Discover #JoyAtUofT in the Little Things

“It’s such a cold, cold world (hello cold world)
And it’s got me down, but I’ll get right back up, as long as its spins around
Hello cold world” – ‘Hello Cold World’, by Paramore

The winter blahs are still in full swing, and we don’t even have snow this year to brighten things up. On top of that, midterms are here to keep us preoccupied. Thankfully, February also happens to be #JoyAtUofT month, to help us get some inspiration from each other as we attempt to stay positive in a time of year when it’s all too easy to be down.

On one hand, El Niño took care of the heaps of snow I was warned about. On the other, the lack of snow is kinda depressing, too...

On one hand, El Niño took care of the heaps of snow I was warned about. On the other, the lack of snow is kinda depressing, too…

I can definitely relate. Granted, I don’t have any full-year courses this year, so I didn’t have any assignments/essays due at the start of the semester. Midterms have come along equally brutally, though. I know I complained about them last time around, but the added blasé of the season seems to amplify their effect on my mood. Grey skies, wet concrete, and barely a hint of snow on the ground have characterized many of the days I’ve had to make the walk from Chestnut to campus.

It’s times like this that finding some joy in life can really make or break my productivity levels. I’m way more likely to get things done when I don’t feel like Eeyore all the time. Amidst all the chaos, squeezing in time to do the little things that put a smile on my face is definitely worthwhile. Frantic as I should be studying, spending time relaxing in the common room among friends can lighten the load on my shoulders, even if it’s just for that brief period of the day. It could even be as simple as making a food run to Med Sci with the gang. Getting out and pursuing hobbies such as photography have a similar effect, letting my heartbeat and stress levels fall to healthy rates.

Getting out with my camera is a great stress-reliever, and definitely brings me some happiness during this seasonal lull.

Getting out with my camera is a great stress-reliever, and definitely brings me some happiness during this seasonal lull.

Joy for me also comes from extracurriculars. Being a member of this awesome Student Life Community Crew has been an experience I wouldn’t trade for any other; I get to see some of the most creative people I know, every week. From hearing their ideas in the meetings, to reading the final product each day, it’s easy to see why Student Life chose them to represent the student body in this way, and I feel privileged to be a part of it. The Blue Sky Solar team that I signed up for just a couple of weeks ago, has already proven to be a source of escapism from the world of academia, if only for a little bit at a time. Researching alternative designs for software, with the promise of soon getting the chance to actually write the code to match, has been a great ride so far.

The weather might be uninspiring, but there’s still plenty of things that manage to lighten up the atmosphere. Be sure to share what brings you #JoyAtUofT on Twitter and Instagram – I’ll be keeping an eye on the hashtag to get some ideas!

New Year, New Me!

“Woke up this morning I was laid out flat on the dark side
With the moon and the room on the wrong side
I took a needle, sewed myself right back at the seams

I saw my universal gleam” – ‘Flick of the Finger, by Beady Eye

Liam Gallagher might not have the same vocals he did back in Oasis’ heyday, but his last effort to bring back the glory days with his (now disbanded) Beady Eye did bring back some of the open lyrical interpretation the band was known for instigating – but I digress. Nevertheless, it makes for a great quote that can relate to the idea of starting the new year with resolutions. It’s a time of year when – for whatever reason – you can see your errors more clearly, and when you decide to pick up the metaphorical needle and attempt to sew yourself back together again. I’m not typically one to fall into the societal norm of setting resolutions specifically to ring in the new year – but given that this will be my first full year as a university student, I decided to give it a shot.

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One Down, One to Go

Crazy as it may seem, this semester’s almost over! Classes ended this week, and finals season has finally arrived. If it weren’t for my impending doom, I wouldn’t have been able to tell that it’d already been four months since I first touched down in Toronto. Amidst all the hapless cramm — I mean, conscientious studying, in a bout of productive procrastination I thought I’d take a look back at my first semester here at U of T.

