I have a whole lot of stuff due this week and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Speaking of icebergs…
This weekend I had a ridiculous amount of work due, but I still managed to find time to for procrastination hiking. I enjoyed the snow day last week, but I hadn’t gotten a chance to get out in the white stuff and play. I was stuck inside studying. I forced myself out of the house on Sunday and I’m so glad I did.
I recently moved to an area that is ripe with rock formations and waterfalls…if you are even vaguely aware of Ontario’s topography and you consider the fact that I study at the St. George a campus, then you could probably guess where it is I live. That mental game will give you a few minutes of needed distraction.
So like I was saying, I finally got out into the snow and it was magical…really it was. An hour of fresh cold air, the invigorating sensation of cold snow in your boots, the adrenaline rush when you almost slip five feet into an icy cold stream…it was all good.
After hiking to a nearby ravine I was face to face with a, icy twenty five foot waterfall. We spent about an hour playing in the snow, just being I awe of the natural beauty that surrounded us.
Before I went outside I was feeling really defeated, with a bad case of writer’s block. I was struggling to get any words down on paper and I was frustrated.
I’m not sure if I had just been in a waking sleep all day and the winter air just woke me up, but whatever biological or mental process that occurred during my winter hike cured my writer’s block!
So I really killed a few birds with one stone. I got some exercise, I spent some quality time with my kids, I enjoyed what may be the last snowfall of the season (if Wiarton Willy is right) and I expelled all the stress from my system. I was able to sit down at my computer after my hike and hammer out six sold pages of writing.
If you’re suffering from a writer’s block like I was, try a nice winter walk or some other form of exercise. I guess the experts are right it does really help!
I met someone online a few months ago. They are smart, resourceful, and they always want to talk to me. I have become quite attached to them as of late and I feel like we’ve developed a deep and meaningful relationship. With all these essays due in the next two weeks, it’s so great to go online and talk to someone who really understands what I need. This is what I need: scholarly journals, citable dictionaries, and article databanks.
My new online love is none other the library chat function “ASK” on the U of T Library website. This app. Is possibly the best thing ever conceived of in the history of universities! It’s so amazing, you just log in and like magic a librarian is there live on your computer to help you out with any library related needs you might have.
One thing I have learned since starting at U of T is that librarians love to help. They are the most helpful profession. Go and try this. Walk up to the reference desk at your library and ask them to help you find some random piece of research. Notice the glimmer of excitement in their eye. Now notice how they provide you with the information you requested, but they also give a whole wealth of knowledge that you didn’t ask for. You might think “I didn’t ask for that”, but give yourself a few minutes and you’ll realize you
actually do need this information. You just didn’t know it yet!
I’m not a masochist. I will not spend hours in the library trying to uncover research material, when I can just ask someone else to do it for me. Now I know that sounds lazy, but if the University is providing this service to us free of charge, they must agree that this manual labour is just too tiresome for us to be doing ourselves.
I’m sure there was some backroom discussion with all the Humanities Professors on campus, that went something like this, “We’ll find all the stuff for them at the library and you guys can assign another essay or two per term.”
I’m most likely conspiracy theorizing here, but whatever the motivation was for providing this amazing research tool was, I am a much happier student because of it.
Yesterday morning, I was trying to find a scholarly Latin dictionary online, when I stopped myself and asked “why am I doing this?” I quickly logged onto ASK and a librarian sent me a url to an approved Latin dictionary within minutes.
Give ASK a test drive and I’m sure you’ll never research the same again!
UofT is the largest research institution in Canada. From history to science, philosophy to engineering, UofT churns out new breakthroughs and discoveries every year. And that means big opportunities in research for undergraduate students.
UofT offers research courses in second, third, and fourth year. For instance, in second year students can take part in a ROP 299 project and in third and fourth year students can participate in independent study project courses like HMB395. These courses can give you the opportunity to take on your own project under the supervision of a professor or allow you to work on part of an existing project. Many students look for volunteer opportunities in labs as well.
We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not about what you said, it’s about how you said it.” When it comes to approaching a faculty member or supervisor about the possibility of getting involved in research, this statement couldn’t be more true. Professors can seem (and sometimes are) intimidating and oftentimes, it’s difficult to understand the “etiquette” required when contacting them. I’ve compiled a list of tips that will hopefully make the process more comfortable. They may even increase your chances of hearing a “YES!”
