highlight the months of October and November as not the months that belong to fall, but to midterms instead. Like I have mentioned before, midterms are notorious energy-drainers. It’s easy to lose momentum and plateau when the majority of your day-to-day schedule revolves around doing school work. So I like to keep an ever-growing playlist of songs to help keep me determined to not only survive, but ace mid-term season, and to remind me that yes, it is possible to slip in a little exercise in between working.  I like to match the music that I listen to according to how I feel, I also like to listen to songs that will help me to find the energy to exercise.

Here are three songs that keep me on track in between my sleep, eat, work, eat, exercise, work, sleep (well, not all in that order) schedule:

TV on The Radio – Wolf Like Me
The colder the weather, the sleepier I get, and the more I envision myself becoming best friends with the heater in my room. Lately, my body is trying to retreat into a three-month hibernation, so just waking up has been struggle —my brain is like an overheated computer that needs to take time to load. So while it’s in the “buffering” mode, I like to play an upbeat song such as Wolf Like Me as an alarm clock to help me wake up. Listening to a song about being an unstoppable force of energy inspires me to get out of bed and prepare myself to start the day in a not-so-sluggish manner.

Sky Ferreira – You’re Not The One
For those who know me personally, my favourite type of cardio is the “dancing like crazy in my bedroom”-type of cardio. Dancing (in my room) is cathartic, because I can jump up and down, do a twirl here and there, all while no one is watching me. Whenever I put on this song, I forget the fact that I’m exercising because I’m so immersed in moving along with the tempo.

One day I’ll make my dancing debut. VIA MICSGIFS.TUMBLR.COM

I’ve also been using this song as a motivating tool to complete my assignments, or readings, by creating “dance” breaks whenever I feel like I am running out of energy or losing focus. Most recently, I came across this song (via the recommendations of many music review blogs), and have used it as my go-to track when starting my ten-minute breaks to do cardio. I like to say that I don’t like pop, but I secretly do—and I must admit, this song does glam pop very well. It’s lively, and is also about moving on and not dwelling on the past, and I take heed by dancing away my worries. I’ve come to realize that I need to open up my options when creating a song list in order to get me on my feet and moving. And since I used this song during my break in between writing this post, I can tell you that opening up my options has been working so far.

King Krule – Out Getting Ribs
During mid-terms, I’ve still managed to go to my Pilates classes at the Athletic Centre, but I’ve fallen behind on going to the gym more than once a week this month. However, I’m still determined to not spiral back into my past sedentary lifestyle, so I’ve kept active when dancing in my room, or practicing my Pilates moves. One of the main motivators for me right now is that I can do a killer plank without slouching, and that I’ve moved on to practicing other positions and exercises, such as butterfly crunches, (I lie down on my back and lift my legs in a slanted positions, all while doing quick breaths and waving my arms just above and below my abdominal muscles).

Sometimes, when writing papers, I hit a roadblock and worry about whether the words that I have written on the page make sense. This kind of anxiety makes it easy to lose focus. So I use what I’ve learned in my Pilates class, take a break to do a few moves and refresh my mind—but not without the help of music playing in the background.

I like to stick to dreamy and calming music that sometimes have a rising tempo—and the beginning guitar riffs in Out Getting Ribs do just the thing. Also, the song isn’t’t too slow so that when I do pick up my pace in doing moves like butterfly crunches, I can at least keep my body in sync with the beats. As well, I like to end my night feeling relaxed, and this song helps to soothe me into resting mode.

Sleep, eat, work, eat, exercise, work, sleep schedule still intact.

What songs do you listen to when you feel like you need to calm down, or get up and going?

Essay Writing Dos and Don’ts

Warning: Now entering Essay Alley, a two-month span of the academic year known for an increase in essay-related stress, anxiety, and all out no-good-not-niceness. Luckily, the unofficial U of T Essay Writing Dos and Don’ts is here to help. (Have essay advice? Share it #UofTessaytips).

In my second year I took the Innis College course, Writing English Essays. An intermediate, hands-on course, I learned many skills and techniques of persuasive writing. Most useful, however, was the T.A.’s suggestion that we all read The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White (the author of Charlotte’s Web). It’s a little guidebook to clear, concise, stylistic writing, and I would highly recommend it!

Now! The unofficial U of T Essay Writing Dos and Donts:

Do: Give it time.

http://buzzfeedanimals.tumblr.com/page/4

http://buzzfeedanimals.tumblr.com/page/4

I have written essays the night before they were due. And I’ve written essays weeks in advance. Which do you think resulted in a better essay? Allowing myself time to reconsider and re-contemplate my arguments has always proven beneficial. An essay is a presentation of our thinking in words, and our thinking is constantly changing and developing. We need time to get it clear.

