What the Writing Centre Really Does

Sometimes after your first year, it feels like the universe stops offering you free workshops, free pens and free advice. I beg to differ.

I mean it’s not like the Career Centre disappears into the abyss as you approach your third year (in fact anything but!), and the same applies for everything else offered on campus.

One of my personal favourites is the writing centre, but for reasons other than the obvious. While I love that I can flesh out my idea with someone – who for example may not be a friend that I could get off topic midway with – it’s also a wonderful thing to make sure your ideas are organized. Even with the papers that are making you so excited, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in your sheer glee that you may not be transitioning as well as you could be.

But the writing centre also offers so much more, and there are key reasons I especially enjoy using it that I didn’t quite realize before.

It keeps you on track

While you can cancel them (warning-demerit points do apply if done a few times!), scheduling an appointment a week before my deadline kick starts my planning. Technically, it forces me to adhere to a deadline that’s actually a week earlier, keeps me from watching the last few episodes of New Girl and ensures that I have a proper draft in hand. I mean you could technically cheat and just bring a very rough outline, but then you’d just be wasting even more time with an appointment that you could get so much more out of.

Tip: As soon as you know when an assignment is due, such as getting it in September and knowing it’s due in November, book your appointment! Appointments often fill up fast, and this definitely ensures you get a time that works for you.

It forces a plan

An essay is something that requires planning, serious planning. In fact, I had a professor tell me today the average essay should take about 40 hours in total, including all of the time it takes you to research, edit, and so forth. (Personally, the thought of tallying up how long essays take or should take kind of worries me, so I try not to keep it numerical). But by knowing that your deadline is a week earlier, and that it may require you to be somewhere you usually don’t head to on your Tuesday afternoons, it makes you figure out when you’re doing what.

It’s Convenient

Every college offers a writing centre, most often located near your college and more than likely somewhere on campus that doesn’t require a huge trek to get to. Also, having several available on campus can help make the entire process more personal. And actually going to the appointment is as easy as heading to office hours or an extra tutorial session-easy to schedule in your day, and productive.

In simpler words, the Writing Centre not only helps you with your essays, but I found it really improves the entire process, which after a few panicked writing sessions and groggy eyes, I’ve come to learn isn’t so bad.

- Vahini

Don’t fear the Procrastinator

Everyone does it, and I know for a fact that you, as a student, do it all the time. You procrastinate!

The first step to combating procrastination is to admit that you’re guilty of doing it, and also to realize that succumbing to it is inevitable. The second step is to find a solution. Easier said than done, right? For years, I tried to stave off my bad habits with remedies that I’ve found online, in magazines, self-help books, and of course, the customary lessons from my teachers and parents.

I started putting post-it notes all over my room, I tried keeping an agenda of all of my activities and I took breaks often when I was working and rewarded myself when I did well. I even deactivated Facebook (albeit briefly). But to be frank, most of these “solutions” felt much like putting a band-aid on a broken leg. Yes, they were all terrific habits to develop, but none of them were providing a real solution to the fact that I simply didn’t want to do the things that I didn’t want to do. Procrastination is not about forgetting to do things; it’s about replacing the seemingly boring tasks with ones that we find more enjoyable. This was my problem.

Eventually, I stopped looking at procrastination as the enemy, and embraced it as a natural habit that most fun-loving members of society take part in, no matter how bad it is for us. So I played with this idea of welcoming procrastination, and instead of trying to cut it out of my life, I tried to find ways to fit it in. I took notes of my habits while I did things that I didn’t necessarily enjoy doing, and what I quickly found out was that it wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to do something, but that I didn’t enjoy doing singular tasks for very long periods of time.

This should have come as no surprise to me, for two reasons. I’m a member of the many Y-genners who think a YouTube video longer than three minutes is too much of a commitment. And two, as I’d later discover, the average human being begins to absorb less information after a period of focus longer than 45 minutes to an hour. No wonder my five hour late night crams weren’t working out.