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The Breaking Point

As I was walking down St. George the other day, I heard snippets from other peoples’ conversations. I promise, I wasn’t eavesdropping; I just forgot my headphones and I was bored. Anyways, these are the kinds of things I heard:

“Blah blah blah blah stressed blah blah blah failure blah blah forget blah tired blah blah I can’t blah blah blah…”

UofT, it seems we are in a sorry state of affairs at present. Of course, it’s to be expected at this time of year. We’re all just trying to put in that final hustle and make it to winter break.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m actively trying to face my final assignments with a more positive outlook; I’m trying to use my stress as a motivator. I want to appreciate every moment that I have as an undergrad student. However, I want to make something very clear:

None of that makes the work easy, and it certainly doesn’t make it go by any faster. Continue reading

Adjusting to Time Management

One thing that’s become particularly evident to me this semester has been the drastic changes needed to my time management methods. I’ve heard from other first years that they too have had to adjust to new work habits, regardless of the discipline. Relating to my own experience, my time budgeting skills in high school were pretty sub-par, which led to me attempting some serious adjustments on the fly in first-year.

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Powering Down The Stress

Feeling stressed out at university is natural. There are deadlines, midterms, relationships to keep up, moms to call, birthdays to remember and somewhere in there you are supposed to get eight hours of sleep?! It’s understandable why university life can be a little overwhelming.

Have no fear, friends. With a little planning and some stress-savvy tricks up your sleeve you can handle all the craziness U of T may throw at you like a well-seasoned pro. If this is your first time at the university rodeo of stress, here are some Madeline tested stress relievers that may help you through midterm season once you add your own personal twist. 

  1. I hang out with my kitty. Yes, it’s true. If you followed last week’s blog about my bad week, you will know I have been wanting a kitten for a while now and I was surprised by my lovely boyfriend and his sister with a little baby cat for my 19th birthday. (She even likes to study with me, which is appreciated this time of year.)

    Little kitten, staring over a book - "helping" with homework.

    This my birthday kitten, Poppy. AKA my fuzzy study buddy.

  2. I make myself tea. I like having a water bottle with me while I’m at school but I also love tea in the morning while I wait for my bus/streetcar. To combat this dilemma, I use a glass water bottle with a sock to keep my hands from getting burnt, which I can later use as a water bottle! #TeaSolutions. Sidenote: Staying hydrated is a really good way to stay alert and ward off stress-related headaches throughout your day!

    Madeline holding a glass bottle full of tea. She uses a sock as a tea cozy.

    Tea in a sock; it’s somewhere in between uber-hipster mason jar and regular old thermos.

  3. I talk to my best friend. Nothing makes me feel better when I’m down than ranting to my BFF about our problems, which generally include lack of sleep, being too poor to go to Sonic Boom (again) or inordinate amounts of weekend readings.

    Madeline taking a selfie with her best friend, Michaela.

    Having a friend that is always there to chat is a blessing during stressful times. I’m lucky to have a friend like Michaela around!

  4. I study in a new place. Sometimes studying in the same place day after day can make me feel like I haven’t been progressing with my work! My new favourite spot to sneak in a great study session is at Hart House Library.

    A photograph of Hart House Library; with a cathedral ceiling and wall to wall bookshelves.

    I truly believe this library is UTSG’s best kept secret….Until now. Spread the word on this beautiful library, just save a window seat for me, ok?

  5. Indulge in a Netflix break; I try to choose funny sitcoms that don’t have a really serious plot; it’s so much easier to stop at just one episode. There is nothing worse than getting to a cliffhanger in Grey’s Anatomy and ending up binge-watching when you have an essay to do!

    Madeline making a grumpy face next to a textbook.

    My face when I have to stop watching The Office to return to my #StudentLife

  6. Plan out my day. When I have enough readings to fill up my whole weekend with non-stop homework, I plan out study times and then breaks where I can enjoy having a life outside of school. Taking a tip from Tiffany’s post about time management, this year I indulged in an extra small planner so I can always have it with me!

One of the best ways to de-stress, is to avoid it in the first place. I’m guilty of procrastination (aren’t we all??), and if I know that I have a crazy week ahead of me than I will often write encouraging “Plz do your homework” notes to myself just to boost my own morale and keep myself on track.

Happy midterms U of T, de-stressing in five.. four.. three.. two.. one..

De-stress Complete.