Don’t: Summarize or list facts.

http://natgeo-gifs.tumblr.com/post/31358180042

http://natgeo-gifs.tumblr.com/post/31358180042

Sometimes a summary of events may feel necessary to situate your arguments. I always ask my T.A. or professor about this. Most say that summaries are a boring, unneeded waste of words. Listing facts may also seem beneficial because it fills space. But a list of facts is not a developed argument. To write a good essay we must try to show our thinking.

Do: Engage arguments.

http://olympo.tumblr.com/post/9053065525

http://olympo.tumblr.com/post/9053065525

This is easier than it sounds. Just about every subject has previously established arguments made by scholars and students in books, papers, and journals. Find these. Read them. Pick two or three that are pertinent to your thesis and discuss them. Agree or disagree. Explain why you think so-and-so’s point is invalid, and then argue for your own ideas!

Don’t: Plagiarize.

http://jalapenoandolive.tumblr.com/post/63381014971/monday-via

http://jalapenoandolive.tumblr.com/post/63381014971/monday-via

Obvious! But also very serious. For academic, argumentative, critical writing there is no greater offence. Just imagine doing it in person: Some guy next to you says something brilliant, and when it’s your turn to speak you simply copy what he said, but you claim it’s your own idea. I don’t think so.

Do: Analyze the particular.

http://littleanimalgifs.tumblr.com/page/6

http://littleanimalgifs.tumblr.com/page/6

What do I mean? Find something small and work outwards. When I write an essay on a novel, I try to focus and build my arguments from particular passages that extend to broader themes within the book. For a history paper, I would centre my analysis on a particular event, person, or act, and draw outwards. Small is big. The particular argument informs the general assumption. Try it!

Don’t: Bribe your professor or T.A.

http://televandalist.com/post/43606450500

http://televandalist.com/post/43606450500

It just doesn’t work. Money, chocolate, theatre-tickets, a bottle of 50-year-old scotch—it’s all been tried. Unfortunately, the most effective gesture to receive that longed for A+ is a well-written essay.

Do: Pick an exciting title.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/summeranne/wildlife-photos-from-the-nat-geo-photo-contest

http://www.buzzfeed.com/summeranne/wildlife-photos-from-the-nat-geo-photo-contest

A professor of a friend of mine said that until students become famous, our best form of marketing is an exciting essay title. Wise words. I always check with my professors about title etiquette. Some are traditionalists.

Don’t: Lose sleep.

http://cineraria.tumblr.com/post/55964955759/sleepy-kitten-frida-youtube

http://cineraria.tumblr.com/post/55964955759/sleepy-kitten-frida-youtube

Handing in a late paper is not the end of the world. Nor is getting a B, or a C, or even a D. Sometimes we just get stumped and can’t think anymore. During third year, Essay Alley hit me hard and I had to ask my professor for an extension. If it’s necessary, DO IT. But ask earlier than later.

Do: Try to enjoy it.

http://headlikeanorange.tumblr.com/post/58178637114

http://headlikeanorange.tumblr.com/post/58178637114

When I’m stumped and scattered, I close my books and get out. I go see a friend. I talk about my stupid essay! And it helps. An essay is best when it’s written positively, when the mood is right.

 So remember: we’re students, we’re trying, and we’re lucky to be here.

 

 

‘Til next time, U of T, stay diamond!

-Stephen

Up All Night: Essay Cramming by the Hour

I managed to escape the curse of the all nighter until my third year (unless the Royal Wedding counted). It hasn’t been easy, and it’s definitely been a curse, but I’ve learned that there seems to be a riveting hourly breakdown that follows in what all nighters for the average student looks like. A window into what essay cramming in one night is like. Warning: the following will feel all too familiar, unpleasant, and may bring back some painful reminders. 

7pm: Fresh out of dinner with coffee(ssssss) in hand, and (half) your research done, it’s go time!

7:30pm: JSTOR spree! If only there weren’t so many pdfs setting up camp on your desktop…maybe you should have started sooner.

8:00pm: Your friend decides to come join you aka someone to watch your things while you momentarily leave the room every hour to regain sanity

9pm: Outline is done, now for a Facebook break!

9:45pm: Your friend decides to leave…weakling…

…You shoot a disapproving look as you resume you tweeting about the trials and tribulations of being a student.

Midnight: Bring out your coffee machine, time to start draft #1.