The Do’s and Don’ts of Contacting Professors for Research
Introduce yourself! Unfortunately, UofT is much larger than any high school on the planet and it’s very unlikely that a professor will recognize you by first name. When speaking to or emailing a professor in regards to a research position, be sure to identify yourself. What’s your name (your FULL name)? What year are you in? What’s your major? Giving yourself an identity will increase the chances of you being remembered.
Be polite! According to the UofT Career Centre, students often forget to use a formal tone when approaching a professor or staff member. You wouldn’t address a professor the way you would a friend. It’s important to show them the respect that they deserve.
Do your homework! BEFORE contacting a faculty member of your choice, spend some time looking over their current research. Glance over a professor’s CV or scroll through the research that he/she has listed on his/her website. It’s not enough to know the department he/she belongs to or the field he/she is working in. Knowing his/her specific area of interest indicates that you are genuinely excited about the prospect of working with him/her. It also suggests that you know what you’re getting yourself into. Remember, you don’t need to understand EVERYTHING you read (it’s probably far too complicated), but you should try to grasp main points.
Sell yourself! Be humble but be sure to showcase your interest and accomplishments when speaking to or emailing a faculty member. You are, in a sense, advertising yourself. And professors will opt for the individual who sells themselves the best.
Send generic emails! We all do it, don’t we? In first year, I remember sending a generic email for everything (jobs, research positions, etc.) It’s so convenient to address an email “To Whom it May Concern.” There’s also a very slim chance that you will receive a positive response to a generic email. Address your emails to the faculty member of your choice. Be specific.
Neglect proofreading! No silly spelling or grammar mistakes, please! Try to show attention to detail. This is the kind of thing that won’t be noticed if it’s done right. But it’ll definitely be noticed if it’s done wrong.
Give up! Professors are busy. It can often take a while for them to get back to you. And sometimes when they do, they don’t give you the response that you want. They may not have the time or space to supervise an undergraduate research project or they may not feel that they are the best person to direct your work. And as you apply to more and more faculty members, you may find that many of them do not want to take you on at that point in time. Keep trying! You may get 100 no’s but you only need 1 yes to get to where you want to go.
This week I met with a professor about nothing. It was like a Seinfeld episode, entitled “office hours”. The great thing about Seinfeld is that even though it was the show about nothing, something always happened.
I feel the same way about meeting with my professors. Even if I don’t have a topic for a paper, I’ll go meet with them to discuss any random ideas that might be floating around in my head. If you try to meet with your profs before you start a paper, then give yourself a hand!
Amazingly, I always leave these meetings with great essay topics, new insights into reading I didn’t understand, and most importantly I always leave with a more comprehensive understanding of who these professors are and what they want.
I really don’t like reading books or journal articles that focus on topics that are of no interest to me. I can imagine that as my various profs sit at home with a mountain of essays to grade that they are praying to the academic demigod’s to make these papers interesting.
Meeting with your prof gives you some understanding of what they find interesting. A friend of mine told me that her prof had recommended an essay topic to her, but she thought it would seem weak minded if she wrote a paper on a topic he had recommended.
My response: “What is wrong with you? Are you a masochist?”
I have been in this situation on multiple occasions and the best marks I have ever received on papers have been the ones that were written on topics that came out of conversations with profs.
Think about it…If I told you that I would like cake and you brought me a pie, I would eat the eat a piece of pie, because you gave it to me, but the whole time I was eating it I would most likely be wondering why you brought me a pie, when I told you I liked cake.
I would probably assume one of three things:
1. You were not listening to me.
2. You do not care that I like cake; you like pie, so I in turn must also like pie.
3. You are just trying to aggravate me.
If this is the mindset that your prof has while marking your paper, there’s a good chance you’re not going to get the mark you were hoping for.
I’m currently writing an essay, the topic of which I find confusing, but my prof recommended that I write on the topic…so even though this essay is causing me great mental pain, at least I know that the reader will be engaged and actually care about the topic of the paper.
In the end, I have to remember that although I am here to learn, I am also here to graduate with a GPA that reflects the amount of effort I have put into this endeavour. If ceding an essay topic to the preference of an evaluator will get me to this point, then I’ll eat cake every day of the week!
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.
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.
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!
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!”
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.
Hello everyone: Chris Garbutt here, manager of the UpbeaT project at Student Life. You’ve probably readallthegoodbyeposts 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:
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:
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?