But then the problem became exacerbated when I was still having trouble focusing on one task for even an hour at a time. I could no longer blame the shortcomings of the human brain. Even after fifteen or twenty minutes, I’d find ways to procrastinate. I needed a solution to my solution.

So, I began making lists of things I had to do in order of priority and separated them between lengthy, more demanding tasks — class readings, assignments, etc. — and shorter, easier ones — responding to emails, exercising, making dinner, paying rent. All things that I needed to do, but all requiring varied levels of effort, focus and time.

What I’d then do was start at the top of the list with a high priority item and start working on it. If after 20 minutes, I found myself drifting, I’d stop what I was doing and move down the list, taking on a shorter, less intense task, and then once I was finished I’d get back to what I was doing before. What I soon discovered was that employing this tactic, not only would I no longer get frustrated with myself for failing to concentrate, but I was also able to work consistently for longer periods of time, and I was truly being more productive. By mixing activities up in a more natural way instead of say, studying for three hours and then running personal errands for another two hours, I was able to keep myself occupied and not get bored doing any one thing for too long.

The trick was to procrastinate by doing other things that I needed to do, and ultimately, get more done! I’d conquered procrastination with procrastination. It’s important to note though, that catching up on the latest episode of How I Met Your Mother or checking your Facebook status is not something that you need to do!

Of course, like every piece of advice, this is a bit autobiographical, and what works for me, may not necessarily work for you. But who knows, we may be more alike than you think.

In any case, here’s a fun video about procrastination to distract you from doing something else that you probably should be doing. Enjoy!

Until next time,

~ Chad

What would you do if you had the courage?

 

After walking into a cozy, hidden room full of strangers at the top of Hart House yesterday afternoon, the first question I was met with did not ask my name, or why I was there, but: “What would you liked to have done in the past, if you had the courage?” And so began my first time attending a workshop in the “Courage to Connect” series, hosted by the U of T Poet-in-the-Community, Ronna Bloom.

I will admit, I had anxieties about attending the workshop. There’s a tiny part of my soul that is a spoken word poet, and a significantly larger, louder, more well-cultivated part of my soul that tells me to go to the lab and do some science instead of attending a poetry workshop because what if they make you read your poem aloud and it’s terrible and everyone secretly feels embarrassed for you and tries not to make eye contact? Indeed. What if.

In the name of lifeatuoft, I did it anyways. I will write terrible poetry and share it with people I’ve just met, just to tell you about it, my dear readers – remember that. Despite my trepidation, Ronna welcomed us with sincerity and quickly transformed the room into an experimentation-positive, emotion-positive, expression-positive space. She began by laying out the rules:

1. Don’t think.
2. Don’t censor your words.
3. Keep your hand moving for the entire writing period.
4. “You are free to write the worst crap possible.”
5. You don’t have to share your work with the group.

Somewhere between rules 4 and 5, I decided that I might like it here.

Interspersed between writing prompts, she read us passages of her work and that of others to enliven and inspire us. We were given the space to share our work if we were ready, or merely to sit silently and appreciate others’ ideas. Poignant words were met with an appreciative collective stir or gasp. We talked about the act of writing, notions of courage, and the courage that can be found in the writing process itself. While some in the room were seasoned poets, others were simply curious and open to experience. Either one was perfect.

Reflecting on our place within this university community and what we wish it could be, Ronna invited us to ask ourselves, What would I do if I had the courage? What scares me? What are people going to see? Who? What are you afraid you’ll say? What are you afraid you won’t say? What do you need to be free?

I found that the answers these questions evoked when I was forced to stop thinking – stop censoring; ‘stop stopping’ and just write – were radically different than the ones that I might normally have allowed myself to create. I listened to the words of others and they felt like warriors within their own lives. In the hour we spent together, I experienced a humanity and honesty that I’ve been missing; I’d found people who were ready to try to genuinely communicate, share, and connect with one another.

As the workshop closed, she read one of my favourite poems, and announced to us, “Next week, come back – we’ll play some more!”

I hope that you will join us.

