Balancing School and Self-Care (Part One)

The most difficult part of my university experience so far has been learning how to balance. Every September, I am thrown off my feet by my new schedule, and just when I feel like I have a routine set up, midterms hit. As the type of person who insists on combing through every single reading, I often find myself overwhelmed by schoolwork and unsure how to fit in any much-needed self-care activities.

However, spending 8-hour blocks on studying or writing has never worked for me either. I lose focus after a few hours at most, and often end the day cranky and tense from so much studying at once. Last winter semester, during a particularly difficult academic period, I went to see my college’s learning strategist for help. Here are some memorable tips that I learned from her, as well as some personal ones that work for me.

"Midterms" carved into pumpkin
Source: Rusaba Alam

Finding Your Way Back After “Failures”

Even though everyone experiences failure, nobody wants to broadcast them. And it’s definitely hard to talk about them at a competitive school such as U of T. When you’ve experienced academic setbacks at a high-achieving school it’s hard to convince yourself that you can bounce back from it. At least that was the case for me. I saw the ‘failures’ as now-permanent features of my character and less like ‘stumbles’ or ‘setbacks’ (which, in the grand scheme of things, they actually were).

So what’s important when you’re trying to bounce back from setbacks?

Robarts Library
Coming back from setbacks can all be rather intimidating, just like Robarts.
(c) University of Toronto

The Bran Muffin of Classes

Some classes are like meringues: light and simple. Some are more like chocolate cake: dense and rich, but very satisfying. Some are like sweet and refreshing ice cream that goes down oh-so-smoothly. Like custard, some classes are heavy and decadent. Others are like chocolate chip cookies, appreciated for their classic appeal. Classes that are like toffee are a lot to chew on, but still very pleasant.

Pictured: cartoons of desserts
Can you tell I’m hungry? Picture Credit: 4-designer.com

Some classes, however, are like the bran muffin. The bran muffin is an affront to delicious things everywhere; it is utterly dull and a waste of time and calories. To make matters worse, it sometimes has nasty little shrivelled-up raisins lurking inside. No one likes a bran muffin.

Sometimes, you have to eat bran muffins though, don’t you? Perhaps when your sweet old Granny makes them for you, or when your local Timmies runs out of everything else, or when you feel like inflicting pain on those nasty little raisins. Sometimes, you just don’t have a choice when it comes to bran muffins.

The same goes for bran muffin classes. You will have at least one over the course of your university career; everybody does. Maybe you’ll need it as a breadth requirement, it will be a prerequisite for something else you want to take, or it will be the only thing that fits into your schedule. There will be no escaping it. That’s how you’ll end up in a bran muffin class, in spite of its snooze-worthy subject matter, never-ending readings, miserable locale—OISE auditorium anyone?—and its professor’s annoying goat-like voice. March 13th is the last day to drop an S section course, so it’s high time to decide if you want to stick it out or not. If you want or need to persevere, stick with me! I’ll try to show you how to turn a yucky bran muffin into a beautiful cupcake.

Pictured: Bran muffin
Yuck. Picture Credit: sini.co.uk

Okay, maybe not a cupcake, but at least a slightly-less-terrible bran muffin:


Emma’s Slightly-Less-Terrible Bran Muffin Recipe

Sick in the 6ix

My alarm goes off. I sit up and my head is spinning. I reach for my alarm and miss it the first two times. I finally get it to switch off, lie back down, and assess the situation. I’m drenched in sweat. My head is pounding. My throat is really sore; it hurts to swallow. I feel too cold and too hot at the same time. Memories of my dreams start to trickle back: flying donuts, green skies, canoeing on a chocolate river. I start to put the pieces together.

Pictured: The chocolate river from the good film version of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"
This fever dream is brought to you by Wonka’s Chocolate Factory™ and Pure Imagination™ Picture courtesy of  http://www.frenchtoastsunday.com

Yep. I’m sick. Now what? 

Confession: There’s a New Library in My Life

There are 44 UofT libraries, spanning UofT’s three campuses. There are libraries of all shapes and sizes, all styles and atmospheres. You would think this would be enough for me. You would be wrong.

Recently, I have been cheating on UofT. Maybe I took #TryItUofT too far; you be the judge. Consider this my confession:


Dear Robarts,

We have had a long and beautiful love affair. Just over three and a half years ago, I first decided to overlook your imposing and intimidating exterior and give you a chance. I grew to love you.

We have had some wonderful times together, haven’t we? Do you remember meeting my friends? We used to hang out and study together all the time. They grew to love you, too. We presented a united front during many a finals season. I came to see your beauty more and more as I got to know you better and better—your blossoming cherry trees in the summer, your amazing Toronto views, your Rare Book Library. I will never forget all that you have given me; you were always there to provide me with research materials and unlimited free WiFi. You have been my rock. I regret nothing. Please remember that.

We had our good times, yes, but after three and a half years of dogged commitment on my part, I have become more sensitive to your stone-hearted habits. Three and a half years of endless Starbucks lines, freezing my hands off in study rooms, and red-walled cages—I mean, elevators. I’m tired, Robarts. I can’t do it anymore. Things have changed.

I know you don’t want to hear this, but I’m seeing someone else.

A Shy Girl’s Guide to Tutorial

You know that person in tutorial that is so articulate it hurts? They seem to have a rhythm when they speak, they never get lost in a train of thought, and they know how to hold everyone’s attention.

Does that person fill your heart, as it does mine, with equal parts envy and admiration? If so, read on.

For us, tutorial goes a bit like this:

“Should I put up my hand? Oh no, Mr. Perfect is talking now. He’s a tough act to follow; I’ll wait a few minutes. Waiting… Waiting… Oops, now we’re talking about something completely different. Back to the drawing board. Okay…. Okay… Got something… And she just said what I was thinking. No problem, I’ll think of something else. Thinking… Thinking… Blanking… Despairing… Five minutes left. Maybe I’ll talk next week. Oh wait! I have something! Too late now; my voice is weird anyway.”

At least, that’s usually how my internal monologue goes. I’m not very good at articulating my thoughts in tutorial-type settings; they make me feel extremely anxious and shy. I’m constantly afraid that I will forget what I meant to say in the middle of saying it, or that I will say something completely off the mark, or that I will forget how to speak altogether when everyone’s eyes turn to me.

I like to listen to my peers and I often gain really cool insights from their conversations. Sometimes, I like the way the conversation is flowing so much that I would rather not interrupt it with my own awkward contribution. Unfortunately, however, listening is not usually enough; we have to prove that we’re engaging with the tutorial to get full marks. Like it or not, we have to speak.

Pictured: George from Arthur with his ventriloquist dummy
I don’t think having a ventriloquist dummy speak for you counts. Lookin’ at you, George.
Image courtesy of: http://www-tc.pbskids.org/arthur/i/friends/photos/george2.jpg

That is why I would like to share with you, my fellow Mr. Imperfects, the strategies I use to help me speak up in tutorial:

The Breaking Point

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

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

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

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

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