Sometimes stress becomes too much. If you’re starting feel like your school-life-work-social load balance is becoming seriously tippy, there are resources on campus that can help you sort it out. Your mental wellness comes first. 

 

First-Years and Midterm Stress

Fall is in the air, but for us university students, that just means that midterms have arrived. Personally, this past long weekend consisted of studying for a term test and a midterm, getting work done for other courses, and giving thanks for the extra day to pull it all off. Naturally, I’ve been curious to see how other first-years have dealt with the stress of exams here at U of T, so I went ahead and asked some of my fellow engineers how they are finding ways to remain calm heading into them.

“Engage in recreational activities that require minimal effort or concentration! I personally stop playing online video games around exam time, and it’s been great as I don’t get nearly as worked up.” – Anurag

This is actually a pretty sound piece of advice, one that I’ve been subconsciously doing anyway. I’ve found that sticking with simple things, be it putting on an easy listening playlist, or reading a good book, have been effective methods of unwinding after a hard study session on the eve of an exam.

DSCF5394

Listening to some music and catching up on the news in the common room right before an exam helps keep me centered.

“I don’t spend the day of the exam still cramming and reviewing – at that point, my retentive abilities are next to zero. Instead, I try to relax.” – Dhanyaa

Relaxing with classmates right before a midterm, crazy as it may sound, actually put me in a calm frame of mind heading into the test. As Anurag cautioned against, I didn’t do something potentially strenuous. I planned my week so that I had ample studying done for the exam, and thanks to Dhanyaa’s advice, ended up spending the hour before sitting around and talking with friends as if we were just waiting around for the next class. I didn’t get too confident about it, but ensured that I wasn’t pulling my hair out immediately prior to an examination. Seeing a friendly face can do wonders when it comes to keeping stress levels low.

“Go on a walk after the exam, clear your head, and just get lost in the city of Toronto” – Ibrahim

Go for a walk, take a basic tourist-y shot of the CN Tower, check and check.

Go for a walk, take a basic tourist-y shot of the CN Tower, check and check.

I wouldn’t quite recommend getting lost, but going on a brief walk is a fine way to unwind after two hours in an exam room. Last week, I took a quick walk around King’s College Circle, and just relaxed there for a bit to ensure that I wouldn’t fixate on the term test I had just written. Since the weather is still nice enough to remain outdoors, taking a walk is truly a convenient way of de-stressing. When finals roll around, the weather probably won’t be as forgiving; I’m considering cafés as a good alternative for the greenery. Mental well-being is not something to be taken lightly; by arranging my time to allow for periods of rest and ample downtime in the hours leading up to a midterm, I’ve found myself feeling significantly more tranquil.

A Song of Ice and Frosh

Hey there, fellow first-years! I’m Alex, a freshman Computer Engineering student. Over the course of the next few months, I’ll be sharing my experiences as a first-year student at the St. George campus. I’m one month into my time here, and one thing that’s really stood out to me is how the ‘stereotypes’ I heard in high school compare with my actual experience thus far.

I won’t bore you with a full list, but there is the whole spiel that “You’d better develop some good study habits, because university is on a whole other level!” This is the one we all love to wave off in high school. Teachers try to drill the mantra into you, but you shrug it off and cram for exams in the hour – I mean, days – leading up to them. Barely one month into the first of four years in the Computer Engineering department, and I can safely say how much I regret doing just that. I wrote my first university quiz last week, and was blatantly under-prepared. I’ve found that I really need to work on doing the readings, taking better notes and listening during lectures, and working on the ever-growing mountain of suggested problems.

Get those problem sets done, and stay on top of your studies!

Get those problem sets done, and stay on top of your studies!

One other maxim you hear a lot is that we should find time to just have fun. While education does play a major part (at least, I would hope so) in coming to university, it’s critical to find time to enjoy your life. I’m not just referring to having a laugh with your friends in between classes. If you’re like me and aren’t local to the area, set aside time to explore the city! Coming from Vancouver, I thought Toronto would be similar except with a lot less green space and more people. Well I was right about the latter, but the former was a false pretence. I visited the Scarborough Bluffs a couple of weekends ago as part of the Engineering Photography Club, and I have to admit that the GTA has its fair share of nature and spectacular views.