- Jennifer

Looking for Allies In all the Right Places

Hello to all the lifeatuoft readers.  I’m Desiree, and I will be blogging about a wide variety of student experiences on campus.  As I walked to class the other day, passing by the faces of you, my fellow students, I wondered how I would write a blog that could identify with all of you. I realized that there is a common
thread that exists in all of us, the desire to see yourself in others, and I hope this is what I will accomplish in my posts. My aim is that through my writing and whimsy I can make you laugh, smile and perhaps
even discover things about yourself you didn’t already know.  Just maybe, you will see me as an ally and be inspired to seek others during your time at U of T.

We often see school as the unconquerable, the great and powerful Oz who can decide our fate, whilst we eagerly tap our ruby red slippers (or Uggs) to solve our academic problems, from a lack of time management skills to exam anxiety. But, lest we forget the tin  man, scarecrow and lion, who exist among us, masked, as the supporters we need to succeed?

Allies exist among us, truly.  But, unlike Dorothy, we need to track them ourselves, because they aren’t going to pop up when we need them most.  Students, myself included, experience a range of academic issues.  I not too keenly recall a time in my undergraduate degree when I needed allies in the form of academic supporters to help me overcome my writing problems as an English student.

Being shy was certainly a hindrance to me in asking for help.  Many students face this, or might think that asking for help is a sign of weakness, but it is important to understand, as I did, that the academic supporters aren’t here to judge you, but to help you with learning and in geting the grades you want.  For example, one big issue I faced in studying English was how to communicate my ideas clearly.  While this may seem like a simple task, it was quite difficult for me to get my point across in my papers.  Thus, I began my journey on the yellow brick road to A’s at the Academic Success Centre.

The ASC, just like the lion of Oz, was intimidating at first, but turned out to be a welcoming environment.  It was here that I discovered that my writing issues were ones that a lot of students experience, and that it could be solved with practice. The learning skills counsellors taught me how to identify blunders in my writing, and how to overcome them. For example, reading sentences aloud to listen for grammatical or syntax errors.  Although it sounds simple, it truly helps!

But, the ASC is not the only hidden academic ally on campus.  Unbeknownst to me up until a few years ago were the Writing Centres that each of our colleges have, like the tin man buried in the forest, invisible to the naked eye.  The writing staff are all experienced and know what your professors want, which is very reassuring because half the time I don’t even know what they want. (Sigh)

So, next time you’re walking around campus feeling that there’s no place like home, remember, you have allies.  One way of finding allies, or even garnering the confidence to do so, is by first researching what help is out there, like through your college website, or even by asking other students.  So many people I’ve spoken with didn’t know either of the ASC or the college writing centres, and after I told them they immediately sought them out.  So, go ahead, find the allies that you need to succeed.  You might just be surprised at the outcome.

Desiree

Goodbyes, hellos, and an invitation: UpbeaT makes its seasonal shift

Hello everyone: Chris Garbutt here, manager of the UpbeaT project at Student Life. You’ve probably read all the goodbye posts from this year’s bloggers. It’s been a great year at UpbeaT. Week after week, our bloggers told you about the amazing things they’ve done on campus, and some of the involved, engaged people who are also doing amazing things at U of T. Thanks to Cynthia, Danielle, Dara, Lori and Shannon for all your hard work!

Now that we’re into a new session, I hope you’ll welcome Emily, our new summer communications intern at Student Life. She’ll be your UpbeaT blogger until the end of the summer, and will pick up where the regular UpbeaT team left off.

Work for UpbeaT!

lifeatuoft is a great blog to work for, and we’re now looking for curious, creative and committed new bloggers for the 2011-2012 school year. Apply for any of these positions:

lifeatuoft Writer: Proven writer, either in print or online.

lifeatuoft Multimedia Blogger: You love to tell visual stories!

Physical Activity Blogger: Create posts about physical activity and healthy living!

Writer/Videoblogger (International): Find creative ways to capture and convey the range of international experiences and opportunities available through U of T’s Faculty of Arts & Science.

Deadline for these positions is May 31 or June 1.

Thanks to all our readers, and enjoy your summer. Keep reading!

It’s Fall Break! To write or not to write?