2am: Wait…your thesis..WHERE DID THE THESIS GO? What is my thesis?

2:30am: Draft #2 begins….scour wait-lists for possible writing centre appointment. Will accept anything up to an hour before deadline at 10am.

4am: Still on draft #2. Time for a 20 minute nap.

6am: THIRD DRAFT IS DONE. Three is all you need…right?

6:45am: The sun is coming up. How long has it been?

7am: Coffee bean supply becomes non existent.

8:00am: Citation time!

8:15am: Whaaa? WHY is Purdue Owl down? NO! NOT NOW! OF ALL THE TIMES.

9:30am: 30 minute nap before class.

10:00am: SUBMIT10:10am: Crawl back into bed, tell yourself you’ll never do this again.

-Vahini

Stone Cold Extensions…

Alas my friends I have fallen ill with the dreaded March head cold. There could be no worse time of the year to contract this virulent pestilence that renders my brain nothing more than a cloudy, congested dome of confusion.

It happened Saturday morning. As soon as I woke up I knew I was infected. My head hurt, my nostrils were clogged, and that little tickle in my throat that I had been ignoring all week had transformed from a tickle into more of a sandpaper on raw skin kind of thing.

Am I whining?

Yes.

However, there’s a point to my whining. With three papers due in the next four days and an illness, I was inspired to write about extensions. No not hair extensions. Paper or assignment extensions.

I am in my fourth year here at U of T and before this week I had never asked for an extension. You might ask why. Most of my friends get extensions regularly. The reason I’ve never asked for one is that the whole process makes me nervous.

First you need to email or meet with your Prof. and request the extension. Usually you’d provide them with some justification for the extension ie. My computer was stolen, My dog died. Yet, most likely the conversation would be about how you need an extension because you have two other papers due the same week or a midterm on the same day. Worst case scenario you tell your Prof that you started too late and simply can’t finish it on time.

Having a conversation about any of these things with my Profs would give me serious anxiety. I mean why I would want my Prof. to know that I am horrible at time management, or worse that I finished all my other assignments before I even started to think about his.

Luckily, I only had to tell my Prof. that I was really sick and she happily gave me an extension. Even still I am left to wonder if she now thinks that I am a bad student for not being finished with the paper early, so that something like a cold wouldn’t get in the way of submitting the paper on time.

The other thing that makes me nervous about extensions is that I am convinced that late paper will automatically be graded more harshly. This might not be an issue if your class has 500 students, but in a seminar class with only 15 people, it’s pretty easy for the Prof to remember who was diligent and who was not.

I have no proof or basis to say this, it’s just a fear I have. I’m sue lots of Profs. grade papers equally regardless of whether they were submitted on time. I’m only saying that this aspect of extensions makes me very uncomfortable.

I actually found this great how to site on the web…How to ask for an extension! Take a look it’s very step by step and instructional.

I hope you all don’t get sick, but if you it might be the perfect opportunity to ask for an extension.

-Lori

It’s Crunch Time!

It’s crunch time! I mean that literally because I have a twenty page paper due in a few days that is still in the midst of being born from my mind. I also mean that figuratively because during what has been a very painful three day essay writing marathon, I have been relieving my stress with crunchy food.

So I started on Friday night with carrots, a healthy option. These provided me with the crunch I was seeing and had the extra bonus of not messing up my writing space. This healthy option sustained my need for crunch for the night.

Saturday was required a snack with a crunch slightly more extreme crunch factor. This is why at 11pm on Saturday night instead of writing my essay I was searching through my storage room for my deep fryer. I found the fryer and proceeded to make these little wonders…

Beer battered onion rings my fellow students…mmmmmmmm! Admittedly not the healthiest of snack options, but with all that essay writing I deserved a treat. And also, onions are a vegetable…let’s justify it like that.

These are fast and easy to make…get an onion, slice it into ring and pop out the centre of the rings, in a bowl mix up some flour, salt, baking soda, and cornstarch and and then stir in a cup of your favorite beer. (If you don’t drink alcohol you can actually replace the beer with water.) Dip your onions in the batter and fry for 3 mins in oil warmed to 375 degrees.

So that was Saturday. On Sunday, i was feeling guilty for eating so many onion rings so I turned to another crunchy alternative that is a bot more healthy than onion rings. Toasted pita with eggplant dip.

The recipe for this is a bit more involved than the onion rings, so I’ll post the link here. This provided a low fat option that gave me the required saltiness and crunch that I was craving.