Breathtaking views. Definitely worth visiting when the weather is as nice as it was that day.

Breathtaking views from the Bluffs. Definitely worth visiting when the weather is as nice as it was that day.

There’s fun to be had throughout Toronto, too. It seems like there’s an event going on every weekend, be it Nuit Blanche, a marathon, or even a lightsaber battle in the heart of downtown (I’m not lying, check it out). Life in the 6 is never a dull moment, and that’s something to be thankful for, as well as something I plan to take full advantage of this year.

Anyone get their picture taken for the JR project during Nuit Blanche?

Anyone get their picture taken for the JR project during Nuit Blanche?

When all is said and done, finding the time to make the most of what Toronto has to offer should be high on everyone’s list of priorities. As your First-Year Blogger, I’ll definitely be doing my best to get out as often as my daunting engineering schedule allows. It may be harder than ever to balance school with recreation, but I’m quickly finding out how much more enriched my days have been when I’ve made the effort to get out and do new things. Midterms might be in full swing, but I know I’ll be worse off if I don’t allow myself time to unwind, and truly make Toronto my home away from home.

The Frustration of Jigsaw Pieces: Perfecting Time Management Skills

As a child, I often tried to solve 1000-piece puzzles, and sometimes I lost patience and tried to jam a piece into the wrong area because it just didn’t fit. Obviously it didn’t work, and all I ended up with was a dented puzzle and heart.

For us university students, especially first-years, this is our everyday reality. We try to cram extracurricular activities, relationships, jobs, and academic work into our schedule, and this results in many, many empty coffee cups.

Here are several strategies I’ve implemented that have worked for me so far and might just get you off that heavy dose of caffeine:

  1. Use a planner

As someone who is constantly teased as ‘the person who would light up a Remembrall 24/7,’ it’s clear that I forget things easily, and thus, have to write deadlines and meetings down. I, personally, use a physical agenda (get one for free at the UTSU building!) to keep track of dates, but the calendar app on a laptop is equally helpful. As the old Chinese saying goes, “The weakest ink is better than the strongest memory.” (Maybe not if you’re writing in Tom Riddle’s diary—but you get what I mean.)

My UTSU agenda and mechanical pencil.

— The agenda is to me what the Remembrall is to Neville.

  1. Plan out your next day

Every night, I allot time to plan out my schedule for tomorrow, including both classes and activities to be done in between classes, and write it down on my whiteboard—that way I’ll have goals to complete and a direction to pursue instead of accidentally spending two hours at lunch slaving over how amazing [insert insanely amazing show]’s latest episode was.

  1. Consider ‘lost’ minutes

A lot of times, you’ll actually need a few spare minutes to complete trivial tasks before you get going to your next activity. For me, my minutes tend to be lost due to packing up slowly, asking a prof or TA a couple of questions, or even just chatting with a friend. Incorporate these into your schedule so you don’t end up sprinting across the field to snag that delicious Second Cup coffee in an attempt to beat the rush of fellow sleep-deprived students.

My astronomy textbook and iclicker atop my binder.

— Believe it or not, it takes me five minutes to pack my textbook and iclicker into my zip-up binder . . .

  1. Prioritize

The cruel truth is that we can’t pursue every single opportunity before us. Sometimes, we just have to miss that show’s season premiere to go to that extra English help session instead. Pick and pursue your events wisely, based on what’s most urgent and important.

 

And so, it is time to stop jabbing jigsaw pieces into the puzzle in futility—or rather, to stop trying to fit commitments into the wrong time slots in your life—; instead, now is the time to start using these time management skills to place the pieces where they rightfully fit and create a beautiful masterpiece!

 

 

What do you do to manage your time? Let me know in the comments below or through @lifeatuoft on Twitter!

Are You Ready for the Test???

Being prepared for tests is a complicated art. Exams are the most individual task you will do in university. It’s just you and the test, so don’t let your mind go rushing onto all your other responsibilities. Your soul must be centered. Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual balance are key to preparing and working on all those areas in advance when you still have time and strength is the best failsafe.

Before and during tests, you have the opportunity to fight for every mark. One helpful trick I’ve found is to do practice tests, quizzes and review at the time of day when your exam will be. Exams can be held at strange times, so it’s good to get into the habit of working on the specific material on your test at those weird times.