It’s November! Which either means Movember, NaNoWriMo or for the rest of us, essays. Before I start on a rant about that, happy Fall Break everyone!

That’s right, no classes today or tomorrow. It’s a new change the University of Toronto implemented. Remember Wacky Wednesday last year? It’s less complicated this year; we simply get two days off. It’s only for Arts and Science students though, so if you’re an engineering student I’m sorry about your midterms. I didn’t realize and I got the most murderous glare from my engineering friends.

Back to essays. So many due and so little time. And if you’re like me, you’ve probably tried starting to write right? Here’s what my screen looked like at 8:01pm:

And a few hours later, at 12:38am:

Absolutely no change. My room is a lot cleaner though – my desk is cleared, my books are alphabetized and there are spare garbage bags folded neatly inside my garbage can. But the essay is due in two one day, and all I’ve got is a blinking cursor. It’s mesmerizing and hypnotic but oh man, how am I going to get a couple of thousand words out?

Allow me to share a little gem with you, dear readers. It’s called Write or Die:

Write or Die is a web application that encourages writing by punishing the tendency to avoid writing. Start typing in the box. As long as you keep typing, you’re fine, but once you stop typing, you have a grace period of a certain number of seconds and then there are consequences.

And the consequences depend on your mood. If I need Write or Die, I need the Kamikaze mode, which is when the words start erasing itself when you stop writing.

It’s too bad the electric shock mode is unavailable. I would be the first to try it. Dr. Wicked, the founder of Write or Die, made a pretty comprehensive of screencast of the program and shows you the different modes in action:

Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdLLo08cJKY

So why is Write or Die so great?

I love it because it forces you to just type. It’s like Nike’s slogan, “Just do it!” Write or Die forces you to type continuously. You don’t have time to think about spelling or grammar (especially if you choose the Evil grace period!), and you can’t distract yourself by playing with the margins or centering the title or double spacing what you have. I know I’ve wasted so many minutes just fussing with the layout – I rationalize that I’m being productive because Word is opened to my essay, but I’m really just biding for time. On the other hand, Write or Die is threatening to delete my thoughts if I don’t keep typing, as their motto says, prodding me into productivity.

So dear readers, Danielle shared with you how she buckles down to work with the Pomodoro technique last week, and I just told you about my favourite essay helper. What do you do to get yourself studying for that midterm or to start writing that essay?

- Cynthia

What’s in your pantry? Ingredients for success in writing

The entrance to the Woodsworth College Academic Writing Centre

The entrance to the Woodsworth College Academic Writing Centre

You enter your kitchen. You know you have to eat, but you are loathing the fact that you have to cook. You hear a rustling in the pantry. You think it might be a mouse. You are afraid of mice. You grab a broom just to be safe, so you have some protection against the little vermin. You boldly swing the door open and scream like a three year old. To your shock and awe, it isn’t a mouse that emerges. It is none other than celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. He asks in his appealing accent “So, what are we cookin’ tonight love?” Gordon Ramsay is offering to help you cook a wonderful feast. Instead of the plain pasta you were going to make, you could be having pasta primavera with market fresh veggies and extra virgin olive oil, cold pressed that morning. You consider the offer for a moment and instead of replying “Why yes Gordon Ramsay, I would love to have your help in preparing an extraordinary meal”, you casually infer that you’ve “got it under control”. Gordon Ramsay says, “Fine then, I’ve got to be in LA in an hour anyways”. You proceed, unshaken by your encounter, to cook some very average pasta. It is edible but, it’s not going to win any awards.

