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

ode to the varsity

Bonjour U of T.

I hope you had a good reading week. Mine was short. Too short, but life goes on.

As I have said in the past, when I first stepped onto this campus I didn’t really know what I was doing.  I didn’t know what I wanted to get involved in, where my interests lay, or how to shape my university experience into something meaningful. All I knew was that this is the place where you get your fancy degree and then head out into the real world. But I didn’t want my university experience to be defined by a mundane cycle of class and commute.

I wanted to get out there and experience all I could, but U of T is big and admittedly, intimidating at times. Where does one start? I knew though that I liked to write. Though I chose to major in biology, writing had always been a passion of mine. I wrote previously for my high school newspaper and always sought opportunities to get my work published. So, a quick Google search led me to the website of The Varsity: U of T’s official undergraduate newspaper.  After finding the website, I quickly noted the e-mail of the comment editor and then for some reason let it sit on my desktop for a semester. Perhaps it’s because the first semester is one in which everybody is just trying to adapt and find a library other than Robarts to study in.  Regardless, I e-mailed the editor, Alex, who remains one of my good friends today and pretty soon found myself getting published.   Nearly a year and fifteen pieces later, The Varsity remains an integral part of my life at U of T and I am forever grateful for the opportunities it has opened up for me.

Writing for The Varsity really connected me to the issues facing our campus and students. Researching topics for articles also brought out in me a passion for issues pertaining to post secondary education and a desire to see things get better on our campus. So, at the beginning of this year, I took the plunge and ran to sit on a student union and here I am today, on ASSU.  No longer did U of T seem a complicated maze filled with obscure buildings, policies, events, and people.  U of T became a vibrant colourful community, that I found myself being a part of.  The Varsity was also a great way of meeting people and through it I connected with people outside my college and outside my field of study.  It truly made me feel like a U of T student and not just a University College student.

Contained within the walls of The Varsity office in 21 Sussex is a rich history; a history that contains speaking out against censorship of editors, winning undergraduates access to Robarts Library and the names of thousands of aspiring student writers.  Some of these writers would go on to higher acclaim in life, among them Naomi Klein (Editor in Chief, 1992-1993) and Prime Minister William Lyon McKenzie KingThe Varsity, if anything, is a resilient paper; it has continued to publish despite facing financial trouble over the years. In fact, during one snow storm when no other newspaper in Toronto was able to deliver – The Varsity came through.

Of course, there are other campus newspapers you can join as well. The Newspaper is an independent weekly published by U of T students and also most colleges also publish newspapers (the biggest being UC’s Gargoyle, SMC’s The Mike and Victoria College’s The Strand).  So pick up your pens and join the legacy of writers that have made their mark on our campus.

How the snow thawed my brain…

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!

-Lori

 

ASK me about my new online love…

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!

-Lori

 

Dear Professor

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

DO:

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.

DON’T:

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.

Good luck!

Till next week,

Ishita

Let them eat cake!

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!

-Lori

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