Two battered erasers with paperclip guns and bottle cap helmets

These are my study soldiers: veterans of seven semesters of duty (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Eat a healthy, large meal before your test so you don’t go hungry or have an upset stomach. Bring everything you need for the test and bring spares if you can. Pens, pencils, sharpener, eraser and your T-card are must-haves, and depending on your course, you may need a non-programmable calculator so bring one with batteries! Also, bring a watch! Most test rooms at U of T don’t have clocks. The worst feeling in the world is when your exam invigilator says you only have 20 minutes left and you’ve only done the first tenth of the test because you couldn’t keep track of time!

a pencil sharpener, two pencils, two pens, an eraser, and a non-graphing calculator

Test-taking kit (Photo by Zachary Biech)

a watch on my arm

Not sure of the time? Better watch it! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Be 100% sure of your test location because you don’t want to show up to the wrong room. If you’re not familiar with the location, check it out a few days in advance so you know where to go and what the room will be like. Exam rooms here can be very large, strange and intimidating at first so do yourself a favor and get used to it beforehand.

Leave early when you are going to the test because you never know what can happen along the way. Traffic, construction, and many emergencies can stop you from getting there on time and can cost many marks.

There’s also an art to the moments before tests begin. First, make sure you use the bathroom before you go into the test room!!! I’ve written too many tests where I couldn’t think straight because I had to go so badly!

Second, you have to keep centered when you’re waiting to get into test room with all your classmates. I’ve found that students can hugely destabilize each other outside test rooms. Some people are so stressed that they’re shaking, unclean and sleep-deprived and their behavior can rattle others.

The other thing you have to watch out for students who try to rattle you and your classmates. I’ve played plenty of games with such people. They may try to shake your confidence by asking you if you reviewed obscure topics just to make you worry, and suggesting that weird questions you’ve never heard of will be on the test. They also act overly confident and may try getting you to lend them pencils or erasers just to bother you and to eliminate your spares.

Avoid those people as best you can and remember that you only need to trust yourself and your instinct. I remind myself to expect that behavior so I can shrug off their nonsense. They are laughable so you might even be able to get a good chuckle from them if you need it!

When you finally begin the test, you’re near the finish line! Listen to your exam invigilators and follow their instructions carefully so you don’t break any rules. Monitor your use of time and leave yourself with enough time at the end to check your work. Stay for the whole duration of the test. You may wonder, “why am I the first one done?” or, “why am I the last one done? Why is everybody leaving already?” Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, only focus on your test. Use every minute, fight for every mark. If a question is about something you didn’t prepare for, you may feel a jolt of panic. Breathe, and keep centered if this happens. Skip to a different question if necessary and come back at the end.

Don’t give up on any questions! Finish all the questions you know the best and use the time you’ve left yourself at the end to squeeze as many marks from the difficult ones as possible! You will surprise yourself with how many marks you can earn yourself with this extra effort and you definitely deserve those marks! Leave all the energy you have in that test room, and your result will be the best reward you can give yourself.

Fighting for every mark is hard and takes lots of motivation. I attended a talk by Chantal Fiola–a Métis scholar of identity, politics, and spirituality–on March 16th. I was even given the honor of conducting the smudge for all attendees at the beginning of the presentation! Chantal shared many invaluable lessons and insights from her life’s journey and also shared key Anishinaabe teachings, including the Seven Fires prophecy.

Her new book: http://uofmpress.ca/books/detail/rekindling-the-sacred-fire

Her explanation was an immensely helpful reminder for me of those teachings and of what our role is at U of T. We are the seventh generation. We are a new type of people with many precious gifts as well as an immensely difficult task. The path we must navigate is very hard but the hope and potential we can nourish by fighting for every single mark is worth every moment. What we do here every day at U of T, in every classroom and with every test, will cause change more positive and productive than anything that has yet been seen in the world.

I wish I could’ve thanked Chantal for reminding me to fight for every mark. The tests and assignments and endless workloads may drive us nuts, but we can always remember that we’re lucky to have the opportunity to be driven nuts by such important material and invaluable experience for the journey ahead.