Does this sound familiar? No. Alright, let’s exchange a few names. What if instead of Gordon Ramsay, it was a PHD in some field of arts and humanities, which was offering their services to you? You may be wondering what a Doctor of Philosophy is doing in your pantry? That’s understandable. Let’s make the pantry an office in your college. So, now the pasta preparation isn’t really fitting into the scenario. Let’s change the pasta into a research paper.
Are you starting to see where I’m going here? A PHD is offering to help you plan, write and edit your paper, FOR FREE, and you are casually saying, “I’ve got it under control”. Let me reiterate…help is being offered by someone who knows far more about academic writing than you, even if you are a great writer, and you are refusing said help. My question is this. Why are students not flocking to writing centres to get help? Even if you think you have a great paper, the truth is we are all in the process of acquiring knowledge. There is no perfect essay at this point or possibly at any point. The writing centres are there to help us make our papers as perfect as they can be. In some ways we are all at a disadvantage. We are writing for professors who by and large write for a living. Imagine presenting your aforementioned average pasta to Gordon Ramsay for his critique. Would you even have the nerve to do it? I would not. I would be terrified of his honest opinion. I think this is the same emotion most first year undergrads experience when handing in their very first university level paper. So why do students hand in papers that are not up to snuff? Perhaps, they are not aware of the writing aid that is available on campus. Or maybe they don’t have the time. I have a very tight schedule and I have found that if I schedule my writing centre appointments into my calendar as if they were a class, then I can make the time. I book well in advance, according to the due dates of my papers and I always schedule a minimum of two appointments per paper. Working my schedule in this way ensures that I have the time set aside well in advance.
There are very few students who are naturally gifted with the ability to write with impeccable grammar, perfect spelling, and foolproof arguments (notice the Oxford comma, knowledge gained courtesy of the Woodsworth College Academic Writing Centre pictured in the above photo!). Apart from the copious amount of help I have received from the writing centres, I have also gained a lot of really useful writing knowledge. For example, the proper usage of that and which…previously an enigma to me. There is also the Oxford comma, which I have already displayed in good form. Little things like these really improve the quality of your writing. Let me clarify one thing…the writing centres are not in the proofreading business. But they will help you to understand how and why you are erring in your grammar. They will also help you plan and implement a well structured essay.
Here’s a quick self assessment. If you fall into any of these categories you might need a writing centre.

    If you are wondering if your in class essay next week needs a thesis…you might need the writing centre.
    If you don’t know what a pattern of argument is…you might need the writing centre.
    If your 1500 word essay consists of three paragraphs…you might need the writing centre.

It’s funny but it’s true. If you have never visited your college’s writing centre, make an appointment and go experience what it is to have a professional assist you in your writing.
 
Find your college writing centre here: http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/writing-centres/centres

 -Lori

The keener’s perspective on doing stuff at U of T

“I feel like I missed out on undergrad.”

I said it out loud to no one in particular and was overcome by a fleeting moment of emptiness before being yanked back to reality. It was Saturday night and my friend and I were seated comfortably in the Hart House Theatre, surrounded by that distinct stuffiness of old auditoriums and a shifting darkness that spoke of anticipation. The 15th Annual Hart House Festival of Dance was about to begin.

It was a night of many firsts. It was the first time since the beginning of undergrad that I had ventured into the Hart House Theatre, the first time I had seen a campus-wide performance and the first time I truly appreciated the multitude of talents possessed by the U of T student body.

After the show, I was physically tired yet I felt so alive – more alive than I have been for a long, long time. Looking at the wide display of talent from that night and knowing the students come from an equally wide variety of academic disciplines, I realized that it is possible to have a life outside of the cubicle in Robarts Reading Room. It is possible to lead a not-so-humdrum life without jeopardizing your marks or your future. It is possible for undergrads at U of T to feel joyful about life!

It feels like everything I’ve done in undergrad thus far has been for one purpose only: building my resumé. I began building in first year towards a career in medicine. The result of all this effort became somewhat irrelevant when in second year, I decided to switch from medicine to counselling. But even then I wasn’t really sure, so by my third year I told myself that I needed to try laboratory research because, after all, I am in Life Science – what do people specializing in Molecular Biology do if they don’t do laboratory research?!

So I nearly sold my soul fighting for a summer research position, but in the meantime, that summer I nearly lost my soul to a new-found love called journalism. This seemingly insignificant cognitive dissonance ultimately resulted in a mild quarter-life crisis by the start of my fourth year. The confusion (and panic) I experienced was not unlike those expressed in Cynthia’s post. Then finally, just as this past fall semester was about to end, by a stroke of luck I stumbled upon a career that even I, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, would deem to be “just right.”