Three straight days of writing is exhausting. I don’t usually do this. I like to start my papers nice and early, but this term I simply ran out of time. Now I find myself scrambling to finish the list of assignments on my calendar that are all due next week.

I find taking a few minutes to eat something really good makes weekends like this not as bad. It’s a treat for every few pages I finish. It wards off sleep and lethargic writing.

If my tummy is happy then my brain usually works a lot better!

Happy writing people.

-Lori

 

Book vs. Film

So reading week is upon us and I am buried in course readings. I had planned to buckle down and start reading a few days ago, but alas I procrastinated and started to late.

Realizing that I would have to read for five straight days without sleep in order to finish the three novels and stacks of course readings that are waiting for me, in a panic I decided that I would find these novels on film.

I’ve never done this before. I am of the firm opinion that the book is always better than the movie. However, when the choice is to not read any of the book or to watch a bad movie about said book, which will not be read in time, then the movie will at least give me some point of reference for class discussions.

I lucked out big time with this attempt at condensing my readings into film format. Unbeknownst to me one of the books I was assigned was actually the script to a documentary. In a case such as this it just doesn’t make any sense to read the book. I mean it was written for the screen. It’s like reading Shakespeare…an effort that in my opinion that deviates far too much from the original intention…plays are meant to be watched not read.

So this documentary, that I was assigned to read was actually really great. The narration was written by one of my former professors, which is cool in itself, and it did a great job of bringing the course material to life. I feel that in this case seeing the documentary and reading the book are of equal academic value. Watching the book was just so much easier and more enjoyable.

Is this cutting corners? I don’t think so. As long as I get the intended information into my brain, it doesn’t really matter much to me how it gets in there. If in some cases that movie or play is a more effective way for you to learn the course material then more power to you.

In this particular case, the movie beat out the book hands down. The U of T Library website has a massive collection of movies that are free to borrow. Check out their page and maybe one of the books you are having difficulty getting through will be on film.

-Lori

 

Tech Trouble: Error Messages, Computer Crashes, and Corrupted Files

I had an assignment due last Friday that reminded me how horrible I am at solving tech troubles. My Word file wouldn’t open, my USB key wouldn’t mount, and my printer ran out of ink. I spent the night moving between my laptop and desktop computers, rewriting portions of my essay. By the time I completed, printed, and stapled my assignment, my hair was in disarray and my attitude was sour.

Let me just say that I don’t consider myself a particularly tech-savvy individual. I can do the basics, of course. E-mail, MS Office, and surfing the net aren’t an issue!  But I’m not very good at dealing with anything out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, that includes error messages, computer crashes, and corrupted files. And lately, I’ve been experiencing a lot more of all that than I would like.

I always seem to fight my battles with technology when I’m short on energy, patience and time. And while I’m sure that poor time management skills contribute to half of my technical woes, I’m convinced that computer trouble is an inevitable and undesirable part of our incredibly high-tech society. That being said, I figured I’d share a few tips to prevent tech troubles from rearing their ugly head.

ALWAYS unplug your USB key safely. You may have realized that most computers are constantly warning you about disconnecting flash drives without ejecting. While those reminders can be unbelievably annoying, they are in place for your own benefit! Yanking out a drive while your computer is performing complicated actions in the background could easily corrupt your files (trust me, I know). There’s no reason not to eject your drives, and doing so will keep your data uber-safe.

Use online storage (as well as a USB key) to back-up your files. Many students use USB keys to store and backup their personal files. The problem is that USB keys (and the files on them!) can be lost, damaged, or corrupted.  A great alternative to a USB drive is using online storage services to backup and share your files, photos, and music. You can even get some of these services, like Dropbox, for free so there’s absolutely nothing to lose!

Turn off your computer at night.  I’m extremely guilty of leaving my computer turned on throughout the night. But shutting it down has more advantages than leaving it on. Doing so will save energy costs, for one. On top of that, it’ll ensure that your computer systems aren’t unnecessarily overworked. And that’s good news for you and your files!

Use a reliable anti-virus program. Unfortunately, just because you don’t open suspicious attachments on your email messages doesn’t mean that your computer is fully immune to virus infections. To protect your data, install and update a dependable anti-virus and Firewall program (http://antivirus.utoronto.ca/). Doing so will prevent access to harmful websites and wave hackers off your computer, protecting your data from corruption.

Upgrade your systems! Following up on system updates is stress free, automatic, and completely free.

I’m sure we’ve all had computer or printer problems at some point in our academic careers. If you have any tips on preventing data loss, please share them! I can use all the help I can get!

Till next time,

Ishita