Would I say that I regret having tried to build my resumé in all those different directions, for all those different career goals that never worked out in the end? Probably not. My personal philosophy is that everything happens for a reason, and a corollary to this is that everything we choose to do brings meaning into our lives. Therefore, I don’t choose to label any of my past experiences as a “waste of time.” What I do want, however, is to go back to the past and fix the attitude with which I have done all the things I did.

What I’ve learned is that our lives go far beyond the things we put on our resumé. At one point in high school, when I was still heavily involved with the music portions of my school’s annual variety shows and spent hours after school reading my poetry and short stories to people in my Writers’ Guild, I had known this. I made the distinction between my personal and then-budding professional life, and my life was completely mine. Looking back, I realize that:

  1. We are not obligated to shove everything we do into a column on our resumé. Sometimes, it’s not a crime to do things simply because it’s fun and makes us happy.
  2. We can get so much more out of a potentially resumé-worthy experience if we don’t prejudice it to a specific (career) goal straight off the bat. This allows us to be fully receptive to all aspects of the experience and prevents us from being locked into tunnel vision.

Walking out of the Festival of Dance that evening, I suddenly felt like joining some sort of performance group at U of T – just for me and my sanity. In high school, things were so simple: there were two major shows each year and one office where you signed up for everything, including auditions. But U of T is so large that not only is there an overwhelming number of groups and opportunities available for the artistically minded, it’s hard to find them, too.

So I dug around the web for a bit and stumbled across a relatively new website called ArtsZone. It’s an amazing hub for all sorts of opportunities – both academic and extracurricular - in the arts at U of T, where “arts” can be anything that fall under the category of architecture, film, music, new media, theatre, visual art and writing. There is even a page featuring the newest art-related opportunities in our school and also in the city, such as auditions, submission deadlines, jobs and workshops! How awesome is that?! I also found plenty of student organizations and groups for the arts at the good ol’ Ulife website.

All of this might take you a while to browse and digest, but I urge you to do so if you feel even a tiny itch to participate in the U of T or Toronto arts scenes. Fresh out of the dreadful womb that is Robarts, I must now go and also explore all this new-found wonder. In the meantime, let there be music.

-Lucy

Get published as an undergrad: Journal of Young Investigators

Checking my emails over the weekend, I found one that described and linked to the Journal of Young Investigators (JYI), a peer-reviewed research journal that publishes original undergraduate research in science, math and engineering. JYI, established and still run entirely by undergraduate students, is published monthly online.

There are a number of reasons why undergraduate journals are valuable to students. As an  undergrad, I’ve often felt that I live in a parallel universe: producing papers and lab reports, writing exams and sitting through lectures with the goal of coming out on the other side with a piece of paper proclaiming my academic worth.

A degree is a great thing, but in the process of getting it, heaps of my scholastic work have invariably ended up scattered throughout various real and virtual wastelands, stored somewhere between my computer’s inexhaustible memory and the recycling bin outside my front door. A major part of feeling isolated from the real world derives from the fact that while I am constantly mimicking professionals and academics, my labours are rarely, if ever, put to any palpable or quantitative use.

I know, there are skills and knowledge gained in four years that can’t be thrown out. They’ll be forever etched into my brain. But what about the rest of my hard work, those papers so diligently written, reports completed late in the night? And most important, what about all of the truly original work I produced?

Applications:

This is where undergraduate journals can be really useful. JYI, for example, is an international publication that covers a breadth of scientific material. It accepts articles, reviews and editorials (in English). Featured articles must be written by undergraduates and have to include work that was conducted while still an undergrad student. But if you’ve already graduated – and are working or in grad school- you can still submit other types of work.

Each submission requires two forms: a submission form filled out by you (the writer), and an advisor approval form filled out by your mentor or supervisor. After applying, judging is conducted by two students and their advisors and it’s based on several criteria: presentation and quality of writing, and the originality and merit of the research. You’re informed of whether or not your work has been accepted within a couple of weeks of submitting.

Although JYI is an American publication, it also accepts (on a case-by-case basis) undergraduate students who want to get involved in working for the journal. A list of available positions can be found on the journal’s website, as can application instructions.

JYI is obviously not the only undergraduate journal around. U of T, through its multifarious departments, produces many. A short list of examples:

Journal of Undergraduate Life Sciences (JULS): an annual publication with a fall deadline, JULS publishes articles, letters and reviews written by undergraduate students.

The Future of History: another annual publication with a winter deadline, the History Students Association publishes undergraduate papers (no document-studies allowed) written both independently and for history classes.

Anthropology Tomorrow: The Undergraduate Journal of Anthropology first accepts students’ abstract submissions and later full text. Its deadline is also in the winter.

The University of Toronto Undergraduate Journal of Political Science: A journal publishing the work of political science students.

It’s great that the work that we accomplish as undergrads can be put to constructive use, accomplishing more than simply getting us a mark. Rather than only emulating the labours performed by professionals, our work can supercede the dusty backwaters of computer memories- leaving me feeling a little more in touch with the world outside of undergraduate studies.

-Mary

Writing Centres “R” Us

Well, okay, not “Us” UpbeaTers per se, but more like the University of Toronto’s website on writing, and the many, many, many benefits that come from being well-acquainted with the site.

I found out about this site when I was in first year. I had just gotten back my Fine Art History term paper, and in spite of my commendable efforts to sound knowledgeable about triumphal arches in Rome, I nevertheless failed to exceed my (at the time) delusional academic expectations.

It was my first ever sub-par essay grade; the mark made me realize that I was but a very tiny fish in the big, big sea. A few days later, after returning to a somewhat more balanced psychological state, I decided to do what I did best in high school: dissect the paper’s marking scheme.

My professor told me about this marking scheme, instead. Later on, as I continued with my undergraduate education, I came to learn that although each department or course might implement its own marking scheme for a particular assignment, the meaning behind a given grade is generally based on the explanations given in this Arts and Science Grading Statement.

I also learned to use writing centres. While only students of a certain college can use its writing centre, you are also eligible to use a college’s service for any college-related program course you are taking (the ones labelled INI, NEW, SMC, TRN, UNI, or VIC).

When I was in first year, appointments had to be made by phone, but lucky for you, now everything can be done online! Appointment are 50 minutes long and you may book up to three at a time. Keep in mind that the centres will be extra busy during midterm season, so try your best to book in advance. When I spoke to one of the instructors for University College and Innis College recently about this problem, she told me that although the schedule often appears to be full, it is nevertheless constantly fluctuating: spaces open up sporadically as students cancel last minute. If you are really desperate, just keep checking! For example, although most days this week and next week are booked full at Innis College, a spot has just opened up for tomorrow, February 12th, at 3:10 pm. It is also critical that you cancel any appointments you won’t be able to make at least 24 hours in advance. If you miss two appointments, you will no longer be able to book anymore appointments at the writing centre.

If you’ve never been to a writing centre, you should know that the instructors there are absolutely amazing. It’s like they know. They’ll take one look at your work, and point out to you what’s working and what isn’t. And that’s not all!

Many students think that the job of the writing centre is to help edit your work, but in reality, the trouble with writing isn’t just about how to fix the nitty gritty details, but rather, how to get them down on paper in the first place. Therefore, by no means are you required to bring a completed draft of your work to your appointment. If your topic is so broad that you just don’t know where to start, or if you have no idea about what to include in, say, a fine art history paper (hey, I totally didn’t), book an appointment with these lovely people and unleash your worries! (Alternatively, you can also find out more about how to write specific types of essays here.)

As a final note, let the above information be a rough guide for helping you with your academic success, not another source of stress. The term has just taken a turn for the worse for everyone (how many term tests do you have this week and/or after Reading Week? Share your burden in the comments below!) So if the writing centre is not a feasible option for you time-wise, trust your writing abilities and get enough sleep instead! Good luck everyone!

–Lucy